Pakistan's blockade of the vital US supply line into Afghanistan entered a third week Saturday, its longest closure of the 10-year war with no imminent sign of the border reopening.
Pakistan's fragile alliance with the United States crashed to new lows two weeks ago on November 26 when NATO air strikes killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in what the Pakistan military called a deliberate attack.
US President Barack Obama telephoned President Asif Ali Zardari to offer his condolences, but Washington has stopped short of apologising pending the results of a military investigation into what happened, due on December 23.
Although Pakistani and US officials dispute the precise sequence of events in the killings, Pakistan closed its two crossings to US and NATO supplies and gave American personnel until Sunday to leave an air base reportedly used by CIA drones.
Officials in the northwest, where the main Torkham crossing into Afghanistan is situated, told AFP there were no plans to reopen.
"There is strong public resentment. People are angry about this incident and we cannot take a decision in haste," one senior security official told AFP.
"Pakistan will reopen the border when public anger cools down and the route is protected," he added.
Two nights ago, gunmen destroyed at least 34 trucks in a gun and rocket attack on a NATO trucking terminal in the southwestern province of Baluchistan.
Around 44 oil tankers and goods trucks were parked at the temporary terminal, one of three set up in and around Quetta for stranded vehicles.
No group claimed responsibility for the attack, but the Taliban have carried out similar strikes to disrupt supplies in the past.
The 140,000 foreign troops in landlocked Afghanistan rely on fuel, food and equipment brought in from outside -- nearly half of which is routed through Pakistan, the quickest and the cheapest supply line.
Lieutenant Colonel Jimmie Cummings, a spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), said the blockade was not affecting troops on the ground, although he declined to comment on what might happen if the border remained closed.
"Fifty-two percent of our supplies come from the northern route and we still have plenty of air assets," he said.
"We have the technology and the assets to support all our troops here on the ground.
"Right now we don't see any problems. I don't want to speculate for the future."
ISAF and the US have been building up alternative supply routes through Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan from the north of Afghanistan as relations between Washington and Islamabad have deteriorated this year.
Publicly, the coalition has insisted its fight against the Taliban will not be affected by the blockade. British newspaper The Guardian says stockpiles mean there would be no impact on NATO operations for several months.
Pakistani-US relations, which have yet to recover from a secret American raid that killed Osama bin Laden on May 2, are considered to be at their lowest ebb.
The partnership is often described as an unhappy marriage of convenience in which Pakistan depends on billions of dollars of US aid and the United States depends on Pakistani logistical support for the war effort in Afghanistan.
While few expect the alliance to break down over the strikes, officials gave AFP no date for reopening the crossing.
"People are still protesting. How can we take this decision in such an atmosphere?" said a security official in the northwest.
On Thursday, around 800 people poured onto the streets in the Pakistani capital Islamabad, venting their fury against the United States and NATO, and demanding an end to the unpopular alliance in the war against the Taliban.
"NATO will have to apologise. They will have to provide solid security for the future," the official added.
by S.H. Khan
(c) 2011 AFP
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