Truckers halt Nato shipments to Afghanistan over blockade at Pakistan border
Protest at US drone strikes stops deliveries in and out of country
Pakistan truckers halted shipments bound for Nato troops in Afghanistan after supporters of Imran Khan blocked cargo at the border to protest against US drone strikes.
Mustaqil Afridi, chairman of the All Pakistan Combined Truck and Trailer Welfare Association, said from the northwestern city of Peshawar near the Afghan border: "This suspension will last for a few days or as long as the protest continues."
All trucks heading to and from Afghanistan are now blocked, Afridi said, adding that his organisation is the only one supplying Nato with non-lethal supplies.
Hundreds of Pakistanis have clogged major roads in Peshawar and other northwestern towns since Khan started the protests two days ago.
He has vowed to continue the blockade until the US stops drone strikes against militants in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region where his party holds power, increasing tensions with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Police booked several members of the former cricketer's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party after they harassed drivers arriving in Peshawar with Nato cargo.
The party, which has half a million members in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, is organising supporters in shifts to block the routes, with about 150 people currently on the roads, said Muhammad Ashfaq Paracha, a leader in the region. "We want to keep the numbers down so that we have control on the situation and no troublemaker can make his way in," Paracha said.
"We are sending all the Nato trucks back, but are not touching the ones meant for Afghanistan trade."
While the US can ship goods from the southern port city of Karachi to Afghanistan through Balochistan province, Afridi says most of the cargo goes through the northwest because the route is safer and Peshawar has a processing centre that makes border crossings easier.
As many as 3,000 trucks carry non-lethal supplies for troops in Afghanistan each month, about 30 per cent of total ground shipments to the country, he said.
The blockade poses a test for Sharif's government, which must weigh public opposition to the drone strikes against a need for US help to revive an economy plagued by an energy crisis and a Taliban insurgency.
The United States is Pakistan's biggest donor.