Taliban warn Pakistan lawmakers over NATO supplies

AP News
Posted: Mar 25, 2012 1:36 PM
Taliban warn Pakistan lawmakers over NATO supplies

The Taliban on Sunday threatened to attack Pakistani lawmakers and their families if they support allowing NATO to resume shipping supplies through the country to troops in neighboring Afghanistan.

Pakistan closed its Afghan border crossings to NATO in November in retaliation for American airstrikes that accidentally killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. Pakistan's parliament is scheduled to begin debate Monday on a revised relationship with the U.S. that could lead to the border being reopened.

Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ahsanullah Ahsan accused Pakistani officials of acting like slaves for the U.S. and said allowing NATO supplies to resume would be "shameful and unacceptable."

"These parliamentarians must know that in such case, none of them will be safe in their homes," Ahsan told The Associated Press. "We will start attacking all the parliamentarians and their families."

Ahsan also said militants would "publicly slaughter" drivers ferrying NATO supplies.

The U.S. is eager to get the supplies moving again because it has had to spend much more money shipping goods by an alternative route that runs through Central Asia.

The supply line through Pakistan will also be key to trucking out equipment as the U.S. seeks to withdraw most of its combat forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

Pakistan would also benefit from patching up relations because it needs U.S. assistance to help keep its struggling economy afloat. The U.S. has given Pakistan billions of dollars in aid since 2001 to enlist its support in fighting Islamist militants, but the relationship has been plagued by mistrust.

A Pakistani parliamentary commission tasked with proposing new guidelines for the relationship between the two countries last week demanded an end to American drone attacks and an apology for the airstrikes that killed Pakistani troops.

The commission also recommended that the Pakistani government charge NATO more for shipments through the country if it allows them to resume. The parliament is scheduled to begin debate on these points Monday.

Washington has expressed regret for the border incident but avoided a formal apology. U.S. officials were reportedly preparing to apologize last month but had to postpone the plan after U.S. soldiers burned copies of the Quran in Afghanistan. President Barack Obama apologized for that, bring criticism from political opponents.

High-level meetings between the two countries were mostly put on hold following the airstrikes, but lately they have started to pick up.

On Sunday, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari met with Marc Grossman, the U.S. special representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan, on the sidelines of a conference in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, the U.S. said.

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani is scheduled to meet Obama during a meeting in Seoul, South Korea, on Tuesday.

The Pakistani army, and to a lesser extent the civilian government, will ultimately decide whether to restore ties with the U.S., but parliament could influence the decision. Analysts say placing the issue before lawmakers is an attempt to give the government and the army some political cover, so they can claim support of the country before quietly reopening the supply route.

Opposition lawmakers have indicated they may not back the proposed new terms with the U.S.

"If the government wants the parliament to provide guidance on certain issues and situations, then we are ready to, but the government has to convince us, because its track record regarding two previous resolutions proved to be very bad," Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, the leader of the opposition in parliament, said Saturday.

Parliament passed a resolution last May recommending Pakistan cut off NATO supplies if the U.S. didn't stop drone strikes in the country. The missile attacks continued, as did the NATO supplies.

The drone strikes are unpopular among Pakistanis and have long been publicly opposed by the Pakistani army and government as a violation of the country's sovereignty. They also maintain that the attacks fan support for militancy even as they kill insurgents.

The issue is muddied by the fact that in private, the army has approved at least some of the strikes and provided intelligence on them, raising questions over whether they technically violate the sovereignty of the country. American officials rarely talk about the program in public.


Associated Press writers Sebastian Abbot and Zarar Khan contributed to this report from Islamabad.