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US-NATO in the eye of Taliban storm
 
By Imtiaz Gul

Weekly Pulse, Islamabad December 18, 2008

Within first two weeks of December, militants carried out multiple strikes, most of them in and around Peshawar, to convey they can hit targets at will. More than 300 humwees and armoured personnel carriers, basically destined for the Afghanistan-based US forces, were the prime targets. Pilferages of Afghanistan-bound trucks have also become frequent. So far this year, about a dozen or so incidents of small convoys carrying goods for NATO and US troops have also been reported.  After staying quiet for quite some time, Maulvi Omer, the spokesman for the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), on December 14 finally  claimed responsibility for these attacks. Omer, rumoured to had been critically injured in a Pakistan army strike, told reporters by phone from an undisclosed location the "series of attacks on terminals in Peshawar were a response to the Americans for their drone strikes inside Pakistan".

The TTP spokesman  threatened to continue  such attacks on US and NATO supply vehicles elsewhere in the country if the intensity of the attacks inside Afghanistan was not reduced. "We would try to cut off every supply through Pakistan if the situation remains the same," Omer warned.

The intimidation coincided with  the news that the Khyber Transport Association (KTA) decided the same day to stop NATO supplies via Khyber Agency to Afghanistan. An office-bearer of the KTA told a national newspaper that they had lost 70 tribesmen, mostly truck drivers and their helpers, and around 400 vehicles in attacks on NATO logistics in the past six years.


Shakir Afridi, the KTA president, says Khyber Agency tribesmen own at least 3,000  trucks, trailers and tankers that currently carry the US and  NATO supplies from Karachi to Kabul via the Khyber agency . They are, he told reporters in Peshawar on December 14,  not ready any more to take in human and material losses.
The same day, General David McKiernan, commander of NATO-led troops in Afghanistan, hinted discussions were underway for finding alternate supply routes.
"I think it is very important to have multiple lines of re-supply," McKiernan said, saying that most fuel for foreign forces comes from Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan and the United States military also receives 350,000 gallons of fuel via Afghanistan's northern neighbours.

"There are certainly ongoing political discussions between NATO and countries to increase the throughput of material coming in from highways on the north side of Afghanistan," McKiernan, told a news conference in Kabul.

Meanwhile , Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, the former Soviet Central Asian states that lie between Russia and Afghanistan, have also reportedly agreed in principle to the railway route for NATO and US troops in Afghanistan which is being dubbed as the  'Northern Corridor.'

Such discussions obviously reflect the NATO and US commanders' growing concern about the attacks on their main supply line, which runs from the Pakistani port of Karachi via the Khyber Pass to Kabul and brings in 70 percent of their supplies. The rest is either driven from Karachi via the border town of Chamman to southern Afghanistan, or flown in at enormous expense in transport planes.

"We're all increasingly concerned," US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen told reporters on December 10. "But in that concern, we've worked pretty hard to develop options."

The railway route through Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan sounds a good alternative but it  will have to be endorsed by Russia. In the current situation, it is a difficult possibility given the problems between Moscow and Washington. Yet, it is not impossible if seen in the context of  Moscow's pragmatic approach towards regional stability through cooperation. If that happens, Pakistan will certainly lose partially, if not altogether, the current leverage that it holds for the US and NATO supplies.

Such an arrangement will also change the strategic map for Pakistan, which would mean it also loses the importance that it gained through the UN Security Council Resolution 1373 in 2001. By virtue of this resolution the "expenses" of the supply line going through Pakistan are included in the payments made to Pakistan for its efforts to fight terrorism.
Now, regardless of the disastrous consequences of the terror and pilferage campaign for Pakistan, it is interesting to hear from the Interior Advisor Rehman Malik that providing security to the NATO and US supplies is not the government’s responsibility.


Talking to reporters in the parliament house on December 15, Malik said the private cargo carriers themselves are responsible for the safety of these supplies.
Viewed against Pakistan's commitment to the war on terror as the most favourable NATO ally, as well as the fundamental responsibility of the state to protect life and property on its soil, Rehman Mailk's statement  came as a surprise. In fact sounded ridiculous and irresponsible. And it is such attitude that also fuels perceptions in the Frontier Province as well as FATA.

During a three day stay in Peshawar, the author held several meetings with civil and military officials, common citizens and journalists to figure out what they thought of the attacks on the US cargo awaiting onward shipment to Afghanistan.
The majority of the people believe that intelligence agencies and elements within the Pakistan army may be behind it. Why, I asked.

may force them to leave Afghanistan," was the answer by the majority of respondents. They believed the torching of such cargo is an attempt to cover-up massive pilferages including military hard-ware.

"The objective may be to squeeze the food and fuel supplies to foreign troops and that
Most people believe that security agencies may be involved in stealing things, which may be sold to China for reverse engineering.

Another perception relates to the role of Russia, Iran and China; these three countries may not be comfortable with the expanding US-NATO role in the region. So the best way to pressure this coalition is to keep supporting individuals and groups like the Taliban. This  way these three countries and the ISI can all work together to bleed the Coalition in Afghanistan. This is a view that many intelligence officials – both serving and retired – love to peddle.


But many also believe, though strangely, that the Americans themselves are creating instability through covert support of "forces of chaos."
For them, an instable Pakistan suits the Americans more. Chaos provides the US with greater justification for increasing its presence in the region.

Since the militants are concerned the B team for the security establishment, police and people at large are reluctant to stand up against them

"No body wants to risk his life by openly opposing the Taliban, they enjoy protection of the agencies," said a former government official, pointing out that scores of police officials in Peshawar and the embattled Swat region have either left jobs or requested postings to other places. The public security system therefore is in a shambles. Also because a good portion of the police is deployed for the VIP duties, and this also explains the alarming rise in crimes, particularly abductions for ransom in and around Peshawar, where people live in increasing insecurity and uncertainty.

The army and its affiliated intelligence agencies therefore face the uphill task of removing the ambivalence that exists even today; the perception that the Taliban enjoy official support runs deep inside FATA and the province. The establishment shall have to come clean on this perception. Its actions must match the pronouncements that the entire civilian and military leadership keeps making. The political leadership, particularly the ANP and JUI leaders, who are running for lives, shall also have to work overtime and demonstrate through their acts that they want to rid the country of non-state actors. Right now, however, the entire scenario is extremely fluid, with misplaced notions, immature perceptions and illogical analysis doing rounds all over. And this gives way to terror and uncertainty, precisely the objective that forces of chaos pursue

(The author heads the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad.

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk