Pakistan, as non-NATO member, received a last minute invitation to the 2012 NATO Chicago Summit because of its important role in war against terrorism, its influence in next-door neighbor Afghanistan and its role until last year as the major supply route to landlocked NATO forces in Afghanistan. In an unmistakable snub, President Barack Obama left Pakistan off a list of nations he thanked for help in getting war supplies into Afghanistan.
Since Afghanistan is a landlocked country, supplies must pass through other countries in order to reach it, or else be shipped by air. Since air shipping is prohibitively expensive, NATO forces tend to rely on ground routes for military supply. This is principally accomplished either by shipping goods by sea to the Pakistani port of Karachi, or by shipping them through Russia and the Central Asian states.
There are two routes from Pakistan to Afghanistan. Both routes start in Karachi, Pakistan’s strategic port on the Arabian Sea. From there, one route, through Balochistan Province, crosses the border at Chaman and ends at Kandahar, in the south of Afghanistan. The other crosses the Khyber Pass, enters Afghanistan at Torkham, and terminates in Kabul, supplying northern Afghanistan.
From the very start, the NATO supply routes from Pakistan became a logistical nightmare as they proved unreliable and vulnerable to theft and disruption by the Taliban. In 2008, 42 oil tankers were destroyed in a single attack. On 7 December 2008, more than 90 lorries supplying US forces in Afghanistan were set on fire in a suspected militant attack. Local drivers were paid high wages to risk their lives on the treacherous, winding mountain roads over the 3,500 ft Khyber Pass and many had to abandon their vehicles to save their lives.
On Sept 30, 2010, Pakistan was forced to suspend the NATO supply route to Afghanistan for one week after a NATO helicopter killed two Pakistani soldiers in the Kurram Agency of FATA. After NATO assured Islamabad that no such incident will occur in future, the supplies were restored. Unfortunately, the incident was repeated on a grander scale in Mohmand Agency on November 26, 2011, with Pakistan again closing the route after the killing of 26 soldiers. Since then, the vital supply line remains closed. While the closure was extended from days to weeks to months because of deliberations by the parliamentary committee on national security, over 5000 stranded NATO shipping containers accumulated in Pakistan, forcing the USA to use substitute supply lines in the north which were expensive and time consuming. As a result, Washington started maximizing pressure on Islamabad and GHQ. Familiar pressure tactics of withholding the release of close support funds, the halting of economic and military assistance, threats to apply sanctions and to carry out unilateral military strikes were applied. The US Congress proposed blocking $650 million in aid unless Islamabad agreed to resume supplies.
The last-minute invitation from NATO to join the Chicago talks was a sign of hope that the rift would heal. But it hasn’t, and President Obama’s dealings with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari have made that clear. President Zardari came to Obama’s hometown expecting a separate meeting with the US leader like the one accorded to Afghan President Hamid Karzai. But without a final deal to reopen the supply lines, no such meeting occurred. Soon after that on May 24th, a US Senate panel voted cuts in aid to Pakistan in fiscal year 2013 by 58 percent and threatened to withhold even more cash if Islamabad does not reopen its supply routes for NATO soldiers in Afghanistan, reflecting American frustration over a months-long standoff.
US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta vowed on 27th May 2012 not to let the United States be “gouged” by Pakistan on the price it charges for overland deliveries of American military supplies to Afghanistan. The border crossing dispute is stuck over how much the US will pay Pakistan to allow trucks to transit its territory. Before the airstrike, the US paid about $250 per truck. According to news reports Pakistan wants $5,000 a truck and an apology for the deaths from the airstrike. The Obama administration has said it was willing to pay $300 to $500 per vehicle and has expressed condolences and regret, but no apology. According to many experts Pakistan could compromise on $1000 with an apology. The quarrel over supply routes is intertwined with several other disputes, including Pakistan’s opposition to US drone strikes against terrorist targets inside its borders. In addition to closing the border crossings in response to the November attack, Pakistan ordered the US to vacate Shamsi air base, which the US was using to launch drone strikes at al Qaeda and Taliban militants.
The Pakistani parliament put out a 14-point resolution last month. It mainly asked for re-engagement of terms and conditions regarding the NATO supply routes, an apology from the US for the attack in November, and an end to drone strikes. But Pakistan has been unsuccessful in getting these demands met, and political observers feel the failure to secure any deal at the NATO summit is an indicator that Pakistan has lost out on all accounts. At the NATO Summit, Pakistan seems to have been deliberately put into a more awkward position in order to soften its stance on NATO supply line. 11 years of experience have shown that Pakistan has all along been at the receiving end, constantly yielding ground without reciprocity from the other side. In response to the never-ending ‘do more’ tune, Pakistan has been on the move irrespective of the pitfalls of GWOT and its negative impact on Pakistan’s socio-politico-economic and military health. During said war over 40000 civilians and soldiers sacrificed their lives in different terrorist attacks, suicide bombings, drone strikes and sabotage activities. There were 300 drone attacks in which approximately between 1,785 and 2,771 individuals were killed, out of whom around 1,492 to 2,300 were described as militants. The ongoing war has displaced hundreds of thousands of people from FATA and KPK. Pakistan has also suffered over $80 billion in losses in terms of damages to material, equipment and infrastructure but yet both U.S. Houses, Senate and congress agreed to cut aid by 58 percent.
Now it’s the time that any aggression or violation of sovereignty must be responded back with full strength. The nation should display solidarity and unity and stand with the armed forces and government to fight back the real enemy. It should be made clear to the NATO and American leadership that “enough is enough;” now no further attacks are acceptable in the future. NATO and American leadership should be asked to seek apology and give compensation to the bereaved families. Pakistan should get out of the war and supply to NATO forces should not be restored free of cost. NATO should be asked to pay back immediately the damage caused to our infrastructure as result of hauling the heavy NATO containers.
The writer is Programme Assistant at FATA Research Centre (FRC).