A tale foretold
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
The hijacking of 13 trucks carrying military supplies and other items along the highway from Pakistan to Afghanistan, which winds its short way through the Khyber Agency, is hardly a surprise. Predictions that such a raid would be staged had been made weeks and months ago. Indeed, lately, the administration was warned about increasing Taliban activity in the Jamrud area of Khyber Agency, close to Peshawar, with suggestions that stepped-up security would be advisable. Reports state that security personnel posted in the area watched helplessly as the trucks and containers were ambushed and later driven through the area by cheering Taliban leaders who affixed their organization’s flags atop them. It is not clear if the paramilitary personnel failed to act because they felt unable to tackle the Taliban or for other reasons. It was only after a considerable delay that support, in the form of gunship helicopters, finally arrived to bombard the area. The containers carrying goods were eventually received, but wheat and other items had been whisked away by then.
The whole situation is rather farcical. It is known that the suppliers for the NATO forces posted in Afghanistan, including those delivering fuel, had for sometime been demanding better security along the route through the Khyber. Quite evidently, their requests went unheeded. Because of this failure, we have a high profile incident that delivers a further blow to the writ of the government over parts of the country. The incident, which the Taliban in Jamrud say was, in their eyes, justified given that the goods were being taken through to those whom they see as ‘enemies’ will act also to embolden militants who seemed to be on the backfoot in many stretches of the tribal areas where they face a military offensive. The ‘success’ of the raid in Jamrud could also inspire ‘copycat’ actions, and for this authorities need to be prepared.
There must, for one, be an inquiry into why the international highway that serves as a key trade route between Pakistan and Afghanistan, was not better secured in the first place. Certainly, there has been a spate of kidnappings, armed attacks and incidents involving the hijacking of vehicles in the area. These should have been enough to alert authorities as to the potential risks. After all, as everyone in the country knows, we are in what amounts to a state of war being fought within our own country, and wars, of course, are no time for complacency or half-hearted measures. Even more important is the need to find out what went wrong in terms of action by security forces present on the spot. At present we are hearing a spate of accusations and counter-accusations. This is an extremely untidy state of affairs; indeed it is unacceptable. The entire incident needs to be investigated and measures taken to ensure there is no repetition. The implications of a situation in which even main roads carrying goods are unsafe are many for Pakistan in terms of security, economics and the image of the country. (The News)
’Copters bomb militants to recover US vehicles
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
By our correspondent
BARA: Enraged residents blocked the busy Pak-Afghan highway on Tuesday to protest the death of a student during an assault by military gunship helicopters on the militants loyal to Baitullah Mehsud as choppers continued to pound suspected hideouts of the militants in the Khyber Agency for the second consecutive day on Tuesday.
Aerial attacks were conducted against the militants in Janda Baba Ziarat of the Mullagori area in Jamrud Tehsil of the tribal agency. However, there were no reports of any casualty in the attack.
Residents said anti-Taliban fighters, who had set up a trench, narrowly escaped being hit in the strafing by two gunship helicopters. The militants had escaped by then and apparently remained unhurt in the attack.
Earlier, about 30 to 35 militants riding a Humvee armoured personnel carrier and a jeep of the US Army drove towards the Mullagori area from Jamrud. They had snatched the two vehicles on Monday after having waylaid 13 trailers transporting supplies for the US-led Nato forces in Afghanistan.
Tribesmen in Mullagori area said the militants abandoned the two snatched vehicles on the road near Malakanano village after learning about the arrival of up to 500 personnel of the Army, Frontier Corps and Khasadar. The troops took the vehicles into their possession. The fate of another Humvee vehicle was not known.
The militants had snatched 13 trailers and not 15 as reported earlier. They had intercepted the trailers at four points in the Sur Kamar and other areas beyond Jamrud in the Khyber Pass and hijacked them along with the drivers, who were later freed. The militants emptied the containers, mostly carrying wheat, and distributed the goods among the people and kept some for their own use.
One of the trailers was loaded with two Humvees and jeeps, which were captured by the militants and driven around later on the Jamrud Road. The militants even put a white-cloth banner inscribed with the name of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) headed by Baitullah Mehsud on one of the Humvees.
Tribal sources said the trailers may have been retrieved but all had been emptied. The authorities had reportedly offered Rs 1 million to the militants and sent a Jirga to urge them to release the trailers and the snatched Humvees. However, the militants refused to do so. It forced the political administration of the Khyber Agency to request the Army helicopters to attack the militants. The aerial attack scattered the militants but there was also collateral damage with a boy getting killed and four other civilians receiving injuries.
On Tuesday, relatives of the deceased boy, Rahim, along with local residents, brought the body to the Pak-Afghan highway in Jamrud. The protesters blocked the international route for hours, bringing the vehicular traffic to a complete stop.
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