New al-Qaeda focus on NATO supplies
By Syed Saleem Shahzad
KARACHI - The Taliban and al-Qaeda have with some success squeezed the North
Atlantic Treaty Organization's (NATO's)supply lines that run through Pakistan
into Afghanistan, especially goods in transit in Khyber Agency on the border.
Now, according to Asia Times Online contacts, the target area is being shifted
to the southern port city of Karachi, where almost 90% of NATO's shipments
land, including vital oil. From this teeming financial center, 80% of the goods
go to Torkham in Khyber Agency on their way to the Afghan capital of Kabul.
About 10% go to Chaman, then on to the northern Afghan city of Kandahar. The
remaining NATO supplies arrive in Afghanistan by air and other routes.
An al-Qaeda member told Asia Times Online on condition of
anonymity, "The single strategy of severing NATO's supply lines from Pakistan
is the key to success. If the blockage is successfully implemented in 2008, the
Western coalition will be forced to leave Afghanistan in 2009, and if
implemented next year, the exit is certain by 2010."
Several al-Qaeda cells have apparently been activated in Karachi to monitor the
movement of NATO supply convoys.
This focus on Karachi coincides with two major events. First, the Pakistani
armed forces are heavily engaged in fighting against militants in Bajaur Agency
and in the Swat Valley in the tribal areas along the Afghan border.
At the same time, the coalition government in Islamabad is preparing to impeach
Washington's point man in the region, President Pervez Musharraf, mainly over
his implementation of a state of emergency and dismissal of the judiciary last
year when he headed a military administration.
The unpopular military operations and the political crisis, which could see
Musharraf respond by using his constitutional powers to dissolve parliament,
play into al-Qaeda's hands as the government's ability to counter new threats
is considerably reduced.
NATO is understandably acutely concerned over protecting its supply lines into
land-locked Afghanistan. When routes in Khyber Agency came under attack this
year, NATO reached an agreement with Russia for some goods to transit through
Russian territory. This alternative is costly, though, given the distances
involved, and can only be used in emergencies.
Washington tried to get Iran to permit the passage of goods from its seaports
into neighboring Afghanistan, but Tehran refused point-blank.
So NATO is stuck with Pakistan as a transshipment point, along with its
The latest crisis has it roots in elections in February, following Musharraf
stepping down as chief of army staff. The national elections that followed
resulted in a coalition civilian government headed by the pro-American liberal
and secular Pakistan People's Party and Nawaz Sharif's conservative right-wing
Pakistan Muslim League, whose political constituency is traditional and
religious segments of society. The Pashtun sub-nationalist Awami National Party
and the traditional religious Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Islam are another mismatch in
As a result, from the beginning the coalition was pulled in various directions,
with little consensus on key matters such as the "war on terror". Only recently
did the parties agree to move ahead on trying to impeach Musharraf.
Pakistan is the strategic backyard for NATO as well as for the Taliban and
al-Qaeda. If Musharraf does go, it would be a huge victory for the militants to
see off the US ally through whose office millions of dollars of aid are
channeled in the "war on terror".
If he stays, debilitating political turmoil is inevitable, and al-Qaeda's
sights are already set on the boatloads of containers that carry fuel, armored
personnel vehicles, guns, aircraft spares and other military supplies to
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can
be reached at email@example.com