Pakistan Cuts NATO Supply Line After Chopper Strike

Pakistan blocked a key supply route for NATO forces in Afghanistan on Thursday, stranding dozens of fuel tankers and other trucks in the Khyber Pass. The Pakistani move came after NATO attack helicopters fired on targets inside Pakistan. Pakistan said the attack left three of its frontier guards dead.

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Relations between the U.S. and Pakistan got a little more taut today. Pakistan blocked NATO supply trucks from crossing the border into Afghanistan. The border closure is apparently in protest to NATO helicopter raids in northwest Pakistan. NATO says those helicopters were chasing insurgents fleeing Afghanistan. NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from Islamabad.

ANTHONY KUHN: The Torkham border crossing between northwest Pakistan and Afghanistan was the site of a rare traffic jam this morning of more than 100 NATO fuel and supply trucks. Pakistan offered no official explanation for the border closure. Retired Pakistani Army Lieutenant General Talat Masood says it was a sharp reminder of the leverage Pakistan wields.

Retired Lieutenant General TALAT MASOOD (Pakistani army): Pakistan understands that it plays a very vital role as far as the U.S. and the NATO war in Afghanistan is concerned. And as you are fully aware, about 80 percent of its logistic supplies passes through Pakistan.

KUHN: Just hours before the closing, Pakistan's military said that three border guards embraced martyrdom when two NATO-led International Security Assistance Force helicopters fired missiles at them. It said that the soldiers had fired warning shots with their rifles when the copters entered Pakistani airspace. Three other guards were injured. NATO says it's investigating.

Professor Rasool Baksh Raees is a political scientist at the Lahore University of Management Sciences. He says the border closure was a sort of warning shot at NATO. But the U.S. and Pakistan are somewhat interdependent, he says, and the attacks aren't enough to unravel the relationship.

Professor RASOOL BAKSH RAEES: I don't think that these incursions alone, Pakistan's government would take a decision to disengage itself. The strong statements that were issued by the foreign office of Pakistan by some political leaders, that is primarily meant to ventilate public sentiments in Pakistan.

KUHN: CIA director Leon Panetta was in Islamabad today. Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani told him that he was profoundly concerned about the copter strikes.�

NATO insists it's allowed to pursue insurgents over the border into Pakistan. Pakistan says there's no such deal. Retired General Masood says that if the two sides have a deal, the Pakistani people haven't been informed about it, and any deal with the former regime of Pervez Musharraf should be reconsidered.

Gen. MASOOD: If there was an understanding with President Musharraf, I would say that it is now null and void, because that was only at the personal level and he was a military ruler and now you have a democratic government which is answerable to the people.

KUHN: Professor Raees says that from the Pakistani point of view, the three or four NATO incursions in the past week suggest an escalation from just unmanned drone strikes.

Prof. RAEES: I don't think that it is after nine years that Americans have discovered those targets. The question is: why didn't they hit these targets before?

KUHN: Raees says NATO's escalation may be intended to prod Pakistan's military to hit harder at insurgents in its tribal areas. Looking ahead, Raees says, Pakistan's rulers are already preparing for the post-U.S. era in Afghanistan.

Prof. RAEES: They think that Americans must be provided some safe exit, an honorable exit from Afghanistan. And they must leave a functional, effective government that can defend itself.

KUHN: Raees adds that the U.S. would like to weaken the Taliban's position ahead of any peace talks with the Afghan government.

Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Islamabad.

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