Sunday, Sept 7, 2008
DEBKAfile reports that the blocking of the main Torkham fuel route to NATO forces fighting in Afghanistan, Saturday, Sept. 6, was a warning from Islamabad that no more US ground incursions would be tolerated.
The vital route was shut to 20 supply trucks, including fuel tankers, two days after a US helicopter-borne commando attack on Taliban-al Qaeda sanctuaries left 20 dead at a village in South Waziristan, one mile inside northwest Pakistani territory.
Facing an enraged public, the Pakistan government’s used the escalating terrorist attacks in the Khyber tribal region as a pretext for “temporarily suspending” traffic through the route to Kabul, through which NATO receives 70 percent of its supplies, until the tankers’ safety can be ensured.
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It was clear that if US ground attacks in the Pashtun tribal regions continued, Islamabad would shut down fuel supplies to NATO in Afghanistan altogether.
The Torkham route has never been safe. In July, a convoy of fuel trucks parked at a terminal was blown up. Saturday, a car bomb killed 30 people, injured scores in Peshawar, along the supply route, as parliament in Islamabad voted for a new president.
The impasse indicates that the meeting last month between US and Pakistani military chiefs aboard the carrier, the USS Abraham Lincoln, failed in its purpose of enlisting the Pakistani army for an effective crackdown on the hostile sanctuaries plaguing Afghanistan from its territory.
The US command has accordingly resorted to stepped up unilateral action on Pakistani soil. Islamabad retaliated by threatening to shut down NATO’s fuel supplies to Kabul.
To win Washington’s support, Asif Ali Zardari, co-chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party and widower of the slain former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, promised to wage all-out war on Taliban and al Qaeda if he is elected president. The Americans will be counting on him to deliver after winning the parliamentary election Saturday with a comfortable majority.
The southwestern link to Afghanistan at Chaman in Pakistani Balochistan, which continued to operate Saturday, is a minor supply route. Last April, Russia agreed to let NATO transport non-lethal supplies through its territory into northern Afghanistan. This route must stand the test of US-Russian rancor following the Georgian conflict.
This year, US cross-border attacks killed three al Qaeda operatives, the bomb and WMD expert Abu Khabab al Masri, its external operations chief Abu Suleyman Jazairi, and the leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, Abu Laith al Libi.
But the networks in northwestern Pakistan continue to flourish.
According to US intelligence officials quoted by the Pakistani Long War Journal , they have established 157 training camps and more than 400 support locations in the tribal areas of the Northwest Frontier Province. Foreign al Qaeda fighters are flocking to the camps in the Pakistani border region.