KARACHI / ISLAMABAD: All containers passing through Pakistan to supply NATO troops in Afghanistan are to be scanned to ensure they do not contain lethal supplies, customs officials said Friday.
Islamabad reopened overland routes to NATO convoys earlier this week after closing them in protest at a US air raid that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers at a border post in November.
A number of trucks have already crossed into Afghanistan, but the vast majority are still in Karachi, where they have languished for the past seven months.
Ties between Washington and Islamabad, fractious allies in the “war on terror”, plummeted following the air strike and blockade, which ended after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said sorry for the deaths.
The two sides are still rebuilding trust and officials in Karachi, where thousands of trucks and containers languished during the blockade, said there would be thorough checks to ensure the convoys conformed to parliamentary guidelines barring the transport of lethal supplies.
“We scanned the containers randomly in the past, but now every container will be duly scanned,” Karachi customs spokesman Qamar Thalho said.
“We can seize any item, anything that be, if it is not mentioned in the agreements between Pakistan and Afghanistan and Pakistan and NATO.”
An official speaking on condition of anonymity said the move was intended to stymie opposition parties and religious groups – who have criticised the resumption of supplies.
“A strict scanning of the cargo is just one important measure not to give enough space to the opposition to exploit public sentiments,” the official said.
Up to 1,500 trucks packed with NATO supplies have been stranded in Karachi during the blockade, unable to unload and find other work.
Rana Mohammad Aslam, vice president of the All Pakistan Goods Carrier Association, said 560,000 rupees ($6,000) compensation per vehicle would be paid to the truck owners by NATO subcontractors.
The land routes into Afghanistan are vital as the United States and NATO withdraw troops and equipment built up since the 2001 invasion.
The blockade had forced the United States and its allies to rely on longer, more expensive routes through Central Asia, Russia and the Caucasus, costing the US military about $100 million a month, according to the Pentagon.
Security for supplies
Advisor on Interior Rehman Malik said on Friday that complete security will be provided to all Afghanistan bound NATO containers travelling from Karachi to Khyber PakhtunKhwa.
Talking to newsmen Friday outside Parliament House, he said all Inspector Generals of Police have been directed to provide security cover to the containers within their respective remits.
Malik said Rangers and Police would provide security cover to containers in Sindh province while Police and Frontier Constabulary will escort the containers in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
On fears that the long march of Difa-e-Pakistan Council against the re-opening of NATO supplies through Pakistan could pose problems, he said the public are “free to exercise their right of protest. However, strict action would be taken on any violation of law.”
No supplies through railways
Minister for Railways Haji Ghulam Ahmed Bilour on Friday categorically denied that Pakistan Railways was providing any transportation service to NATO.
“We have no such information and the news published in a section of the press is baseless and has no reality,” the minister said in a press release issued adding information about provision of three routes for transportation of NATO goods was false.
The minister said “we are already short of locomotives to meet the local freight requirements, how can we give this facility to NATO.”