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Pakistan protests may make US fly war cargo out


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Supporters of Pakistan's Tehrik-i-Insaf party,  protest against US drone strikes, in Karachi, Pakistan, Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013. People protesting US drone strikes blocked a road in northwest Pakistan used to truck Nato troop supplies and equipment in and out of Afghanistan, the latest sign of rising tension caused by the attacks— Photo by AP
Supporters of Pakistan's Tehrik-i-Insaf party, protest against US drone strikes, in Karachi, Pakistan, Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013. People protesting US drone strikes blocked a road in northwest Pakistan used to truck Nato troop supplies and equipment in and out of Afghanistan, the latest sign of rising tension caused by the attacks— Photo by AP

WASHINGTON: US officials, frustrated that hundreds of military shipments heading out of Afghanistan have been stopped on the land route through Pakistan because of anti-American protests, face the possibility of flying out equipment at an additional cost of $1 billion.

More than a week after Pakistani officials promised Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that they would take ''immediate action'' to resolve the problem, dozens of protesters are still gathering on the busy overland route, posing a security threat to convoys carrying US military equipment out of the war zone before combat ends a year from now.

US officials said Wednesday they have seen no effort by the Pakistanis to stop the protests, which prompted the US three weeks ago to halt Nato cargo shipments going through the Torkham border crossing and toward the port city of Karachi.

A Pakistani official says the government is looking for a peaceful settlement but notes that citizens have the right to protest as long as they are not violent.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak publicly about the planning, said flying the military equipment out of Afghanistan to a port will cost five to seven times as much as it does to truck it through Pakistan.

About a hundred trucks are stacked up at the border, and hundreds more are loaded and stalled in compounds, waiting to leave Afghanistan.

The shipments consist largely of military equipment that is no longer needed now that the Afghan war is ending.

Sending the cargo out through the normal Pakistan routes will cost about $5 billion through the end of next year, said a defense official.

Flying the heavy equipment, including armored vehicles, out of Afghanistan to ports in the Middle East, where it would be loaded onto ships, would cost about $6 billion if it continued through next year, said the official.

A northern supply route, which runs through Uzbekistan and up to Russia, was used for about seven months last year when Pakistan shut down the southern passages after US airstrikes accidentally killed 24 Pakistani soldiers at two border posts.

That northern route, however, was used primarily to bring shipments into Afghanistan, and is much longer, more costly and often requires cargo to be transferred from trucks to rail.

The deadlock, if not resolved, could also be costly for Pakistan.

In private meetings in Islamabad early last week, Hagel warned Pakistani leaders that unless the military shipments resumed, political support could erode in Washington for an aid program that sends them billions of dollars.

Hagel received assurances from Pakistan leaders during the meetings that they would resolve the problem, but no progress has been made.

Pentagon spokesman Adm. John Kirby said Hagel is concerned about the issue and has talked with his top commanders in the region about it. ''He knows they (the commanders) are working the issue very hard,'' Kirby said.

But Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, the top US commander in Afghanistan, was in Pakistan on Monday for a meeting with Pakistan's new Army chief, and it wasn't clear if he broached the issue with him.

The protesters are demonstrating against the CIA's drone program, which has targeted and killed many terrorists but has also caused civilian casualties.

The group gathers daily at a toll booth on the outskirts of the provincial capital of Peshawar, in Pakistan's northern Khyber Paktunkhwa province.

All traffic going into the tribal areas and on to the Torkham crossing must pass through the toll booth.

Earlier this week, a group of about 40 protesters were at the toll booth, including about 10 who were waving flags as vehicles and trucks drove past.

A makeshift enclosure was set up on the side of the road, complete with chairs arranged under a tent encircled by barbed wire to keep the protest from spilling into traffic.

A few police officers stood nearby, with orders to allow the protests to go on but ensure that no one got unruly or attacked the drivers.

''We will continue this sit-in until there is a good decision on the drones,'' said Fayaz Ahmed Khalid, a political organiser with the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf party.

''It's for ourselves, for our country.'' He said the group has been stopping container trucks going into Afghanistan and looking at their papers to determine whether they are carrying cargo bound for Nato troops.

If so, the protesters force the trucks to turn around.

Khalid said the group got instructions not to stop trucks coming out of Afghanistan into Pakistan, and added that they've also noticed there has been little traffic coming from Karachi and heading into Afghanistan.

Companies know, he said, that they will be turned back at the checkpoint. He said it has been about a week since the protesters encountered a truck carrying Nato goods.

The protesters, however, appear to be in this for the long haul — Khalid had a schedule listing who would be manning the sit-in each day through mid-January.

Comments (6) Closed

ivehadit Dec 19, 2013 05:27pm

Imran Khan's political demagoguery is going to cost Pakistan $5B. The US is leaving the region, these supplies are going out not coming in. It's in Pakistan's national interest to have both things happen (the 5B and the US leaving the region). Too much for politicians to understand?

lubna Dec 19, 2013 07:40pm

PTI strategy is working and appears to hurt nato

Ahmed Dec 19, 2013 07:51pm

Unlike what Imran Khan and the Pakistan Government thinks, in a democracy, people have a right to peaceful protest. They dont have a right to block the flow of traffic. For the US, per this article, it is a simple matter of paying $6 billion to have the equipment airlifted vs paying $5 billion to have it sent through Pakistan and loaded on ships (and with no loss of cargo due to theft or looting while in transit through Pakistan). For Pakistan, this action is loss of badly needed revenue by the government and loss of income for thousands of Pakistanis. Not to mention loss of investment as investors see the NATO blockade as just another example of weak governance and lawlessness in Pakistan.

Ayesha Khan Dec 20, 2013 12:41am

Why Mr Hagel has to use the word ' Warn' ? . Isn't Pakistan is doing enough for them, by giving them the facility to truck out their supplies, which if they fly out would cost them five to six times more, which they admit themselves.

The Pakistani's are protesting against the Drone attack, for which they are fully justified. They must realize that our protest is legitimate as we are protesting for precious human lives. The day the US will consider this vital issue that day the people will be quiet.

The US provides 3 billion dollar aid, and we save them much greater amount.

Abid Mahmud Ansari Dec 21, 2013 08:08pm

This is totally wrong and misleading to say that airlifting the military equipment of ISAF out of Afghanistan will cost only $1Billion more than the normal land routes through Pakistan. In the first place it is not possible to air lift the heavy equipment and trucks, secondly transporting military equipment through the "Northern Route" will not be allowed by Russia and other countries. Actually USA is stuck in Afghanistan with the closure of land routes through Pakistan which are "dirt cheap" and shortest possible. Americans are only bluffing, let them do what they are telling to do.

Taimoor Khan Dec 22, 2013 01:00am

First and foremost, its not AID , it is the amount they owe us for using our facilities and infrastructure for their supplies. If they are not coughing up the amount they owe us then its a financial crime of hightest degree. Supply line must be close till they stop the drones and pay what is due. Period.