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Mounting violence threatens vital Pakistan/Afghanistan link

News and Press Release
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By Abubakar Siddique

The border areas linking northwestern Pakistan with eastern Afghanistan have seen a significant increase in violence of late, threatening Kabul's control over its share of the vital region.

November 13 saw one of the area's deadliest attacks in recent months when a suicide car bomber struck a U.S. military convoy passing through a busy cattle market in Bati Kot, a village on the outskirts of Jalalabad, capital of Afghanistan's eastern Nangarhar Province.

A U.S. military spokesman said more than 20 civilians and one U.S. soldier were killed in the attack. Seventy-four civilians were injured, according to an Afghan health official. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, but Taliban militants regularly use suicide attackers in assaults against Afghan, U.S., and other foreign forces.

Sixteen-year-old Zardad, who like many Afghans has only one name, was injured in the attack and is being treated in a Jalalabad hospital. He told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that he saw a car speeding toward the military convoy and heard a large explosion just moments later.

"A convoy of Western troops was passing by, and I saw a [Toyota] Corolla car moving toward it," he said. "Then there was a loud explosion and I was struck and fell to the ground. After that I couldn't see anything. I don't know how many people were injured."

Escalating Violence In Pakistan

Across the border in the Pakistani city of Peshawar the same day, unidentified gunmen kidnapped an Iranian diplomat, Hashmatullah Atharzadeh, and killed his bodyguard. No groups have claimed responsibility for the attack, although Taliban militants are suspected. The abduction followed the kidnapping of the head of the Afghan Consulate in Peshawar two months ago. That diplomat, Abdul Khaliq Farahi, is still being held.

On November 12, a U.S. aid worker, Stephen Vance, and his local driver were killed in an upscale Peshawar neighborhood while they were driving to their office. Vance headed the local offices of a U.S. NGO, CHF International, which is implementing a multiyear USAID-funded development project in Pakistan's tribal areas.

And on November 10, Taliban militants hijacked and looted 12 trucks carrying supplies to Western troops in Afghanistan through the Khyber Pass west of Peshawar. The trucks were carrying two Humvee armored vehicles and food supplies. The trucks were later found abandoned in a valley, but there has been no word about the fate of two dozen drivers taken hostage.

According to local transporters, some 350 supply trucks cross over to Afghanistan daily via the Khyber Pass. NATO and U.S. supply convoys passing through the narrow passage in the north and Chaman in the south have increasingly turned into targets. Earlier this year, four U.S. helicopter engines worth more than $13 million were stolen in northwestern Pakistan. The engines were being taken from Kabul to Pakistan's southern seaport of Karachi to be shipped home.

Some 75 percent of all supplies for Western forces in Pakistan are shipped in through Karachi. Supplies are then trucked into Afghanistan through Khyber and Chaman.

Experts maintain that disruptions along strategic supply routes might seriously undermine the U.S. and NATO war effort in Afghanistan.

Syed Alam Mehsud, a Peshawar-based political activist and commentator, casts doubt on the widely held view that such incidents are in direct retaliation to the recent surge in U.S. missile and drone attacks against suspected Taliban and Al-Qaeda targets inside Pakistan.

"We can say with confidence that such attacks started long before the attacks by U.S. spy planes," Mehsud says. "Such attacks against the U.S. started on 9/11 and there are hidden hands behind it. The reason [that such attacks are happening in the tribal areas] is that some people want the world to hold the [Pashtun] tribes responsible for such incidents."

RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan contributed to this report

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