Another blow to NATO's supplies
By Syed Saleem Shahzad
KARACHI - Taliban militants are striking terror into the container business
handling the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's (NATO) supplies passing
through Pakistan on their way to Afghanistan, virtually crippling the
On Saturday, militants destroyed 11 trucks and 13 NATO containers in Peshawar,
the capital of North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), in their sixth attack in 13
days. Overall, they have destroyed approximately 400 containers carrying food,
fuel and military vehicles.
If troop deployment is increased in Afghanistan beyond the present 67,000 -
nearly half of them from the US - an estimated
70,000 containers will have to be shipped to Afghanistan every year. Currently,
about 80% of NATO's supplies pass through Pakistan.
NATO has now been forced to seek alternative - and much more costly - overland
routes though Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Belarus and Ukraine. (See
NATO seeks out new Afghan supply routes Asia Times Online, December 12,
Zia ul-Haq Sarhadi, the chairman of the standing committee for the dry port of
the Sarhad Chamber of Commerce (the chamber for NWFP), confirmed in a press
statement that the surge of attacks on the 11 terminals in Peshawar had created
so much terror that people associated with handling the containers, contractors
and even drivers are not prepared to do their jobs. This affects non-NATO trade
Kifayatullah Jan, manager at Port World Logistics, a contractor that has been
ferrying NATO supplies, commented to Inter Press Service, "For us it may mean
we close shop. We can't do business if the government cannot provide us
protection." According to Jan, the company and its drivers receive regular
threats from militants to "stop transporting supplies to the Americans or face
After an earlier raid in Peshawar, a US military spokesperson in Kabul was
quoted as saying the losses were "militarily insignificant' and would have only
a "minimal effect on our operations''.
This can't disguise NATO's concern though. It has urgently requested Islamabad
to assign the Frontier Constabulary (FC), as promised recently, to the security
of its supplies. However, the FC said it could not spare any men as they were
tied up in combat operations against the Taliban.
In other regional developments, the influential International Council on
Security and Development (ICOS - formerly the Senlis Council) said that the
Taliban now have a permanent presence in 72% of Afghanistan, up from 54% a year
The Taliban are also closing the noose around the capital Kabul, with three out
of four main highways into the city now compromised by the Taliban, according
to the report.
There are independent observations that, given the Taliban's activities, other
Afghan guerrilla groups such as the Hezb-e-Islami Afghanistan led by Gulbuddin
Hekmatyar have been emboldened and are playing a more pro-active role in the
insurgency. This could see several thousand more fighters as well as resources
pitched into the fray next year.
At the same time, following November's attack on Mumbai in India, Pakistan has
moved some of its forces from NWFP for deployment on the border with India. And
before next summer, Pakistan could have withdrawn at least half its troops
along the Afghan border after striking secret peace deals with the Taliban.
This will allow the Taliban based in the Pakistani tribal areas to consolidate.
A year back, the Taliban carried out their first attack on a NATO supply line,
in Khyber Agency, and boasted they would follow the strategy of Vietnamese
General Vo Nguyen Giap in slowly squeezing the enemy into submission.
This was greeted with some derision in Kabul and Brussels as the Taliban were
still viewed as a ragtag militia.
Much has changed over the past year, with the Taliban's gains in Afghanistan
and with the decision to make a move on Peshawar. The goal was never to seize
control of it, but to create terror. And this are doing.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can
be reached at email@example.com