Reopening of NATO supplies, benefits & pitfalls

Nato supplies

Pakistan has been the frontline state in the war on terror since October 2001 when American and NATO forces attacked Afghanistan.

Pakistan has been used as a route for supplies to NATO forces, however, the same have been suspended by Government of Pakistan after the Silala incident where NATO forces attacked a Pakistani checkpost in border area and killed 26 soldiers.

The article analyzes the advantages and disadvantages of reopening of NATO supplies as the same has currently been the biggest issue between Pakistan and US.The War on Terror has been one of the most controversial military actions in the world history. Soon after the demise of twin towers through terrorist attacks, Americans decided to bomb Afghanistan in search of Osama bin Laden, the head of Al-Qaeda, who was supposedly the mastermind of 9/11 attacks.

A formal permission, in this regard, was given by the UN general assembly and NATO forces accompanied their American counterparts in the war. Pakistan, being the neighboring country immediately became the frontline state providing logistic and strategic support to the NATO forces fighting in Afghanistan. This support, among other things, also included control of air bases to Americans & supply of fuel and other stuff to NATO forces through aerial & ground routes.

During the recent past, these NATO supplies have become one of the biggest issues in the country and have hampered Pak-US relations. In 2010, it was the first time in 9 year history of War on Terror that Pakistan suspended NATO supplies after two Pakistani soldiers were killed in the border area by a NATO helicopter. However, the suspension remained short lived as the supplies were restored after one week. The incident was repeated on a larger scale in November 2011, when NATO forces lodged a full fledged attack on Pakistani check post in Silala resulting in death of 26 army personnel. This resulted in blockage of NATO supplies once again and calls for permanent suspension of the same were raised in the country.

The continuous drone attacks also played a pivotal role in raising anti-American sentiments among the masses. Religious leaders on the platform of Difa-e-Pakistan Council also entered in the fray with public meetings attracting huge crowds to make sure that government does not allow resumption of NATO supplies to troops fighting in Afghanistan. At this point, Government of Pakistan decided that the parliament would deliberate on the issue and formulate a strategy to re-construct its foreign policy especially country’s future policy for relations with US and its assistance in War on Terror. Recently, the parliamentary committee submitted its recommendations to the parliament and a unanimous resolution was passed, which among other things said that supplies to NATO forces would be resumed only after suspension of drone attacks by Americans in the tribal areas.

What we need to analyze here is how beneficial resumption of NATO supplies would be for the country. Those opposing the reopening of NATO supplies argue that American and NATO forces have decided to leave Afghanistan by 2014 and currently they are working on their exit strategy. So levying taxes on supplies, as suggested in the parliamentary resolution, would not bear enough fruits for Pakistan. Also, a demand by the parliament for suspension of drone attacks is not going to get any attention from US as they strongly and up to some extent rightly believe that drone attacks have helped them eliminating some of the most wanted terrorists. Government of Pakistan is also facing strong opposition from political and religious parties against resumption of NATO supplies as elections are near and every party needs to get a higher score in the political game to attract anti-American votes in their bag.

It is evident that since the suspension of supplies, American and NATO forces are in trouble as the alternatives routes currently used by them have proved to be too expensive. In this case, resumption of supplies is very important for the forces. Pakistan, on the other hand, can and should think rationally without getting into any kind of influence from the right wing and opposition parties. We know that Pakistan and its economy is currently under pressure and relies a lot on American aid. Also, if we levy taxes on the supplies, which mainly include fuel and food, it will be an additional source of revenue for the country and would help the economy.

As far as the drone attacks are concerned, we need to sit down with the American counterparts and devise a strategy for targeted operations against militants hiding in the tribal areas. At the same time, NATO forces should understand that they are not doing any good to their cause of eliminating terrorism from the region by regularly attacking Pakistani check posts as this would only compound their problems. They should realize that Pakistan is their ally in the war and incidents like attack on Silala would result in increased anti-war sentiment in Pakistan and it would not be possible for any government to continue their alliance with NATO in such circumstances. – Waqas Iqbal