PTI Anti-NATO Route Campaign Will Directly Affect Pakistan's Economy and Innocent Truck Drivers

While there are two sides of the story: Popular parties like PTI confuse the public narrative and have made their large fan following to believe in good Taliban and evil U.S.
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Pakistan's Tehreek-e-Insaf, the most popular party among the youth seems to be gaining too much in common with the Taliban in Pakistan. It seems most policies of the party are very well-aligned with those of the Taliban. Some of the most prominent policies is those related to Pakistan's relations with the U.S., the drone attacks and the usage of Pakistani as a route for NATO supplies in Afghanistan. Imran Khan has consistently blamed the Pakistani political government for playing dubious role without criticizing the role of the military in dealing with the security situation in the country or taking a stand against the widespread militancy that has cost 40,000 lives across the country.

In Charsadda in December 2012 with the help of some tribals who showed me around, I saw the presence of Taliban in the area, and heard of many, many stories of Taliban's scot-free presence in other areas of FATA like Khyber, D. I. Khan and especially vastly spread in Wana. These are neither the places currently under the surveillance of U.S. drones, nor are they under military operation -- although there have been drone attacks there in the past that have killed some junior some very senior militants. Senior tribal journalist Hafiz Khan Wazir, who reports for Reuters and a local channel ARY News says, says that none of the drones here have ever killed an innocent civilian and most people in WANA have always been supporters of drone attacks. Another local I met in D. I. Khan Asif Khan, who was from North Waziristan said most drone attacks are precise and that he would vouch for the evidence of precision. The sound of drones which have made many innocent civilians suffer from psychological issues and fear, may sometimes be not as scary for those who live right next to the militants.

Something astonishing Hafiz Wazir said to me was:

What if I tell you this buzz that we hear is reassuring that it is there to protect us. That people in the tribal areas are sick and scared of the militants living all around them and in the absence of military operation the only hope these people have is drone strike.

He explained most local tribal journalists and stringers are unable to report on this due to the fear of authorities and especially the militants.

Although anti-drone activists like Noor Behram, strictly fight against the use of drones and have brought stories of innocent lives being lost in the warfare.

While there are two sides of the story: Popular parties like PTI confuse the public narrative and have made their large fan following to believe in good Taliban and evil U.S.

Today, it brings another challenge to Pakistan by its campaign that asks for drone strikes to stop and the NATO routes to be blocked. Although Pakistani government has no bars with continuing the NATO routes, as it receives billions of dollars from the United States in financial aid, Imran Khan the chairman of PTI and their supporters have been protesting and physically trying to choke NATO supply routes in the province of KP, where they are the governing party.

Pakistan receives an estimated "$1,500-1,800 for every NATO supply truck" under the Ground Lines of Communication agreement, Rahat Shinwari, a local journalist based in Khyber Agency told me. Khyber Agency is where the Torkham border lies and many trucks drivers are precipitating this uncalled for blockage campaign by PTI, while some of them have complained about PTI workers forcing them to join the protests against NATO supply route, against their will. Some accusations against PTI workers are awfully questionable.

They are using us for political gain and have physically pulled some of my colleagues, including me, to stand at their NATO route blockage rallies. They all know the presence of Taliban and we are surprised to learn that their priority is to block NATO route, and not to deal with the Taliban, even though they know that these trucks are our bread and butter.

,said Zahim Khan, a local trucker in Khyber agency told me last week when he was forced to join one of these protests in Peshawar. "We are as scared of PTI as much as we are of the Taliban," he added. Zahim, is one of the thousands of truck drivers who are at stake of losing their livelihoods. The President of NATO Vehicles Association (NVA) Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) Rafiullah Marwat, recently revealed that there are about 20,000 to 25,000 vehicles supplying goods to foreign troops in Afghanistan via Torkham and Chaman border. This business directly involves around 100,000 people in K-P and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

A government official is Islamabad told me on condition of anonymity that Pakistan Government makes about $1 million per day. Blocking NATO routes will be violating the GLOC agreement and it will further cost much more to Pakistan in addition to the impairment to around 20,000 truck drivers and their families, than a sum of $1 million a day. Since the local KP government or anyone else has no authority over the contract signed my Pakistani government, only the federal government has the authority to block the routes. In the case, Pakistan federal government does withdraw from the agreement, it will not only gain discern from the U.S. but also the UN and will effect its relation with NATO.

U.S. may first block the $1.2 billion of Coalition Support Fund that Pakistan is supposed to receive shortly, which also is part of current fiscal year budget. This may also mean the longterm cost of this blockage could make Pakistan suffer sturdily from its exports to EU countries -- which was about $6 billion in 2012 and is estimated to increase an additional $700 million to $1 billion this year.

The Information Minister Pervaiz Rasheed has assured that the federal government finds this blockage against the state's interest. The fact that the federating unit does not have a say in abiding by or breaking with any international agreements or treaties and under the federal law, the K-P government cannot stop NATO supplies.

These protests by PTI -- the governing party in KP, are nonsensical and have depressed the situation but they may not actually be able to bend the actual situation so much. Although it is very likely that the federal government does not violate its international agreements such as the UN resolution [on Afghanistan], and establishes alternative ways to facilitate NATO supplies through the Chaman border in Baluchistan and further providing its airspace.

Although, some local truck drivers now fear their security due to these protests and NATO route blockage campaign. "I am not sure if the supply will stop, but now everyone who works in the truck business here (in Khyber Agency and K-P) will be targeted by militants," said Hamid Khan. Hamid asked me straightforwardly, that if the PTI wants him to stop working for NATO supply trucks, do they have any alternative for small wage earners like him who support a family of 12.

He asked: "How is it different from the Taliban who fight the U.S. by attacking Pakistanis on Pakistani land?"

Kiran Nazish is an award-winning journalist who works on humanitarian stories from the dangerous conflict regions in Pakistan.

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