The US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has said the war in Afghanistan could not be won without Pakistan's cooperation. He made a surprise visit to Kabul yesterday. While talking to journalists, Panetta said the US-Pakistan relationship has been "complicated", but it was an important one, for success in Afghanistan. After last month's NATO airstrike on a Pakistani security check post that killed 24 soldiers and has brought the US-Pak relations almost to the point of no return.
Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has said that the blockade of NATO supply lines will continue for weeks. Already it has been more than 15 days the fuel tankers and containers have been blocked. The US has vacated Shamsi Airbase from where the drone predators were operated to target militants in Pakistani tribal areas.
According to latest reports, the drone operations program is also "on hold" due to the tensions between Pakistani military and the US. It is not related to the eviction of Shamsi Airbase, but US officials have reportedly said the predator program is on pause to avoid the worst relations between Pakistan and the US reach to a point of no return. However, in case of extremely high value target, operations would continue.
The US officials have tried to calm down the overreaction in Pakistan, but it seems Pakistani military wants to continue the blockade and further decrease the limited cooperation on the war on terror in Afghanistan. The US Senate has now stopped $700 million in aid to Pakistan. It is not in response to the current Pakistani blockade of NATO supply, but conditioned with cooperation in fight against improvised explosive devices.
Despite repeated calls from civilian leaders, Pakistani military seems to further deteriorate their relations with the US. In a recent conference of Pakistani ambassadors in Islamabad, the envoys criticized the blockade and military assessment asking Islamabad to immediately reopen the route. It shows the deep rift between the civilian government and the powerful military establishment.
The US has allocated over $20 billion in military and economic aid to Pakistan. The freezing of $700 million is a very small portion of the aid. Its regarding the IEDs and home-made bombs using ammonium nitrate that comes from Pakistan to the hands of militants in Afghanistan.
If Islamabad continues the NATO supply blockade, it might be the demise of US-Pakistan relations which will not only be a disaster for Afghanistan, but instability could collapse the Pakistani economy, which hugely depends on US blessings. Washington and Islamabad should work out to solve the current stalemate and normalize the relations.