Pakistan, it seems, is playing its trump card in the current crisis with the United States.
The trump card, of course, is Pakistan’s control of the vital lifeline that supplies the more than 100,000 American troops in Afghanistan with everything they require, including fuel. More than 80 percent of US supplies pass by land from Pakistan to Afghanistan over mountain passes at places like Torkham. Without Pakistan’s help, the entire American effort in Afghanistan would collapse overnight.
Yesterday, in protest of a US military attack on a Pakistani border post that killed three Pakistani soldiers, Pakistan closed Torkham. Today, “militants” burned two dozen NATO oil tankers that were filled with fuel for the US-NATO war next door. (Since Pakistan has had a long history of creating, arming and training militants and terrorists, including the Taliban, it’s likely that those who carried out the attack on the tankers were acting on behalf of the Pakistani army and its intelligence service, the ISI.
Meanwhile, the army and the ISI appear once again on the brink of a coup d’état to oust Pakistan’s corrupt and discredited civilian government and either install a military dictator or rule from behind the scenes. There are various scenarios, including the installation of Nawaz Sharif, the rival politician who is much closer to the Pakistani military than the current President Ali Asif Zardari, and who also maintains better relations with the Taliban and with Saudi Arabia, Pakistan’s key Arab ally. It’s an internal political crisis in Pakistan that’s been building ever since the 2008 ouster of the previous military dictator, Pervez Musharraf, and it was drastically exacerbated by the floods that devastated the country. (Musharraf, incidentally, announced today in London that he’s forming a political party. Reports AP: “Musharraf says the only way to tackle Pakistan’s ailing economy and its political infighting—problems exacerbated by recent floods—is to further bolster the army’s role.”)
Needless to say, the United States has thrown lots of fuel on the fire by recklessly attacking Pakistan intensively this month. In September, there were at least 20 drone attacks on targets in Pakistan’s tribal areas along the Afghanistan border, and two armed helicopter attacks across the border into Pakistan, including the one yesterday that killed the three Pakistani soldiers. An Pakistani army officer told the Washington Post that the US action represents a direct challenge to Pakistan’s sovereignty and is a case of “attacking the Pakistani army.” Pakistan’s Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, said: “We will have to see if we are allies or enemies.”