Pakistan to reopen border crossing that NATO uses
Pakistan will reopen a key border crossing used to transport supplies to NATO troops in Afghanistan, authorities said Saturday — the 10th day of a blockade that has raised tensions with Washington and left stranded trucks vulnerable to attacks.
In a short statement, the Foreign Ministry said it decided to reopen the border after assessing security and that authorities on both sides of the border were coordinating to resume the supply traffic smoothly.
The border is normally closed on Sundays, so Monday seemed like the soonest the flow of supplies over the crossing would resume, said U.S. Embassy spokesman Richard Snelsire, who welcomed what he called a "positive development."
Pakistan closed the northwest crossing at Torkham on Sept. 30, the same day a NATO airstrike killed two Pakistani soldiers along the border. The U.S. on Wednesday apologized for that strike after an investigation concluded the "tragic event could have been avoided with better coalition force coordination with the Pakistan military."
Pakistan is a key supply route for fuel, military vehicles, spare parts, clothing and other non-lethal supplies for foreign troops in Afghanistan. The closure of Torkham has left scores of trucks stranded on their way from the port city of Karachi, and bottlenecked traffic to the open but smaller Chaman crossing in the southwest.
Even when the border reopens, lingering tensions will remain in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, especially over Pakistan's unwillingness to go after Afghan Taliban militants on its territory with whom it has strong historical ties and who generally focus their attacks on Western troops, not Pakistani targets.
The U.S. has dramatically increased the number of CIA drone strikes in Pakistan's tribal belt, including two late Friday in North Waziristan that killed 9 suspected militants — the seventh and eighth missile strikes this month.
In September, the U.S. is believed to have launched at least 21 such attacks, an unprecedented number and nearly all were in North Waziristan.
The U.S. rarely acknowledges the covert missile strike program. Pakistan officially opposes the program, but is believed to secretly support it.
The U.S. and NATO at one point sent some 80 percent of their non-lethal supplies through Pakistan into landlocked Afghanistan, but have been steadily reducing that number, instead using Central Asian routes to the north and other means. About 40 percent of supplies now come through Pakistan, 40 percent through the Central Asian routes, and 20 percent by air, according to the U.S. Embassy.
Throughout the Torkham blockade the U.S. insisted that the border closure was not leaving NATO wanting for supplies and had no strategic effect.
Perhaps worst effected were the truckers and Pakistani trucking companies, who are not paid until delivery and were regularly attacked while waiting for the crossing to be reopened. Some 2,500 to 3,000 trucks bringing supplies to U.S. or other NATO troops are on Pakistan's roads at any given time.
"This business is getting so dangerous — the recent happenings have made us think about not working for NATO because we can't put our lives in constant danger," said 37-year-old trucker Shaukat Khan, who has been sitting at the Torkham crossing since the day it was closed.
"We are glad to know that the Pakistani authorities have decided to reopen the crossing."
In the latest attack, gunmen armed with a rocket attacked 29 tankers carrying NATO fuel supplies in southwestern Pakistan before dawn Saturday, setting them ablaze. Two responding police officers were wounded.
Local government official Abdul Mateen said the attack occurred in the area of Mithri, about 120 miles (200 kilometers) east of Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province. He said the attackers used guns and fired a rocket to destroy the tankers.
At least 10 gunmen were involved in the attack, police official Jamil Khan said. The oil tankers were parked near a roadside restaurant.
When local police responded, the gunmen fired on them before fleeing. One officer was wounded by a bullet, while another suffered slight burns as he tried to stop the blaze, Mateen said.
It was unclear who was behind the latest attacks, but the Pakistani Taliban have claimed responsibility for similar assaults on NATO supplies. http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20101009/ap_on_re_as/as_pakistan;_ylt=Al47N8oXeC6hpENPNB9jVlpzfNdF