The World from The Hill: Pakistan shuts key route as Congress OKs security aid

Pakistan cut a key supply line for NATO operations in Afghanistan on Thursday, just hours after Congress approved $700 million for Pakistan's counterinsurgency operations.

Islamabad accused U.S. helicopters of conducting a cross-border attack from Afghanistan -- the fourth of the week -- that killed three Pakistani soldiers and shut the critical Torkham border post into the Khyber Pass in protest. Eighty percent of the coalition's non-lethal supplies come through Pakistan.

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American officials quickly swung into action to try to soothe tensions.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) discussed the strike Thursday with Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, telling Agence France-Presse that the two had a "good conversation" and that he was optimistic the dispute would be settled.

“Obviously they are concerned, and ought to be, when there is collateral damage," said Kerry. "We need to try to avoid it, and we do.” 

Pakistan's ambassador to the U.S., Husain Haqqani, said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union" that the "temporary suspension of the convoys" would likely end soon. "We can't take the risk of letting convoys pass at a time when people are enraged," Haqqani said. "There are tribal people there who are not necessarily fully under the control of the government of Pakistan."

Speaking Friday at the Washington Ideas Forum, special envoy Richard Holbrooke called the incident "very unfortunate" but noted that it occurred in "an area that is ill-defined in areas, is complicated and very rough terrain."

"I don't believe that it's going to change the fundamental relationship between our two countries," Holbrooke said. But back in Pakistan, the interior minister on Thursday sounded a more ominous tone: "We will have to see whether we are allies or enemies,” Rehman Malik said.

Militants seized on the unrest to launch two separate attacks Friday on NATO trucks laden with oil for coalition forces bound for Afghanistan. One truck driver and his assistant were burned alive in the torchings. Twenty more tankers were torched and two were killed in the militant attacks Monday local time. Islamist groups have seized on the border incursion as an opportunity to rally Pakistanis against the American alliance.

Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing and Terror Risk Assessment, told The Hill that "unfortunately, mistakes are made," but that in terms of civilian casualties "I think we do a very, very good job of minimizing them."

Harman, who traveled to Pakistan at the end of the summer recess with four other lawmakers in a bipartisan delegation, expressed concern that Pakistan was "basically leaving the Haqqani network alone" -- a group of thousands of insurgents in Afghanistan and Pakistan with close ties to the Taliban.

"I think Pakistan plays both sides, at least on the terror front," she said. "...We have to have the right of pursuit."

The Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capability Fund, created in the Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2009 and detailed in the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009, makes money available to be used at the secretary of State's discretion, with the corroboration of the secretary of Defense "to build and maintain the counterinsurgency capability of Pakistan." This includes equipment, supplies, training facilities, and training operations. The continuing resolution passed Wednesday night to keep the government running through early December retained $700 million in spending for the fund.

Harman said she has seen no indication "that the [counterinsurgency] funds are spent counter to our interests," though the funding of operations in Pakistan has long stoked concerns of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

House Foreign Affairs Committee member Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), writing on his blog recently, stated that Pakistan needed to turn from seeing India as Enemy No. 1 to focusing on the extremist enemy within. "Actions will speak louder than words," Royce wrote. "Will Pakistan's troops be shifted from the Indian to the Afghan border, where the militants flourish?"

"What about Pakistani involvement in Afghanistan?" he added, expanding on widely held concerns about the country's intelligence services aiding Afghan insurgents.

There are growing indications that the U.S. efforts to stem fundamentalism and aid the counterinsurgency in Pakistan are facing mounting challenges, even when it comes to the messaging war.

The devastating flooding in Pakistan that killed more than 2,000 starting with summer's monsoon rains was met with quick calls from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton for aid assistance. In addition to being a humanitarian disaster that, according to the United Nations, affected more the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2005 Kashmir earthquake and the 2010 Haiti earthquake combined, damage is estimated at more than $40 billion. American aid has totaled about $350 million.

But extremists seized on the tragedy to sway Pakistanis into believing that they had their best interests at heart. The Pakistani Taliban urged Islamabad to reject all U.S. aid, proclaiming, "We condemn American and other foreign aid and believe that it will lead to subjugation. Our jihad against America will continue." At the same time, the group claimed that it would fill the aid void.

In an audiotape released Friday, Osama bin Laden decried climate change and the "catastrophe" of the flooding, and called "for generous souls and brave men to take serious and prompt action to provide relief for their Muslim brothers in Pakistan."

"I don't think our efforts are large enough and visible enough," Harman said. "There is a vacuum in terms of the need and some of the bad guys are trying to fill the vacuum, but they don't have the resources we do."

Holbrooke lamented after visiting a relief camp late last month that U.S. aid efforts weren't getting due attention.

''So much American aid goes through NGOs and the international community ... that people may be less aware of the American aid than they ought to be,'' Holbrooke said.

"Our goal should not just be to claim credit... our goal should be to deal with a humanitarian crisis, which is something that moves Americans all the time," Harman said.

"We will also achieve a security goal, which is to show the Pakistani people that we are on their side."