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Pakistan Blocks Supply Route After NATO Strike

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Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

U.S. relations with Pakistan have grown worse yet again. NATO forces in Afghanistan opened fire along the Pakistan border over the weekend. Pakistan says two dozen of its troops at a border checkpoint were killed.

MONTAGNE: NATO says it was firing to support Afghan forces under attack, but Pakistan is rejecting that explanation. The foreign minister denounced the United States and spoke of Pakistan's, quote, "rage." The U.S. ally also closed supply routes through its territory to American forces in Afghanistan.

INSKEEP: We begin our coverage with Omar Waraich of Time Magazine in Islamabad. He's been talking with Pakistan's military.

OMAR WARAICH: They say that this was an unprovoked attack. They suspect it came from the air. During this time, the Pakistan army tells me, communication was made from the director general of military operations on the Pakistani side with an ISAF commander.

INSKEEP: ISAF, those are the U.S. and its allies across the border in Afghanistan.

WARAICH: That's right. That's the NATO-led alliance that's based in Afghanistan.

INSKEEP: Now, the word out of Afghanistan is that Afghan troops said they had come under fire from someone along the border, that they called in a retaliatory air strike and that it was this air strike apparently that killed the Pakistanis. What reasons have Pakistani officials given for responding so forcefully - closing the border and other steps that they've taken?

WARAICH: Well, I asked the Pakistani army about that claim that the fire had come from their side. They put this question to me. They said if that's the case, then what casualties were suffered on the Afghan side of the border. And if ISAF, NATO or the Afghans can produce those casualties, there would be evidence of that claim.

This all goes to underscore the fragility of the border, which is a very long, porous mountainous territory that is very, very poorly defined. And sort of a lack of definition will inevitably result in some of the confusion that we are seeing today.

INSKEEP: When you look at the things that Pakistanis have done to retaliate for what they say was an unprovoked attack, I noticed this. That they've ordered the last Americans off of an airbase that had been used for drone strikes. But a number of reports have suggested that the airbase hasn't been used by the Americans for months anyway. Is Pakistan taking serious steps here or is this politics and public relations to some degree?

WARAICH: We're not necessarily looking at anything new. For example, the NATO supply routes have been closed a number of times. And it's been a symbolic protest. As a result, NATO has diminished its reliance on these supply routes. So, for example, there was a stage when 75 percent of non-lethal supplies passed through Pakistan through the two entryways. Now, they only rely on the Pakistani route for 40 percent of the supplies.

This base that you've mentioned, the Shamsi airbase, after the raid that killed Osama bin Laden there was a further demand that the CIA clear this base. And what we were told then was that it was only being used for logistics and that drone attacks ceased to fly from there. Now, the demand is that it's cleared altogether.

But what is new, Steve, is that now senior Pakistani officials are seriously raising the prospect of a rupture in relations. That is something that they've been very, very hesitant to do in the past.

INSKEEP: Well, that's one final thing to ask then. Are Pakistanis ready, should the moment come, to break with the United States, given that they receive billions of dollars in U.S. military aid even today?

WARAICH: I think the Pakistani people in general, if one looks at public opinion, have been very much prepared to break with the United States. When it comes to the government and the military, it's a very, very different question. The civilian government is very weak and is dependent on U.S. support. When it comes to the military, they have relied on somewhere in the region of $20 billion in military assistance over the last decade.

And the most important thing is that the Pakistanis and the U.S. actually need each other when it comes to Afghanistan, at least until U.S. troops withdraw in 2014. The Pakistanis would like to play a role in determining the negotiations there. And the U.S. side feels that it can't actually settle the fate of Afghanistan without the Pakistanis.

INSKEEP: Omar Waraich of Time Magazine is based in Islamabad. Thanks very much.

WARAICH: Thank you, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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