Last week, in apparent retaliation for NATO’s cross-border air strikes on Pakistani territory, which were conducted without advance discussions with Pakistani officials, Islamabad imposed a blockade on NATO’s Afghan supply route. On 5 October, a NATO container truck was damaged by a small blast near the border after a bomb was placed underneath the truck, which was waiting in a convoy of thousands of tankers and trucks stuck on the border. On 6 October, insurgents burned 22 tankers carrying fuel for NATO’s forces in Afghanistan, killing one truck driver on the outskirts of Pakistan’s southwestern city of Quetta. In the past week, Taliban forces have taken advantage of the blockade, destroying over 40 NATO supply trucks. The Taliban have vowed more attacks on the NATO supply route if Islamabad continues to allow NATO supplies through. NATO and Pakistani officials met in Brussels on 4 October, but no agreement was reached. On 6 October, NATO officials said Pakistan may soon re-open the supply route, following the release of the Alliance’s investigation into the 30 September helicopter strikes on Pakistani territory (three Pakistani soldiers were killed in the strikes).
Analytical Note: Some 40% of NATO’s supplies for the war in Afghanistan come through Chaman in southwest Balochistan province and through Torkham in northwest Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Islamabad’s blockade of NATO’s Afghan supply route is largely a reflection of the tenuous position of the government and President Asif Ali Zardari, who is under pressure over his failure to adequately deal with the massive floods in the face of a strong military that is pushing for his removal. Blocking the Afghan supply route should score him some points among the public, which is outraged over what it views as US incursions on its territory and the violation of its sovereignty. Lifting the blockade will require a strongly worded public apology from Washington, and guarantees that future air strikes will not be conducted without communications from Pakistani security forces. What will not ease the situation is a report released by Washington on 6 October criticizing Pakistan’s efforts to fight militants on its territory. The White House report strongly criticizes President Zardari, and could result in Congress cutting support for billions in aid to Pakistan. This report will make it difficult for Zardari to save public face and re-open the Afghan supply route.