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    South Asia
     Nov 25, '13

Imran Khan blocks NATO supply lines
By Syed Fazl-e-Haider

KARACHI - The ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) administration in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on Sunday stopped trucks carrying supplies through the northwestern province for US-led international forces in neighboring Afghanistan in protest at the US drone program. North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) supply lines were blocked a day after PTI chief Imran Khan announced supply lines would be closed, fully backed by Islamist parties and groups.

Club-wielding PTI activists on Sunday forcibly searched trucks for NATO supplies in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in protest at deadly US drone strikes. They set up checkpoints in Peshawar on a main road leading to Afghanistan and broke open truck containers to check their contents.

"We stopped dozens of containers among which only nine were

found to be supplying goods to NATO troops in Afghanistan," The Express Tribune reported Younas Zaheer, the PTI's general secretary Peshawar, as saying.

Khan on Saturday led thousands of supporters in a protest and blocked a road in Peshawar (the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) leading to a border crossing point used by trucks carrying NATO supplies in and out of Afghanistan. The other crossing is in southwestern Balochistan province. Khan, who is backed by ruling coalition partners including Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and Awami Jamhoori Ittehad (AJI), urged the federal government led by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to block NATO supplies across the country to force the US to end drone strikes.

The militant Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), or Pakistani Taliban, whose commander Hakimullah Mehsud was killed earlier this month in a drone strike, welcomed the step to block NATO supplies in protest against drone attacks. The PTI's threat this month to block NATO supply lines raised concerns at NATO headquarters in Belgium, where the organization's chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen urged the Pakistan government to keep supply lines open.

"I feel confident that the Pakistani authorities will maintain open supply routes and transit routes because it is in Pakistan's own interest to contribute positively to stability and security in the region," Reuters reported Rasmussen as saying in a news conference in Brussels.

The US drone campaign, which has so far been restricted to Pakistan' tribal areas, has now expanded to the country's settled areas. A US drone strike at a madrassa (seminary) in the Hangu district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa last week killed at least six people and injured three others. The drone fired three missiles targeting the seminary in the Tal area, reportedly killing a senior member of the Taliban-linked Haqqani network, and injuring another from an affiliated Haqqani network, one of the most feared groups fighting US forces in Afghanistan.

The first drone strike in Hangu, which lies within the settled areas of the province, came a day after Sharif's top foreign policy aide Sartaj Aziz revealed that the US had assured it would not conduct drone strikes if dialogue began between Pakistani Taliban and the government. Pakistan strongly condemned the US drone strike in Hangu.

"These strikes are a violation of Pakistan's sovereignty and territorial integrity," the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement. "Such strikes also set dangerous precedents in the inter-state relations they entail loss of innocent civilian lives and have human rights and humanitarian implications."

Pakistan has been the main supply route for the international missions in Afghanistan since late 2001. Hundreds of trucks fueled from Pakistani refineries have traveled to Afghanistan on a daily basis since then. The question arises whether the NATO-supplies blockade will end the US drone strikes in tribal areas?

The Daily Times in its editorial said,
Pressurizing the US to halt drone strikes in Pakistan through blocking NATO supplies has not produced this result in the past and is unlikely to do so now. The supply lines at present are being used more to transport goods out of Afghanistan then sending them in. For Imran Khan, who had repeatedly demanded of the US to leave the region, this was not the time to put hurdles in the way of the NATO supply route. And if Imran Khan is not playing to the gallery, which everyone believes he is, then how does he justify the registration of a First Information Report on the drone strike in Hangu against 'unknown' persons? Is the KP [Khyber Pakhtunkhwa] government, run by the PTI, really 'oblivious' of the identity of the 'culprit'? The US is assisting the KP government through different financial aid and grant programmes, running into millions of dollars.
The last time that NATO's supply route was blocked was in November 2011, under the order of Islamabad after NATO forces attacked a Pakistan military post at Salala near Afghanistan border. Pakistan-US relations reached a low point after the air attack killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, with Pakistan threatening to halt its efforts to persuade the Afghan Taliban to come to the negotiating table after blocking fuel supplies to NATO troops in Afghanistan. The US was also asked to vacate Shamsi, a remote airbase in Balochistan province.

After the Salala incident, all the political parties and civil society groups pressed the former government led by President Asif Ali Zardari to review its war on terror policy and alliance with Washington and NATO. The US however did not halt drone strikes in tribal areas.

Islamabad reopened the vital NATO supply lines into Afghanistan in July 2012 after then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton apologized for the deaths of the 24 Pakistani soldiers. The US took seven months to formally say "sorry" to an ally for the tragic mistake that resulted in death of two dozen Pakistani troops. The belated apology exposed the mistrust and misgivings between two allies who have hardly ever been on the same page in more than a decade of the war on terror.

Syed Fazl-e-Haider ( www.syedfazlehaider.com ) is a development analyst in Pakistan. He is the author of many books, including The Economic Development of Balochistan, published in May 2004. E-mail, sfazlehaider05@yahoo.com

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