White House Reiterates Support for Pakistan, Afghanistan

Truck owners examined a heavily damaged NATO supply oil tanker hit in an attack on the outskirts of Islamabad, Pakistan. (Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty Images)

White House Reiterates Support for Pakistan, Afghanistan despite Pak, US tensions spike after border closure and attacks on NATO supply trucks. The tension comes just as Washington is stepping up its shadow war on militants harbored in Pakistan’s border regions. The Pakistanis closed the main NATO supply route last week to protest a NATO helicopter attack that killed three Pakistani border guards. The alliance apologized for the attack, which it described as an act of self-defense. It was the third time in a less than a week that foreign forces had flown into Pakistani airspace.
Western media and critics accusing that the Taliban and the Pakistan’s interests are strangely aligned at present in seeking to punish the United States and NATO they are also blaming Pakistan for attacks on NATO supply trucks.
Early Reports Indicate especially in Pakistani media that the relations between Islamabad and Washington have been “fraught with a certain degree of tension and mutual suspicion. But the spike in tensions between the two countries in recent weeks appears to be out of the ordinary”. CIA chief Leon Panetta is believed to have warned that “Pakistan will have to learn to accept US/NATO raids from across the Pakistan-Afghan border and ever-increasing drone strikes if Pakistan continues to do little… to shut down the safe havens Afghan-centric militants enjoy in FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas)”. The Pakistan Army, on its part, has made its deep unhappiness clear with regard to the helicopter raids.
Washington and Islamabad are nominally united in their fight against Islamist militants in Pakistan and Afghanistan. After much foot-dragging, Pakistan in the past year has waged an aggressive campaign against a homegrown insurgency that has spilled from its tribal areas into its big cities, where suicide bombings and targeted killings have surged.
Nevertheless, westren critics say the Pakistani army has been reluctant to move against militant groups like the Afghan Taliban and the allied Haqqani network, which have bases in Pakistan but are focused on Afghanistan because they want to preserve the Afghan groups as proxies once the U.S. withdraws from that country.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the U.S. remains committed to building closer ties to Pakistan, recognizing that the recent floods have caused the Pakistani military to divert resources and attention away from its campaign against extremists.
“We are quite satisfied with the level of cooperation and coordination that we have with Pakistan,” Crowley said Monday. “We’ve had many, many direct high-level conversations. We’ve seen a shift in Pakistan’s thinking in recent months with a great deal of activity over the past year where Pakistan has recognized the threat that these extremists pose to its own security.”
He said these matters will be discussed later this month when senior Pakistani government officials visit Washington.
The White House says President Barack Obama still considers Pakistan a strong ally in the fight against extremist forces.  Comments by Mr. Obama’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, came Monday as the United States and Pakistan continued to discuss the closure of a key border crossing and amid concern about attacks on NATO supply convoys.
At a White House news briefing, Gibbs was asked about the attacks on NATO fuel tanker trucks, four of which occurred since Pakistan closed the northwestern Khyber Pass Torkhum border crossing last week.
The attacks followed what NATO says was a self-defense hot-pursuit action by helicopters.  NATO expressed regret over the deaths of three Pakistani soldiers; a joint investigation is continuing.
Gibbs said it is his understanding that concerns relating to the border closure were the subject of discussions at the State Department between U.S. and Pakistani diplomats, adding that those talks were close to producing some results.
The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for Monday’s attack on 20 tankers carrying fuel for NATO troops in Afghanistan, calling it a response to U.S. drone strikes.  Pakistani officials say one such strike killed eight militants, including some that officials describe as German nationals.  The United States does not confirm drone strikes, which Pakistan says is a violation of its sovereignty.
Although he declined to comment on the latest suspected U.S. drone attack, Press Secretary Gibbs responded this way when asked whether the U.S. still believes that Pakistan and Afghanistan are strong allies in the fight against the Taliban and al-Qaida.
“We have strong and important partnerships with Afghanistan [and] in Pakistan – a strong ally in common pursuits to address extremism and the threat that it poses,” said Robert Gibbs.
As when asked previously about the U.S. view of Pakistani cooperation, Gibbs cited what he called the renewed effort that Pakistan has made in recent years to address the extremist threat – one that affects Pakistan and the United States.
Gibbs was also asked whether the Obama administration believes a majority of Americans support the sacrifices the United States is making in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“I think that the American people understand very much what is at stake and the important mission that we have over there,” he said. “Obviously, there are political viewpoints that vary across the spectrum.  The president, though, understands what we must do in addressing the threat to those countries and to us.”
At the State Department, spokesman P. J. Crowley told reporters that the United States is “quite satisfied” with the level of cooperation and the coordination it has with Pakistan.  He echoed Gibbs’s comments about Pakistan’s recognition of the threat that extremists pose to its stability.
On the question of the closure of the major border crossing, Crowley stressed that the United States and NATO have multiple supply routes into Afghanistan, and he said the flow of materiel continues.

Both U.S. and Pakistani officials predicted the Torkham border crossing would reopen within a few days.