Friday, May 16, 2008

Torkham Choke Point: Pakistan To Stop Supporting US Operations In Afghanistan

Torkham is just 5 klicks east of the summit of the Khyber Pass, right on what masquerades as a border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Some clever chappie drew the Durand Line, more commonly known as the 'Zero Line,' on a map in 1893 as an attempt to keep the Khan's influence out of what was then British India. It never really worked. Jalalabad is to the west, Peshawar is to the east, and in between is al-Qaeda.

The 50,000 US & NATO troops in Afghanistan need about 700,000 gallons of fuel per day to maintain operations. 500,000 of that goes through Torkham, where 36 tankers were blown up in a customs parking lot one night in March. The Afghan National Army has difficulty securing supply columns from attack once past the gate, and the efforts of Pakistan's forces have become increasingly token since recent elections which effectively deposed the US-bankrolled Musharraf. The Taliban was able to close the supply route for at least 8 days in April, prompting an increasing number of Predator drone missile strikes inside Pakistan. "Truckers wanted, must have a love for adventure."

Soon, Pakistan will conclude a new treaty with its tribes to heal enmities over past US support; losses through the Torkham line will likely steepen dramatically. Russia has been watching this devolving situation closely, and Vladimir Putin offered a supply line through Russia at the last NATO meeting, but certainly not for free. They didn't take him up on it (yet). US supplies going through Russia to fight al-Qaeda packs enough irony to prostrate intelligence services with howls of helpless laughter. The only people keeping straight faces are the grunts and the Bush Administration. Here's what the Pakis have to say about it:
Adm. Eric T. Olson, the commander of United States Special Operations Command, held a round-table discussion with a group of civilian Pakistani leaders to sound them out on the possibility of cross-border raids by American forces. He was told in no uncertain terms that from the Pakistani point of view it was a bad idea, said one of the participants.

Instead, Pakistani officials are trying to restore calm to their country, which was rattled by a record number of suicide attacks last year. Within days, they are expected to strike a peace accord with Pakistan’s own militants that makes no mention of stopping the infiltrations. In fact, Pakistani counterinsurgency operations have stopped during the new government’s negotiations with the militants.

“Pakistan will take care of its own problems, you take care of Afghanistan on your side,” said Owari Ghani, the governor of North-West Frontier Province, who is also President Pervez Musharraf’s representative in charge of the neighboring tribal areas.

Mr. Ghani, a key architect of the pending peace accord, believes along with many other Pakistani leaders that the United States is floundering in the war in Afghanistan. Pakistan, he said, should not be saddled with America’s mistakes, especially if a solution involved breaching Pakistan’s sovereignty, a delicate matter in a nation where sentiment against the Bush administration runs high.

Pakistan is a sovereign state,” he said. “NATO is in Afghanistan; it’s time they did some soldiering.

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