TORKHAM: Lingering on the border as they waited for a fourth day to cross into Afghanistan with supplies for NATO troops, Pakistani truck drivers sat waiting in fear of Taliban reprisals.
Stopped from driving over the border at Torkham since a blockade began on Saturday amid outrage over the killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers by foreign forces, the drivers sipped green tea nervously and awaited official orders.
“It’s relatively safe during the day, but the chances of a militant attack on these terminals increases manifold after sunset,” said 42-year-old driver Saheb Noor, nibbling on peanuts in one terminal housing NATO trucks.
It is a regular fear faced by the drivers who cross the border, keenly aware of regular gun and bomb attacks on convoys that supply the 140,000 foreign forces fighting the Taliban-led insurgency across the border.
But the blockade left some 100 trucks stranded for longer then usual, until orders came for them to drive off with no indication of when the border would reopen to allow them to attempt the hazardous journey again.
“We have sent all the 147 NATO oil tankers and containers back to Peshawar after receiving a new order from the higher ups,” said senior local administration official Sheharyar Khan.
The dusty border town of Torkham has three heavily-guarded terminals, two for NATO containers, trawlers and oil tankers, and one for general goods sent to Afghanistan under a Transit Trade Agreement.
A thick layer of dust caused by the daily movement of heavy trucks and trawlers caked the terminal. Other workers sat around exchanging pleasantries and listening to Pashto language songs on their mobile phones.
Local tribal police official Wali Khan, clad in traditional black cotton tunic and baggy trousers and covered with dust from head to toe, told AFP that he had been guarding one terminal since Sunday.
“If they target this terminal from the nearby mountains, I will be the first victim of their bullets,” he said fearfully.
Many drivers at the border expressed outrage over the cross-border strike by NATO on Saturday on a Pakistani military base – details of which remain murky.
“NATO should be trying to kill Taliban inside Afghanistan (not Pakistan),” said driver Suhail Amin, bemoaning the fact that he had no alternative but do such dangerous work.
“I have no other option but to carry NATO goods because there are no job opportunities or labour available in Pakistan,” he said.
Oil tanker driver Tauheed Khan said he didn’t think his government, heavily reliant on American aid money, would take long to reopen the Torkham crossing.
“I am sure that it will not take more than a month… Such decisions only add to problems of poor people like us,” he said.