Kicking off the first phase of its pullout from Afghanistan, the US has started moving its military hardware out of the country. The first convoy of containers carrying US military equipment to Karachi for shipment has already crossed the Torkham border, an official of the cargo company told The Express Tribune via phone call on Sunday.
According to the official who was speaking on condition of anonymity, his company, Bilal Associates, received clearance to move the US equipment across the border crossing on Friday. He said that the first convoy of nearly 25 containers cleared by Pakistani
customs is expected to reach Karachi today (Monday). The official added that another convoy is expected to arrive in Pakistan this week.
“It is a huge operation… many more (containers) will follow,” he maintained.
The US plans to withdraw several thousand troops from war-torn Afghanistan this year and Nato has set 2014 as a deadline for a complete withdrawal. Washington is, meanwhile, engaged in talks with Kabul for a security pact that will allow the presence of some troops in Afghanistan after the Nato withdrawal.
The US, which has currently more than 60,000 troops in Afghanistan as part of nearly 150,000-strong Nato operation in the country, also plans to withdraw all its combat troops by 2014.
Top US military officials had earlier stated that they would need Pakistan’s support for their forces’ exit strategy and its land routes will be crucial for the withdrawal of troops and equipment. Last year, Pakistan allowed the US military cargo and non-containerised equipment to enter its territory via the Torkham and Chaman border.
Pakistan, however, linked the transit of the US military cargo at the time of withdrawal from Afghanistan with certification that Washington would not transport any hazardous waste or radioactive material.
When Pakistan announced the re-opening of Nato supply routes in July last year after then Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton expressed ‘regret’ over the death of 26 Pakistani soldiers, the information minister had also disclosed that Pakistan will also facilitate the withdrawal of US-led Nato forces’ equipment.
The Nato will use Pakistani routes up to the end of 2015 – one year beyond the deadline for the withdrawal of all combat forces. The agreement will be valid until December 31, 2015, and could be extended for one year after mutual consultations.
An American source in Islamabad said that Pakistani route is considerably cheaper and shorter than the northern route.
“To get things from Kandahar and the east through the northern route is both costly and extremely dangerous,” the source told The Express Tribune.
“That being said the Americans have also made strides in improving the northern route by making arrangements with the Russians and the Central Asian countries to accept and assist in moving goods,” it added. The source went on to say that one of the reasons that it will be more costly through the north is that it would require a great deal of movement by air.
“Which is of course more costly, at least that is to my understanding of the difficulties of the northern route. Pakistan is both direct and cheaper.”
Sources say that a top US defence official and Pakistani military leaders recently discussed matters about the withdrawal of the US military equipment. Dr Peter Lavoy, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs, had met with Secretary of Defense Lt Gen (retd) Asif Yasin Malik, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee General Khalid Shameem Wynne, Chief of General Staff Lt Gen Waheed Arshad, Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Muhammad Asif Sandila and Deputy Chief of Air Staff Air Marshal Waseemud Din.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 11th, 2013.