A Pakistani man leads his donkey cart past a burning trailer truck transporting NATO vehicles following an attack by gunmen in the Wazir Dhand area of Khyber on May 5. (AFP)
ISLAMABAD — Vehicles destined for Afghanistan’s military are being air freighted from Jinnah International Air Port in Karachi to Bagram airbase in Afghanistan.
According to a statement from Pakistan’s Defence Ministry, “The transportation by air has been allowed to airlift vehicles meant for Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) as special gesture by Govt of Pakistan. The vehicles are of vital importance and urgently required by ANSF.”
It further stated this was “Originally a part of Pak-US MoU signed in July, 2012 which deals with use of Pak Lines of Communications, to/from Afghanistan,” and that the operation was on a commercial basis and would continue for a the “next couple of weeks.”
The statement also outlined that the arrangement aimed to “facilitate rapid delivery of vital military cargo to our brotherly neighboring state to enhance its security and stability,” and hope it would strengthen bilateral relations.
Images accompanying the release indicate the vehicles are Ford Ranger pickups.
This comes at a time of increasing attacks on convoys carrying military equipment to and from Afghanistan, but US officials say the airlift was long planned and unrelated to the convoy attacks.
Cynthia Bauer, a media officer with US Transportation Command, said the air transport was designed to reduce the backlog of foreign military sales equipment in Karachi.
“Planning for the airlift of vehicles into Bagram began late last year, and flights began yesterday. It is a joint effort with the government of Pakistan to expedite the delivery of this defense equipment to Afghanistan. This is not in response to violence along the ground lines of communication.”
Bauer could not provide specifics on the airlift, but said it is expected to last one month.
And despite recent militant attacks on NATO convoys, allied forces still have “several transportation options to provide for the sustainment of US forces in Afghanistan,” Bauer said.
Analyst Haris Khan of the Pakistan Military Consortium think tank says the 2012 MoU had certain conditions as to what could and could not be transported through Pakistan, and for whom.
“This MoU states that lethal equipment for NATO forces, including weapons and ammunition, cannot be transported through Pakistan. However, Pakistan will allow the movement of arms shipments meant for the Afghan security forces through its territory,” he said.
Attacks against NATO supply lines running through Pakistan appear to have recently escalated.
Monday saw two reportedly killed, three injured and two possibly kidnapped during an attack by a large group of militants on a NATO convoy in the Khyber region close to the Afghan border. April 28 saw three attacks on trucks transporting NATO equipment. April 15 also saw three attacks in the Jamrud area that killed two and injured a number of others. A March 4 attack on a truck hauling NATO equipment in Jamrud killed two and injured another.
Claude Rakisits, director at PoliTact, a Washington-based advisory firm that focuses on South Asian issues, believes the attacks will get worse.
“The Afghan Taliban and their fellow ideological travelers, the Pakistani Taliban [TTP], are hardly going to make life easy for the Western forces as they draw down in Afghanistan,” he said.
“Also, if the Pakistani government’s negotiations with the TTP do continue, the elements in the TTP who are against these talks will continue to attack these NATO convoys as another means to create tension both at home and between Islamabad and Washington,” he added.
Rakisits also said that Islamabad and Washington have limited options to respond.
“There is not much the Pakistani military can do to stop these attacks against NATO convoy trucks,” he said.
“Islamabad will argue that were Washington to give the MRAPs being taken out of Afghanistan to the Pakistani military, as appeared to be a possibility a few months ago, then it would be better equipped to stop these attacks,” he said.
He highlights hurdles posed by US domestic concerns.
“Of course, the Pakistani authorities may well have a point. But Pakistan is not the flavor of the month in Congress and the Obama administration is not about to pick a fight with Congress on this one; it has much bigger issues to worry about, including limiting the electoral damage it will suffer in the midterm elections in November,” he said.
In light of that, he said air transportation will last longer than currently envisaged.
“I suspect the aerial transport option will increasingly look the most attractive given the volatility of the security environment in Pakistan.” ■
Staff writer Jeff Schogol contributed to this report. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.