Updated 9/6/08 at 9:00 PM EST
In a move seen by some as the latest fallout from Wednesday morning’s US attack on South Waziristan, the Pakistani government has ordered that supply lines to NATO troops in Afghanistan be immediately severed for an indefinite period of time.
Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik later denied the report, insisting that the interruption was not retaliatory but only a temporary response to security reports, and that the link had already been restored. Defense Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar, however, said the move was intended to show how serious Pakistan was about its territorial integrity, saying “we have stopped the supply of oil and this will tell how serious we are”.
The move comes as thousands of protesters marched through South Waziristan’s capital of Wana chanting “death to America”. Pakistani media cited unnamed sources who said the move came as the government feared retaliation from South Waziristan tribesmen for the US attack.
The strike, which was the first confirmed use of US ground forces in Pakistan since the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, killed 20 civilians and received widespread condemnation in Pakistan’s government. American officials have suggested that the attack is just the first of many cross-border missions to be expected in the coming months, as the US has expressed growing discontent with Pakistan’s inability to control its long and mountainous border with Afghanistan. The Defense Minister of key NATO ally Germany was also critical of the US attack during his visit to Pakistan, and warned that “Pakistan’s territorial integrity has to be respected”.
With Pakistan’s sole ground link to Afghanistan closed to them, NATO would be more reliant than ever on Russia for the transportation of non-military supplies to the war-torn country at a time when US-Russian relations are at a post-Cold War low. And while Russia has promised not to block NATO’s overland transport, President Bush’s threat to “punish” Moscow over the recent war with Georgia may put the route in further jeopardy.