When Secretary of Defense Robert Gates spoke to the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday, he claimed that “it is essential for Pakistan to be a willing partner in any strategy” in the troubled border region. However when asked about the prospects for Pakistan backing unilateral US strikes in their country he conceded “I don’t think they can do that.”
Indeed, the Pakistani government and military have gone far beyond simply failing to publicly back America’s recent unilateral strikes. Pakistan’s civilian government has pressured the US to halt such attacks, while its military has declared that it will no longer allow foreign forces to operate in the country. The continued US strikes have led to two reports of Pakistani troops firing on US helicopters attempting to cross the border in as many weeks, and yesterday’s claims of a US Predator Drone being downed in South Waziristan by either tribesmen, troops, or a combination thereof.
But Gates insists the attacks will continue, with or without official imprimatur from Pakistan. He also declared that the greatest threat to the homeland lies in “western Pakistan.” He said he is also hopeful for increasing cooperation in the wake of last weekend’s Islamabad suicide bombing, “particularly if it is shown that al-Qaeda is behind” the attack. An unknown group called Fedayeen Islam claimed credit for the blast.
Rather, there is increasing speculation that the US raids are the cause of the suicide blast and not the solution to it. Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik said the preliminary investigation suggests a strong connection with South Waziristan Agency. The agency had been an area of relative calm for Pakistan, which has focused its attentions further east in and around the Swat Valley. However after the US strikes, a large tribe threatened to abandon its long-standing peace deal with the Pakistani government if they didn’t bring them to a halt.
A major concern as ties with Pakistan worsen is the transportation of goods to US forces stationed in Afghanistan. Pakistan, according to Senator Levin, is the route for about 80 percent of cargo and 40 percent of fuel to troops in the landlocked country. Pakistan briefly severed the primary supply route earlier this month after a US attack in South Waziristan killed 20 civilians. General James Cartwright, who also spoke to the committee, said the Pentagon has begun testing alternative supply routes to Afghanistan in the event that Pakistan is no longer available to them.