First NATO truck crosses Pakistan border
CHAMAN, Pakistan - The Associated Press
A driver stands on top of a truck carrying NATO Humvees at a terminal in the Pakistani-Afghan border, in Chaman, Pakistan, Wednesday, July 4, 2012. AP Photo
The first truck carrying supplies to American and NATO troops in Afghanistan has crossed the Pakistani border after a seven-month-long closure of the supply routes by Pakistan ended earlier this week.
The reopening is a rare bright spot in relations between the U.S. and Pakistan, which had closed the routes in retaliation for American airstrikes in November that killed 24 Pakistani border troops. Disagreements over issues like American drone strikes and Islamabad’s alleged support for Taliban militants still hamper a relationship vital to stabilizing neighboring Afghanistan.
During the closure, the U.S. was forced to use more costly and lengthy routes through the former Soviet Union.
After months of back-and-forth negotiation, Pakistan reopened the routes on Tuesday after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton apologized for the border deaths.
A paramilitary official at the Chaman border crossing, Fazal Bari, said the first truck moved across the border around noon local time on Thursday. The Chaman border crossing in the province of Balochistan is one of two used by trucks carrying supplies to Afghanistan. The other called the Torkham crossing is further north in the Khyber Pass, a high mountainous area.
In the port city of Karachi, truck drivers early Thursday morning were preparing their vehicles for the trip. Thousands of trucks and tankers have been stuck at ports in Karachi waiting for the transit ban to be lifted.
"Today almost after eight months NATO supply has been started. I am taking NATO cargo to Peshawar where this cargo will be shifted to trailers taking the same to Kabul," said driver Javed Iqbal.
As the spat between Pakistan and the U.S. dragged on, hundreds of trucks have been stuck at ports in the Karachi area.
The chairman of Port Qasim, Mohammad Shafi, said Thursday that more than 2,500 NATO containers and vehicles have been held at the facility since the route blockade.
Even though the route is now open, it doesn’t mean all the trucks will hit the road immediately. He said his staff is required to do a lot of paper work and customs clearance procedures before the trucks can leave.
"Once we do that, we will be able to let the supplies leave for Afghanistan," he said.
Once the drivers start their journey, they face considerable danger on the road. The Taliban and other militant groups have threatened to attack supply trucks running through Pakistani territory. Before the closure, hundreds of supply trucks were targeted in different areas of the country.