As the US/ NATO war in Afghanistan enters it’s 10th year, Washington is suddenly unable even to transport the supplies its troops need through the territory of its ally, Pakistan. Rather than enjoying a commanding position in Afghanistan, it faces a situation in which entire provinces in the Pashtun south of the country have fallen under the effective control of the insurgents. The insurgents include Taliban and old-time Mujahidin who had been Ronald Reagan’s ‘Freedom Fighters’ and are now fighting to expel the US and NATO from their country. The long, heavy US and NATO military presence appears to have driven more and more Pashtuns into the arms of the otherwise deeply unpopular insurgents, since the Pashtuns have a strong historical aversion to foreign rule.
President Obama’s troop escalation was intended in part to weaken the insurgency (it appears to have had the opposite effect), but in part it was also designed to put enormous pressure on the Taliban and other insurgents so as to force them to come in from the cold and accept an alliance with or at least correct relations with the US and the Kabul government. Reports that the Haqqani network is talking both to the US and to the Pakistani government would seem to indicate that the pressure is having some success at the elite level. But the cost may well be losing the Pashtun rural areas decisively. Moreover, that the US is having to talk to the Haqqanis rather than being able summarily to blow them and their men away is a testament to the limits of US power in this distant, craggy region.
As many as 35 US/ NATO fuel supply trucks were set ablaze late Wednesday at Khairabad in Nowshera district west of Peshawar in the Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa Province. It was the fifth in a string of major attacks on idled fuel convoys since last Thursday, when US helicopter gunships flew into Pakistani territory and fired missiles at a Pakistani border checkpoint, killing 2 Frontier Corps scouts and wounded 4 others. Pakistan responded by blocking the US/ NATO supply route into Afghanistan at the Khyber Pass. (Afghanistan is a landlocked nation, and its most convenient external port is Pakistan’s Karachi, which the US and NATO have been using for resupply.
Some attacks on the fuel tankers have been claimed by the Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan. The BBC says that local officials have alleged to it that some of the tanker fires are a form of insurance fraud by private contractors running the trucks. Once they are idled, all but a little fuel is siphoned off and sold, then the trucks are set ablaze, and the insurance company made to pay for the whole loss. That would be a double profit…
In the meantime, US Ambassador to Pakistan Anne W. Patterson issued an apology to Pakistan for the September 20 attacks:
‘ Ambassador Patterson said that a joint investigation of the incident had established that the U.S helicopters had mistaken the Pakistani Frontier Scouts for insurgents they had been pursuing. “We extend our deepest apology to Pakistan and the families of the Frontier Scouts who were killed and injured” said the Ambassador. “Pakistan’s brave security forces are our allies in a war that threatens both Pakistan and the U.S.” ‘
It is thought by some analysts that the closure of the Khyber Pass to the US by Pakistan is not only about the dead Frontier Corps scouts but rather is also a protest in general against growing US hot pursuit of Taliban from Afghanistan into Pakistani territory. Whatever agreement the US thought it had with Pakistan in this regard appears to have been abruptly torn up by Pakistani military Chief of Staff Gen. Ashfaq Kayani. The Pakistani army, some 550,000 strong, views Pakistan as solely its turf and it appears to have decided to show NATO and the US how indispensable Pakistan is.
Likely the talk of a (very long) Russian rail supply route by US officers, as well as their sudden interest in solar energy (not likely a practical replacement for trucked-in fuel for many years), are intended to throw dust in the eyes of the Taliban and make the US military position in Afghanistan appear less fragile than it otherwise seems.
Pakistan’s Express Tribune has a video report on the statement of apology by US ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson both for the NATO invasion of Pakistani airspace last Thursday and for the way in which the pilots mistook the Frontiers Corps scouts for Taliban.