KARACHI, Pakistan — Hundreds of NATO supply trucks are stuck in Pakistan’s southern port, Karachi, despite Islamabad's decision to re-open routes to Afghanistan earlier this month.
Some trucks and drivers have been waiting for months to return to the road. Entry points to Afghanistan were closed after the United States mistakenly killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in an airstrike last November.
But truck owners say they are not moving until they are compensated for the money lost during the shutdown that stranded more than 1,500 shipments on the road.
Muhammad Khan, who owns 310 trucks, said he and others deserve to get paid.
“The round figure for the 210 days that these trucks have been held up is $15 million,” said Khan.
High stakes, significant rewards
The NATO shipments are profitable for Pakistani transport companies, but the trip to Afghanistan is a dangerous one.
Israr Ahmed Shinwari, of the Pakistan Oil Tanker Owners Association, said that despite the risks, the truckers must get back on the roads.
“So far, 1,300 drivers and assistants have died. But the drivers have to go because everyone owes money on the trucks now. And security is better now,” said Shinwari.
Threats in the southwest province of Baluchistan have led Pakistan officials to provide enhanced security for NATO supply trucks crossing that area.
Some drivers are not convinced, though, that the route for the 10-day road trip is safe enough.
Driver Kabeer Ahmed, said he thinks security concerns are delaying the trucks’ movements.
“People are saying that loading has not started yet because of the Taliban and protests,” said Ahmed.
Crucial supplies, roads for NATO forces
Pakistan’s supply routes are seen as vitally important to NATO forces in Afghanistan. In Pakistan, they remain politically controversial - but not for drivers like Masood Afridi, who has made the trip to Afghanistan about 12 times.
“It’s dangerous but we have to do it, because there is no work in Pakistan. There is no money here. If the NATO supply roads are closed, there is no work, there is no money, diesel prices are going up. If they open the NATO supply, all our problems will be solved,” said Afridi.
For now, the drivers are getting their vehicles ready to go back on the road.