Mon, Nov 17, 2008 - Page 5 News List

Pakistan halts oil to Afghanistan

IMF HELPPakistani leaders had hoped their country could rely on help from countries fighting the War on Terror rather than take out a large loan from the IMF

AGENCIES , KABUL AND HERAT, AFGHANISTAN AND PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN

Pakistan has temporarily suspended oil tankers and trucks carrying sealed containers from using a key passage to Afghanistan, an official said yesterday, a move that will likely have an impact on supplies heading to US and NATO troops.

The suspension comes just days after a band of militants hijacked around a dozen trucks whose load included Humvees and other supplies headed to the foreign forces in Afghanistan.

Government official Bakhtiar Khan would not say yesterday if trucks carrying materials for US and NATO forces were the target of the suspension imposed late on Saturday, but he said security concerns had prompted it and that it would be lifted “as soon as possible.”

The hijacking highlighted the vulnerability of a critical supply line for the US and NATO as well as the deteriorating security in Pakistan’s northwest regions bordering Afghanistan. The US-allied Muslim nation faces a rising militant threat just as its tanking economy has forced it to seek US$7.6 billion in aid from the IMF.

Lieutenant Commander Walter Matthews, a spokesman for the US military in Afghanistan, would not give a direct answer about whether the convoys were halted, but said “the appropriate authorities are coordinating security procedures.”

“The convoys will continue flowing, we will not discuss when, or where, or what,” he said.

Denied entry to the route, dozens of the trucks and oil tankers were parked along a main road near Peshawar, the regional capital.

“We have been stopped. We are not being allowed to continue our journey,” said Rehmatullah, a driver who gave only one name and said his truck was carrying a military vehicle of some sort.

Asked whether security worried him, he said, “This is our job, and we have to do it, but, yes, we have a security risk every time we pass through the route.”

Many of the supplies headed to the foreign troops arrive in the southern port city of Karachi in unmarked, sealed shipping containers and are loaded onto trucks for the journey either to the border town of Chaman or the primary route, through the famed Khyber Pass.

Monday’s ambush took place at the entrance to the pass, a winding, roughly 50km stretch. Police said around 60 masked militants forced the convoy to stop on a slow stretch of the road, briefly trading fire with nearby security officers who were outnumbered.

US officials said the attackers seized two Humvees and a water truck. Eleven other trucks carrying wheat for the World Food Programme were also hijacked, spokesman Amjad Jamal said.

Pakistanis were reacting to the news that their country would be borrowing US$7.6 billion from the IMF to stabilize its economy.

Pakistani leaders had hoped their nation’s frontline status in the fight against al-Qaeda and Taliban militants would lead the international community to come to its rescue.

Meanwhile, a Taliban suicide car bomb struck a military convoy in western Afghanistan yesterday, wounding two US soldiers a day after another bombing killed a member of the NATO force, the military said.

Soldiers killed 10 insurgents in operations on Friday and Saturday, the US military said.

The Taliban said one of its followers had carried out the suicide attack on the outskirts of the western city of Herat, and claimed that several soldiers were killed.

But US military spokesman Colonel Greg Julian said only two US soldiers were hurt. No Afghans were affected, police said.

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