Editorial: Drivers of the Conflict

If the thirty-four drivers, who were killed in Balochistan in 2010 while carrying supplies to NATO forces stationed in Afghanistan, did not ever get an explanation for the causes of their murder, the answer is very simple: No one cared for them.  According to a report published in this newspaper, 2010 was a very violent year for the drivers and cleaners who drove supplies to NATO forces via RCD highway.

Every time an attack disrupted supplies to the coalition troops based in landlocked Afghanistan, federal and the provincial governments assumed they had nothing to lose as the attacks went in the disadvantage of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and NATO forces. On their part, the NATO authorities never addressed the matter seriously because all the truck drivers killed in these attacks were locals of Balochistan or other parts of the country.

In 2001, Pakistan and NATO signed an agreement paving the way for all types of customs inspection and tax-free supplies inside Afghanistan. According to Chinese news agency Xinhuanet, Islamabad earns 1.5 billion dollars annually under this agreement.

“Over 70 percent of supplies and 40 percent of NATO’s oil needs in Afghanistan are being supplied through Pakistan. Some 7,000 contracted truckers with NATO-paid private security responsible for convoys safety are involved in the project,” reported the Chinese news service.

The idea of attacks on NATO supplies initially emanated from Khyber Pakhtunkhawa province where supporters of Taliban set ablaze scores of trucks, containers and oil tankers in order to disrupt the provision of oil, edible items and other commodities of daily  use.

Gradually, this practice trickled down to Balochistan’s Pashtun-dominated parts such as Qila Abdullah, a district located on Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Even then, authorities did not take serious notice of these attacks. With the passage of time,  such attacks were reported from the provincial capital Quetta, and its neighboring districts such as Mastung, Kalat, Khuzdar, Sibi, Bolan and Naseerabad.

It is strange that not a single group has ever accepted responsibility for these attacks on the NATO convoys in Balochistan where interestingly romance with claiming responsibility for attacks is so deep-rooted that at times even more than two groups end up fighting over the ownership of one particular attack. Worst still, the government has not arrested a single suspect in connection to these attacks on the supplies. While Tehreenk-e-Taliban-e-Pakistan (TTP) accepted responsibility for most of the attacks in KP, no such claim was ever made in Balochistan where TTP does not at least publicly assert its influence.

In our country, investigations into such cases either do not take place or lack credibility. Therefore, in the absence of a truthful account of these attacks, conspiracy theories are the only available replacement. According to one such theory, owners of the trucks and containers deliberately mastermind attacks on their vehicles in order to mint hefty amounts from the insurance companies. Even many government officials also subscribe to this naive interpretation in order to snub the real issue. If that is true, it is a severe crime against humanity.  At the end of the day, poor drivers and their families become the biggest victims of such heinous attacks.

These drivers oftentimes have to suffer immensely on the route when they are denied entry inside Afghanistan due to various reasons. For example, Pakistan refused to allow passage to NATO supplies into Afghanistan in October following the killing of three Pakistani troopers by the NATO forces in Kurram tribal region on the Pak-Afghan border. The blockade continued for around ten days. Other times, the Frontier Corps (FC) causes problems for the NATO convoys in Balochistan. In such situations, hundreds of tankers, trucks and containers remain stuck on the national highway. These circumstances jeopardize the supplies and make them very easy targets of the attackers who succeed in blowing up dozens of trucks, killing the drivers randomly and fleeing from the scene.

It is the responsibility of the NATO forces and the government of Pakistan to provide safety to drivers who endanger their lives while transporting supplies to the  international troops. The governments also have a moral obligation to provide compensation to the families of the drivers who have been killed or injured in these attacks. Both sides should work jointly to probe the attacks and reach out to the injured drivers and cleaners who have become handicapped in the assaults in order to provide them medical treatment and financial support to their families.