Pakistan retaliation leaves Nato drivers in limbo

 

Stranded Pakistani truck drivers carrying fuel and other supplies to US-led troops in Afghanistan said today that they were exposed to attacks by Islamist militants, after Islamabad closed the country's border crossings in retaliation for coalition airstrikes that allegedly killed 24 Pakistani troops.

Suspected militants destroyed around 150 trucks and injured drivers and police a year ago after Pakistan closed one of its Afghan border crossings to Nato supplies for about 10 days in retaliation for a US helicopter attack that accidentally killed two Pakistani soldiers. 

The situation could be more dire this time because Pakistan, outraged at the alleged Nato attack before dawn yesterday, has closed both its crossings. Nearly 300 trucks carrying coalition supplies are now backed up at Torkham in the northwest Khyber tribal area and Chaman in southwestern Baluchistan province. Last year, Pakistan only closed Torkham. 

"We are worried," said driver Saeed Khan. He spoke by telephone from the border terminal in Torkham. "This area is always vulnerable to attacks. Sometimes rockets are lobbed at us. Sometimes we are targeted by bombs." 

Khan and hundreds of other drivers and their assistants barely slept last night because they were worried about potential attacks, he said. 

Some drivers said Pakistan had sent paramilitary troops to protect their convoys since the closures, but others were left without any additional protection. Even those who did receive troops did not feel safe. 

"If there is an attack, what can five or six troops do? Nothing," said Niamatullah Khan, a fuel truck driver who was parked with 35 other vehicles at a restaurant about 125 miles from Chaman. "It is just a matter of some bullets or a bomb, and that's it." 

Nato ships nearly 50 per cent of its non-lethal supplies to its troops in Afghanistan through Pakistan. The trucks are periodically targeted by suspected militants as they travel through the country, and their occupants are sometimes killed. Nato has said these attacks do not significantly impact its ability to keep its troops supplied. 

A prolonged closure of the border would, however. Nato has reduced the amount of supplies it ships through Pakistan from a high of around 80 per cent of its total non-lethal supplies by using routes through Central Asia, but they are costly and less efficient. It would likely be difficult to increase significantly the amount of supplies shipped on these alternative routes in a short timeframe if Pakistan's borders remain closed. 

Some critical supplies, including ammunition, are airlifted directly to Afghan air bases. 

The decision to close the borders highlights the leverage Pakistan has over the US and other Nato forces, but there is a potential cost to Islamabad as well. Pakistan relies on billions of dollars in American military and civilian aid, and that could be jeopardized if Islamabad blocks Nato supplies for long. 

Pakistan eventually relented and reopened Torkham last year after the US apologised. But the number of alleged casualties is much higher this time. The relationship between the two countries has also severely deteriorated over the past year, especially following the covert US raid that killed Osama bin Laden in a Pakistani garrison town in May. Pakistan was outraged because it wasn't told about the operation beforehand. 

Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar told US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today that the alleged Nato attack negated all progress in improving the tattered alliance between the two countries. 

The US has constantly been frustrated by Pakistan as an ally, because of its unwillingness to target Taliban militants on its territory staging attacks against American troops in Afghanistan. But Washington still needs the country's help to try to push those same militants to the negotiating table. 

Khar told Clinton in a phone call that the alleged Nato attack was unacceptable, showed complete disregard for human life and sparked rage within Pakistan, according a press release issued by the Pakistani prime minister's office. 

In addition to closing its border crossings, Pakistan also responded by giving the US 15 days to vacate an air base in Baluchistan used by American drones. The US uses Shamsi Air Base to service drones that target al-Qa'ida and Taliban militants in Pakistan's tribal region when they cannot return to their bases inside Afghanistan because of weather conditions or mechanical difficulty, said US and Pakistani officials.

The Pakistani army said yesterday that Nato helicopters and fighter jets carried out an "unprovoked" attack on two of its border posts in the Mohmand tribal area before dawn, killing 24 soldiers and wounding 13 others. 

Pakistan held funerals for the soldiers today at the army's headquarters in Peshawar, the most important city in the country's northwest. Mourners, including Pakistan army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, said prayers in front of caskets wrapped in green and white Pakistani flags. 

A spokesman for Nato forces, Brigadier General Carsten Jacobson, said yesterday that Afghan and coalition troops were operating in the border area of eastern Afghanistan when "a tactical situation" prompted them to call in close air support. It was "highly likely" that the airstrikes caused Pakistani casualties, but an investigation is being conducted to determine the details, he told BBC television. 
 

US officials have expressed their sympathies over the incident and have promised to work closely with Pakistan as Nato carries out its investigation. 

In the meantime, truckers in Pakistan are wondering how long they will be stranded and whether they will make it through the ordeal with being attacked. 

"Who knows what is going to happen," said Manzoor Agha, an oil tank driver stuck at the Chaman crossing. "We don't have any special security protection." 

AP

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
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

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk