A land supply route through the Pakistani borders is used by the Nato and Isaf troops to sustain the war on terror in Afghanistan. This supply line, termed as the logistical backbone of Nato, is the shortest route to Afghanistan for the supply of fuel, weapons and other equipment. Pakistan has supported this supply line as a responsible partner in the war on terror though several hundred Pakistanis, mostly drivers and cleaners, have been attacked and killed by the Taliban since 2008.
In 2010, Pakistan was forced to suspend the Nato supplies to Afghanistan for around one week when a Nato helicopter killed two Pakistani soldiers within the Pakistan borders. 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 on the border with Afghanistan on November 26, 2011 with Pakistan after the killing of 26 Pakistani troops being forced to block the Nato supply routes. Since then, the vital supply line remains blocked.
Meanwhile, after Pakistan blocked the Nato supplies, Russia also threatened to cut off the alternate Nato supply routes to Afghanistan if the alliance failed to change its stance on its missile defence plans. According to reports, Dmitry Rogozin, Moscow’s envoy to Nato, said that “If Nato doesn’t give a serious response, we have to address matters in relations in other areas.” He added that Russia’s cooperation with Nato on Afghanistan could be an area for review.
Commenting on the development, Ivan Safranchuk, deputy director of the Moscow-based Institute of Contemporary International Studies, said Russia was unlikely to cut off the Nato supplies to Afghanistan as an immediate response to missile-defence decisions.
“If the US is not responsive, then a cutoff could be a reality at some point,” Safranchuk was quoted by the international media as saying. “Russia would like the US to be more serious about Russian concerns.”
US policymakers have tried to find out alternative routes to Pakistan’s supply line to Afghanistan. These are through Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. But they are not a viable alternative to Pakistan as these routes are very long and costlier. The huge financial and political costs of sending supplies by routes through Central Asia may not be sustainable in the long term and there are fears that it could widen the conflict.
Soon after the incident, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani held an emergency meeting with senior military and government officials. A statement issued later said: “The government will revisit and undertake a complete review of all programmes, activities and cooperative arrangements with US/Nato/Isaf, including diplomatic, political, military and intelligence.”
While the pressure on Pakistan to reopen the supply routes mounts, the government should seek ironclad guarantees from Nato that such incidents will not be repeated in the future. The outcome of talks on reopening the Nato supply line should be to Pakistan’s satisfaction, which has sacrificed around 35,000 people in the war on terror.
According to two foreign analysts, Ryan Clarke and Khuram Iqbal of the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore: “Pakistan should be recognized for the considerable commitment of lives and political capital to protect the supplies of a war that is widely unpopular amongst ordinary Pakistanis.
Despite protracted attacks, Pakistani security forces must be commended for having prevented a larger scale and strategically significant attack on Nato’s supplies.” Understanding and addressing Pakistan’s concerns on the war on terror would pave the way for a positive and sustained relationship with foreign forces in Afghanistan.