PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — In this town along the road to the Afghan border, you can buy U.S. Army gear, computers and manuals instructing soldiers how to avoid roadside bombs. Traders are coy about where their stock comes from, but much is stolen from trucks carrying military supplies into Afghanistan.
Not only does the trade include materials of potential value to insurgents, it also illustrates the challenges of securing supply lines into landlocked Afghanistan, a task underscored in recent days by the closure of the main route through Pakistan and subsequent fiery attacks on convoys.
Seven days later, more than 100 oil tankers were lined up along the road into Peshawar, the main city in the northwest. Their drivers and assistants have been sleeping beneath them, and frustrations are mounting. They wait in fear of the insurgents, who appear to have stepped up their attacks since the closure in a bid to further expose the vulnerability of the mission in Afghanistan.
At one container terminal, frozen chickens from the United States, eggs from Canada and meat from India are piling up, unable to journey on to Afghanistan. The manager of the complex says the goods are not intended for foreign forces and he fears they will be ruined if the closure continues much longer.
On Wednesday, more than two dozen tankers were attacked, this time close to the other border crossing in the southwest, officials said. The attack on the outskirts of Quetta town left one driver dead and was the sixth since the closure.
The Sitara Market, on the outskirts of Peshawar, is some 100 yards from the border that separates the tribal regions of northwest Pakistan from the rest of the country. Across the frontier, there are no courts or regular police. Hashish and heroin, smuggled goods and firearms are big business, and al Qaeda and other Islamist militants have long found haven there.
The market’s proximity to the crossing is no coincidence. For more than 25 years, scores like it have sprung up, dealing in Western goods such as diapers, food and electronics either smuggled from, or headed into, Afghanistan.
In 2002, several small shops in the two-story, rundown complex began selling looted goods from the several hundred containers that rumble across the border each day. The boots, torches, tools, medical equipment, office supplies, food and military uniforms are in demand because they are of better quality and cheaper than similar goods for sale in northwest Pakistan.
“American goods are No. 1,” said one shopkeeper who gave his name only as Muhammad. “Everything is the best.”
Earlier this month, Pakistan's Frontier Corps raided warehouses in the tribal regions and recovered helicopter spare parts, medical instruments, flak jackets and photos sent by the family members of U.S. soldiers. The head of the Pakistani Taliban was filmed last year driving a U.S. Humvee seized from one container.
Gangs, sometimes working with militants who are in control of parts of the region, are behind most of the raids.
One trader said some of the material came from Afghanistan, where there are also markets in Kabul that sell similar goods. He suggested that some NATO soldiers or contractors might sell off unwanted supplies there.
The vast majority of goods that arrive in the seaport of Karachi and make the five-day trip to Kabul through Peshawar and the Khyber Pass to Torkam or through Chaman in the southwest arrive safely. Weapons, ammunition and other sensitive materials are flown into Afghanistan.View Entire Story
By Douglas Holtz-Eakin
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