August 4th, 2021
By Arshad Mohmand
The last thing that Irshad Khan saw with his own two eyes was an RPG zooming towards his truck. It is a dreamlike memory, from 2009, but even today, he clearly remembers how the Taliban fighter in front of him, flung the rocket propelled grenade his way, targeting his truck, so that the weapon crashed with full force into his truck’s windscreen. All Irshad saw was a flash of bright white, before everything went dark for him – forever.
Irshad had been delivering supplies for the NATO mission active in Afghanistan, and had been driving through the Khyber district (former FATA) when the attack happened.
“I had bought the container in installments,” he says, covering his damaged eyes with dark glasses. “I knew the work was dangerous but as there were no other jobs in the area, I had to get into it. After the accident though, I have received no aid from anyone – neither the government nor any other organization has stepped forward to help me. Now I have to be dependent for my day-to-day expenses on my relatives, friends, and neighbors.”
If Irshad Khan lost his eyesight, Badshah Gul too lost the light of his eyes – in a different way. Both his sons who were drivers of NATO supply trucks were killed in similar attacks. Badshah Gul explains that he and his sons decided to get into the NATO supply business after they saw other residents of their area earning good money from the opportunity, so they too procured a container.
But things were meant to be different it seems for the old man.
Gul’s eldest son who was passing through a market in Peshawar with his container came in the crosshair of heavy firing, dying as a result. Only 12 days later his younger brother was shot to death while driving the very same container across Peshawar. Badshah Gul did not even have time to mourn his loss – he has been left alone in taking care of his four orphaned grandchildren and his sons’ widows. To add to the misery, he lost the container.
“After my son was killed, we could not pay the rest of the installments,” said Badshah Gul. “So the owner took it back. I requested him to help me out regarding the insurance money of the truck, but he did nothing.”
The South Asian Terrorism portal reveals that between 2008 and 2014, there have been a total of 311 attacks against NATO containers within Pakistan resulting in 162 people being killed and at least 254 being injured.
Shakir Afridi, the President of the Khyber Transport Association is disgruntled by the injustice of it all. He says that even though the goods carried in the containers had some insurance, the drivers had none – so with the killing of the truck drivers it was the contractors who were given compensation, while the families of the poor driver were left hungry and helpless.
“When your children are hungry, the threat posed by the Taliban begins to fade away into the background. Hunger was the main reason that forced most of these drivers to get into the NATO supply business,” he says. “Now the situation in the tribal districts is slowly deteriorating and those who have worked bringing NATO supplies could end up facing danger in the future as well. It is NATO that should help those who have worked for them during their difficult time in Afghanistan.”
As the United States promises to airlift around 9,000 Afghan civilians who have supported the NATO mission during the prolonged Afghan war, on this side of the border Pakistani civilians who had to encounter several Taliban attacks for transporting supplies to the NATO forces, have been reduced to nameless shadows.