Reopening of NATO routes: Hopes and fears of roadside restaurants, truck artists

Prospects of brisk business are tainted by fear of Taliban attacks.

July 21, 2012


With joyful anticipation Sajjad Hussain, a manager at the Salateen restaurant hopes that the reopening of Nato supply lines will bring back old crowds to his modest hotel.

“There was never a dull moment with them around,” he recalls. He claims to have witnessed the merriment when the government lifted the seven-month blockade. “The drivers celebrated with a volley of aerial firing, danced around and distributed sweets.”

The reopening of Nato supply lines might have been a sensitive topic for a large section in the country. However small traders associated with the trucking business are happy for the regeneration of economic activity alongside the routes.

An article published in Britain’s leading daily The Guardian puts forward a broad expose of the hopes and fears of those associated with the trucking business.

It mentions the Mauripur truck terminal where one witnesses a flurry of activity.

“Our work came to a complete standstill when the route was closed,” says a decorator who sits at the terminal.

“It takes six to eight men to paint and decorate a trolley for which we charge Rs100,000. It takes us a day to finish one, and we split the money,” he adds.

A driver earning Rs20,000 a month says he ran into debt since the closure of the supply lines. “Now that work’s begun, I will be able to pay off the loans.”

Pakistan imposed the blockade after an air raid by Nato forces on two Pakistani check posts on November 26, killing 24 soldiers. The opposition leaders and religious parties subsequently criticised the government’s decision to lift the blockade.

Political analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi says the blockade had adversely affected people attached to the trucking business. This included a whole host of different professions associated with the transporters.

“It was not wrong to close the supply route. There had to be some form of protest,” he said.  However, “the trucking business had generated a small level of economy for roadside hotels, vehicle repairs, etc,” he says.

Their joys, however, have been tainted by Taliban’s relentless threats of attacks on drivers. Mohammad Yousuf Shahwani, head of the oil tanker owners association in Pakistan, says that although he can get the supply trucks and tankers on the road, his drivers must be protected.

“More than 200 drivers have been killed by the Taliban and 2,000 tankers and containers have been torched in the past,” says Shahwani. The figures relate to the period since Nato began sending supplies through Pakistan in 2001.

The lifting of the blockade is nothing short of a dilemma. Aptly put by Abdul Sattar, a mechanic, who says that “the reopening of routes is great for my worldly business, but we will be punished on the day of judgment.”

Published in The Express Tribune, July 21st, 2012.

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