Battle of Khyber Pass key to ending to Taliban raids

Pakistan launches major offensive as America prepares to double deployment in Afghanistan

Pakistan has closed the principal route used to channel supplies to American and Nato troops in Afghanistan as it launches a military offensive to secure the area against insurgents.

Troops, backed by helicopter gunships and tanks, moved into the Khyber Pass area near Pakistan's north-west border yesterday.

More than three-quarters of all food, fuel and war material destined for American and Nato troops in landlocked Afghanistan passes along the narrow and winding 35-mile cut through the Hindu Kush mountains that has served as a strategic trade and military route since Alexander the Great's advance into India.

Over the past month, the supply line has come under attack from militants loyal to a Taliban commander. The Pakistani army began its operation after the militants spurned an offer to surrender, local officials said.

"Because of these operations, supplies have been suspended to Afghanistan and vice versa," Fazal Mehmood, a civilian administrator in the Khyber tribal agency, said.

Securing the route is a key priority for the US as it plans to double its deployment in Afghanistan next year to 60,000 troops. "We are glad that they're helping clean out what they call miscreants in that area that have been attacking the supply line," said Colonel Greg Julian, a US military spokesman in Afghanistan. "Temporary closure [of the supply line] is not a problem. It's best that they conduct this operation and clear out these trouble spots."

The New York Times reported yesterday that the US and Nato were planning to open and expand supply lines through central Asia, to create an alternative "northern corridor". Some supplies would be purchased locally and trucked into Afghanistan. Other items might be sent to Baltic ports and transported along Russia's railway lines.

Masked Taliban gunmen mounted half-a-dozen raids on depots in Peshawar city this month. On 8 December, about 200 masked gunmen led by Hakimullah Mehsud – a close associate of the chief Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud – blocked the road, collected petrol from a station to pour over 100 trucks, and set them alight.

In what was a sign of the growing lawlessness around the city, where there has been a spate of kidnappings and murder, Pakistani security forces were helpless to intervene.

Beyond the city, the convoys pass through the Khyber tribal agency which is in effect controlled by Taliban forces. This month's attacks prompted the Khyber Transport Association, which carries about 60 per cent of the cargo, to go on strike.

Mehmood Shah, a former head of security for the tribal areas based in Peshawar, said security along the route had suffered after the country's troops were last week redeployed to the eastern border with India amid escalating tensions between the two countries.

"Because of the shortage of troops, the depots were left vulnerable. Only a battalion or squadron of tanks was available, leading to the need for a military operation."

Some Pakistani military analysts suspect there may be also be "domestic political motives" behind the move to suspend the supply route. "It would be a very popular move at home, and will pressure the international community," said the defence specialist Ayesha Siddiqa. Pakistan's largest Islamist party has called for demonstrations against the supply route, in protest against the 20-plus CIA-operated missile strikes that have targeted militants in the tribal areas since August.

"This obviously means that they want to build pressure on the international system to use its influence on India to restrain Indian policies towards Pakistan," said Hasan Askari-Rizvi, professor of political science at a Lahore university,

Yesterday, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Pakistan's Foreign Minister, appealed to India to pull back its jets and troops as Pakistan stepped up its efforts to defuse cross-border tensions.

"I understand India has activated their forward air bases, and I think if they are deactivated, then it will be a big positive signal," Mr Qureshi said. "Similarly, as far as their ground forces are concerned... if they relocated to their peacetime positions, then it will also be a positive signal."

The President, Asif Ali Zardari has made similar statements, as has General Ashfaq Kayani, the taciturn army chief who last week called for conflict to be avoided. Pakistani military and government officials insist that it moved troops to the border with India in a response to Indian redeployments.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Suited and booted in the Lanvin show at the Paris menswear collections
fashionParis Fashion Week
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
An asteroid is set to pass so close to Earth it will be visible with binoculars
news
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project