- The Washington Times - Monday, October 4, 2010

The closure of a key supply route for coalition forces in Afghanistan, a spate of attacks on NATO fuel tankers and criticism of U.S. drone strikes are fueling frustration in Congress over Pakistan’s performance as an ally in the war against militants.

The importance of Pakistan’s role was underscored last week when Islamabad protested an incursion by a NATO helicopter that killed three Pakistani soldiers by shutting off a supply route for coalition troops in Afghanistan.

Worried that this action could hurt the effort in Afghanistan, U.S. officials and lawmakers are pressing the Pakistanis to reopen the Torkham Gate route.

Sen. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, thinks the closure of the supply route is “counterproductive,” according to his senior adviser, Mark Helmke.

“Sen. Lugar sees the resumption of the logistic effort as clearly important on a strategic level, but also on an economic level,” Mr. Helmke said, noting that thousands of jobs depend on the transport industry in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Mr. Lugar co-wrote with Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, legislation that gives $7.5 billion in U.S. aid to Pakistan over a five-year period.

Mr. Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, discussed the NATO strike and its consequences with Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani last week.

Rep. Gary L. Ackerman, New York Democrat and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, described Pakistan as “at best an ambivalent ally, and quite often, a very difficult one.”

“We need to start thinking of Pakistan as a state which will cooperate with us when it profits them and go their own way when it suits them. Our billions of dollars of aid and assistance have not and will not buy us their loyalty or their friendship,” Mr. Ackerman said.

The closure of Torkham Gate has stopped supply convoys, carrying fuel from the Pakistani port city of Karachi, in their tracks and left them vulnerable to attacks by terrorists. Taliban militants have set fire to dozens of coalition fuel tankers in Pakistan over the past couple of days.

Lawmakers say Pakistan needs to do much more to eliminate militants.

“There are elements in the Pakistan government that I think could do more with regard to the effort in Afghanistan and with regard to al Qaeda and the Taliban,” Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican, said in a phone interview.

Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency has well-documented ties to terrorist groups operating in Pakistan and Afghanistan. U.S. officials and lawmakers say these linkages persist.

In remarks at the Council on Foreign Relations last week, Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, expressed frustration with Pakistan’s crackdown on terrorists, saying it had “so far failed to take the steps needed to address major threats to Afghanistan from within Pakistan.”

Some lawmakers are also upset over Pakistani criticism of escalated U.S. drone strikes in their country.

Pakistani officials continue to offer behind-the-scenes support for the covert program and provide intelligence for strikes despite publicly chastising the U.S. each time an attack occurs.

Mr. Levin expressed frustration with the criticism, noting that Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi had acknowledged a significant improvement in the accuracy of these strikes in a recent meeting.

“When a mistake is not made, when a target is hit accurately … I’ve got problems with the public attack which then creates that huge animosity against us when it is, number one, done with at least the acquiescence of the Pakistan government; and number two, when they are failing to go after those targets,” Mr. Levin said.

Mr. Ackerman said Pakistani cooperation with the U.S. should not be confused with affection.

Pakistan does work with us and — as it serves their interests — they will continue to work with us. But they’re never going to love us, and they’re never going to trust us. And we need to play by those same rules,” he added.

Mr. Wolf has, meanwhile, has recommended that an “Afghanistan-Pakistan Study Group” be set up to spell out U.S. goals in both countries.

“You are seeing the support for what the [Obama] administration is doing beginning to erode somewhat. I think this [study group] could restore confidence,” Mr. Wolf said.

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