Pakistani officials vote to close Afghan supply lines

Ruling officials in the Pakistani province that is home to key U.S. supply lines into and out of Afghanistan voted to shutter the routes if Washington continues drone strikes in the country. 

Local leaders in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, which abuts the Afghan-Pakistan border, voted to cut off the supply lines by Nov. 20 unless Islamabad and the United States can reach a deal to end armed American drone operations. 

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Imran Khan, the leader of the provincial ruling party Tehreek-e-Insaf, pushed the resolution through on Thursday, according to reports by The New York Times

The provincial vote comes days after Hakimullah Mehsud, the reputed leader of the Pakistani Taliban, and five other Taliban members were killed in a U.S. drone strike inside Pakistan. 

Mehsud's convoy was reportedly leaving a mosque outside the Dande Darpakhel area of North Waziristan when their vehicle was hit, intelligence officials in Peshawar said last Friday.  

Mehsud had been a top high-value target of U.S. military and intelligence counterterrorism operations for the past decade, especially after taking the reins of the Pakistani faction, dubbed Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, in 2009. 

But the drone strike has infuriated members of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's government, who claim Mehsud was planning to participate in peace talks with Islamabad and Afghanistan prior to the attack. 

"The murder of Hakimullah is the murder of all efforts at peace," Pakistani Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar said.

"Americans said they support our efforts at peace. Is this support?" Nisar said Sunday, according to Reuters. 

Karzai also criticized the timing of Washington's decision to take out the top Taliban leader, to a visiting congressional delegation in Kabul over the weekend. 

While the issue of American drone strikes has continually riled U.S.-Pakistani relations, it remains unclear whether Sharif is ready to pull the plug on the supply lines, especially as U.S. forces are beginning their final withdrawal out of Afghanistan. 

All U.S. combat forces are slated to leave the country by next year. 

On Monday, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen attempted to tamp down Pakistan's increasingly heated rhetoric over a possible shutdown of the Afghan supply lines. 

"I feel confident that the Pakistani authorities will maintain open supply routes and transit routes because it is in Pakistan's own interest to contribute positively to stability and security in the region," Rasmussen told reporters at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels. 

Despite Pakistan's sovereignty claims, Rasmussen argued closure of the supply lines to the Americans would be harmful to all countries involved, not just the United States. 

"The security of Afghanistan and Pakistan is inter-linked. There can't be security in the one country without security in the other," he said. 

The Pakistani provincial vote also coincided with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's call for more international participation in U.S. counterterrorism operations. 

In a speech Tuesday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Hagel said the increasingly diffuse scope and nature of terrorist threats facing the United States since the Sept. 11 attacks will force Washington to depend on its international allies more than ever before. 

"The challenge of terrorism has evolved as it has metastasized since 9/11," Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Tuesday. 

"This has required and will continue to demand unprecedented collaboration with partners and allies on counterterrorism efforts," according to the Pentagon chief. 

While Hagel did predict a whole new level of interdependence between Washington and its allies on counterterrorism operations, he did not indicate the United States was ready to abandon unilateral efforts to decimate al Qaeda and other radical militant groups.