NATO can resume supplying its troops in Afghanistan through a key Pakistani route on Monday after protesters against US drone strikes lifted a blockade, an official said.
“The Peshawar ring road has been cleared and re-opened for vehicular traffic,” senior local administration official, Muhammad Siraj Khan told AFP. Trucks will only be able to use the route from Monday morning because of security reasons, he added.
The main supply route for Nato troops in Afghanistan had been temporarily closed for two days after a sit-in by thousands of supporters of the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) and other political parties to protest against US drone strikes.
The PTI sit-in continued on the second day and was addressed by the party’s chairman, Imran Khan, who was accompanied by Javed Hashmi, a prominent leader of the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) who has recently had a fallout with his party’s leadership.
“Until and unless the supply is suspended forever, this war would continue and innocents would become victims of the drone strikes,” said Hashmi, alluding to the suspension of Nato supplies to Afghanistan.
Imran Khan linked the incidence of terrorism in Pakistan to the drone strikes by the US.
“If one innocent person becomes the target of a drone, the rest of their family members become militants to seek revenge,” said Khan while addressing his supporters on Sunday.
The routes through Pakistan bring in 40 per cent of supplies for NATO forces in Afghanistan, according to the United States Transportation Command. Of the remainder, 40 per cent come through Afghanistan’s neighbours in the north and 20 per cent by air.
The supply to Afghanistan through Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa had been suspended since the protest started on Saturday, said Siraj Ahmed, a senior provincial government official. However, the Chaman border crossing remained open to traffic, said another official.
The attacks by US pilotless aircraft are a source of concern for the Pakistani government, which says civilian casualties stoke public anger and bolster support for the Taliban militancy.
But the protests have irked Pakistani truckers involved in the lucrative business of transporting supplies to the foreign troops in Afghanistan.
“They are politicians. They keep doing such dramas. But we cannot take risk so it is better to keep our trucks off the road for a few days,” said Mohammad Shakir Afridi, the president of Khyber Transport Association.
“We are fed up with this business,” he added. “Every second day either trucks are attacked or the supply to Afghanistan is suspended. We say if you (the government) do not want it, cut it off permanently or provide us proper security.”
He said his truckers had taken advanced payment for the shipments and if they don’t go through, they would have to pay back that money.
“We have been trapped in a quagmire,” Afridi said.
Additional reporting by Agencies
Published in The Express Tribune, April 25th, 2011.