Pakistani protest over
drones blocks NATO convoys
Afghan President Hamid Karzai is trying to wring more concessions from the U.S.
WHILE THE HEADLINES from Afghanistan this week were dominated by its recalcitrant President Hamid Karzai, a little noticed but potentially significant development was taking place just across the border in Pakistan.
A small group led by a former cricket star turned politician has managed to block NATO supplies at a choke point in protest over U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan.
The Pakistani authorities have, so far, done nothing to stop the protest. Their tacit approval speaks loudly about the government’s vehement opposition to American usurpation of its airspace for attacks, which have claimed many innocent lives.
It’s another indication of the limits of military firepower to make any noticeable impact in this turbulent but vital region.
THE DRONE PROTEST began over the weekend, according to the report by BBC News on Tuesday Pakistan protesters block Nato supply route.
“Pakistani activists have blocked the main supply route for provisions destined for NATO troops in Afghanistan to protest against US drone strikes,” the BBC reported.
The BBC News story on the blockade in Pakistan. Click image to enlarge.
“Opposition politician Imran Khan called for the action and said it would continue until American drone attacks in north-west Pakistan came to an end.
“He blames the drones for causing civilian deaths and for crushing any chance of peace with the Taliban.”
According to the BBC, the blockade is seen as retaliation for the killing of Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud in a drone strike at a compound in North Waziristan.
“This blockade is centred on a road in Pakistan’s north-western Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, which is used to ferry goods to and from Afghanistan and has been building since the weekend.”
More details can by found at the story in Time headlined Furious Pakistanis Block NATO Supply Routes to Protest Drone Strikes.
“Pakistani cricket star turned politician Imran Khan has been leading protests against U.S. drone strikes in the country by choking off the NATO supply routes that run to Afghanistan through the northwest Pakistani province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa,” writes Omar Waraich.
“At the weekend, Khan led a two-day sit-in at one of the main routes used for the trucks. The rally attracted thousands of mostly young supporters of his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (Movement for Justice) party.”
A story in Time magazine provided more details on the drone protest. Click image to enlarge.
According to Time, the proximate cause of the protest
came last week “when a fresh strike killed leading militants of the Haqqani network, an Afghan insurgent group that uses Pakistan as a base to mount cross-border attacks on U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan.
“The attack was notable because it did not simply strike in the tribal areas on the border but inside Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Hangu district.”
This is not the first time this route has been the target of a blockade. According to Time, two years ago it was the government reacting to a NATO attack.
“When at least 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed in a NATO airstrike, Pakistan blocked the two routes to Afghanistan for five months,” the Time report noted.
“They were eventually opened after Washington and Islamabad repaired relations to some extent. While U.S. and NATO forces have since diminished their dependence on the supply route through Pakistan, it will be crucial for the scheduled withdrawal of troops next year.”
That troop withdrawal is subject to great uncertainty right now as Afghan President Hamid Karzai delays approval of the Status of Forces agreement with the U.S. while he tries to wring more concessions from American negotiators.
But the effects of the blockade were noted in a report in Pakistan’s English daily newspaper Dawn on Tuesday in the story Cargo activity suffers badly in Peshawar.
Pakistan’s English daily newspaper Dawn reported on the fallout from the blockade. Click image to enlarge.
“Supplies to NATO troops in Afghanistan via Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have come to a grinding halt as trucks en route to Peshawar from Karachi have gone off the road in Punjab,” the report said.
“Official and business circles told Dawn on Monday that businessmen involved in NATO supplies had discontinued their operations due to the fear of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf workers after they manhandled a truck driver and broke off an Afghanistan-bound container’s seal at Peshawar on Sunday.”
With the risks to truckers at the border mounting, the effects are being felt much further away.
“No one from bonded carriers to truckers; customs clearance agents in Peshawar, Karachi, Kabul, and Jalalabad; and forwarding agents at the Torkham border checkposts take risk involved in continuing the business activities,” according to the Dawn report.
“The PTI campaign … has repercussions far beyond lending negative impact to thousands of local businessmen and truckers involved in supplies to NATO.”
It is significant that a small group of protesters in the right place at the right time could have such an impact where years of government-to-government protests by Pakistan have done little to lessen the number of drone killings or change U.S. policy.
In the BBC report on Tuesday, Pakistani authorities could be seen monitoring the protest but doing nothing to intervene.
It’s quite possible they see this as an effective means to add pressure to their political pleas. It could put the U.S. military in a jam as it tries to extricate thousands of troops from Afghanistan over the coming year.
The longer the blockade continues, the more serious its impact will be. Time is not on the American side.
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