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NATO Supply Route Imperiled As Pakistani Truckers Refuse To Carry Goods

Pakistani security personnel escort trucks loaded with supplies for NATO and U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, at the Pakistani border town of Jamrud last month.
Pakistani security personnel escort trucks loaded with supplies for NATO and U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, at the Pakistani border town of Jamrud last month.
As a truck driver, Gul Mohmamad regularly ferries containers full of food and other supplies along the Khyber Pass route to Western forces in the Afghan capital.

It's an increasingly dangerous occupation, with Taliban forces attacking trucks on the road and increasingly in the terminals.

"We don't have any security here. When we are parked here outside the terminal we are afraid of being attacked," Mohmamad says. "We have the same fears and problems when we are driving on the roads. That is why we cannot perform our duties properly."

In response to the increased danger, an alliance of some 3,500 truck and fuel tanker owners announced on December 15 that it would no longer make deliveries for NATO along the alliance's main overland supply route.

Under heavy protection, some 190 fuel tankers and supply trucks traveling from Pakistan successfully crossed into Afghanistan on December 15. But the two convoys traveling through the narrow and treacherous Khyber Pass may be among the last.

The head of the Peshawar-based Khyber Transport Association, Mohammad Shakir Afridi, told RFE/RL the attacks were the main reason behind the decision.

"Our vehicles and lives are in danger. Every truck we own values about 4 million rupees [$50,000]. So we transporters are suspending supplies to NATO troops in protest," Afridi said.

During the past week alone, two drivers making the trip and one security guard at one of the 13 Peshawar terminals marking the convoys' starting point have been killed. At least 300 NATO supply vehicles have been torched in six spectacular attacks.
We don't have any security here. When we are parked here outside the terminal we are afraid of being attacked

Adding to his association's loss of about 25 vehicles in the past week, according to Afridi, is that the association receives compensation only for oil tankers, but not for container trucks or their cargos.

The announcement to halt supplies is significant considering most of the association's members are Pashtun Afridi and Shinwari tribesmen from villages along the Khyber Pass who are well-familiar with the dangers along the route.

Terminals Targetted

But while a month ago attacks on their convoys were expected at the pass, the recent targeting of the terminals 20 kilometers east in Peshawar itself have added a new dimension of fear.

A truck of Pakistani paramilitary soldiers (right) leads a container loaded with supplies for NATO and U.S.-led forces near the Khyber Pass.
Security guards at the Peshawar terminals are nervous and no longer willing to endanger their lives for the $50 a month they are paid to keep watch. Pakistani media reported that guards fled their posts during the recent attacks.

Khyber Transport Association head Afridi says the convoys and supplies are increasingly being targeted in response to cross-border strikes being conducted by NATO drones on Pakistan territory.

Maulvi Omar, a self-proclaimed spokesman for Tehrek-e-Taliban Pakistan -- the umbrella group for various Taliban factions in Pakistan -- acknowledged as much this week in telephone calls to Pakistani journalists on December 14.

Ways of countering the tactic are being considered. Police in Peshawar have announced fresh measures to protect the NATO supply terminals, and reports indicate that Pakistan may deploy its paramilitary Frontier Constabulary to protect the supply chain.

Fighting The Militants

But Afridi sees little prospect of those efforts changing his association's decision to stop working for NATO. He says Pakistani authorities appear to helpless in the face of militant onslaught.

"This situation is like a revolution. Consider that 35 [Western] countries are unable to control the situation in Afghanistan. In comparison, Pakistan is an impoverished country and it lacks the resources to control Taliban and other similar organizations," Afridi says.

Currently, some 75 percent of all supplies to Western forces in Afghanistan are shipped in through Pakistan's southern Karachi seaport. Supplies are then trucked to Afghanistan through the mountain passes of Khyber and Khojak in northwestern and southern Pakistan.

Addressing the urgency of the situation, NATO has been actively seeking northern routes through Russia, the Caucuses, and Central Asia.

General David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, reiterated on December 14 the need for the United States and NATO to develop alternative routes.

"The supply line issue in Pakistan is quite serious. There have been actually already various initiatives that now take a new urgency" he was quoted as saying during a security meeting in Bahrain.

Britain's "The Times" newspaper on December 13 quoted an unnamed NATO official as saying that the alliance is planning to open a northern supply route within the next eight weeks.

In November, Germany became the first NATO nation to win Russian permission to use the country's railways to transit military goods bound for Afghanistan.

Najib Aaamir, RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent in Peshawar, contributed to this story
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    Abubakar Siddique

    Abubakar Siddique, a journalist for RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, specializes in the coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is the author of The Pashtun Question: The Unresolved Key To The Future Of Pakistan And Afghanistan. He is also one of the authors of the Azadi Briefing, a weekly newsletter that unpacks the key issues in Afghanistan.

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