ISLAMABAD, April 2: These days, truckers and their business colleagues are eager to hear the news, be it on radio, television or in newspapers. They are desperate to find out when the Nato supply routes through Pakistan will be restored.
“We have been waiting for more than four months now. It is becoming very hard to earn a decent living now in this business,” said Taukeer Malik, whose family owns half a dozen trucks and trailers.
“Few people realise that most of our vehicles were acquired on loan and we have to pay monthly installments.”
He pointed out that the average cost of a 22-wheel trailer is around Rs5 million and there are other overheads involved too.
A large number of truckers invested heavily in the business during the past two or three years when Isaf and the Afghan Transit Trade (ATT) was booming. Those in the business claim that up to 1,000 trucks and trailers were on the move on a daily basis, carrying goods headed to Afghanistan.
But their work and lives came to a crashing halt in November 2011 when the routes were blocked to protest the attack by the US forces on the Salala checkpost.
“Business is down by around 30 per cent,” said another trucker Shabbir Malik, based in Tarnol junction. “We people are now focusing on local business even though it pays less.”
Yet, the truckers are hopeful that the blockade is temporary and their work will resume. But are they aware that there is a move to shift some of the goods to railways? Interestingly, this is welcomed by the truckers.
“They may give railways whatever share they want but it will eventually come back to us if the goods have to reach their destination, because I am confident that railways cannot deliver in the long term,” said Ashiq Hussain Niazi, former general secretary Karachi Goods Carrier Association. “This step will make the policy makers realise how important the truckers are as we are able to do what we promise.”
They also think there is enough to go around. “Keeping in view the backlog of containers stationed in Karachi and other countries, we will all be very busy for weeks after the routes are opened,” added Niazi.
In addition, the truckers are also happy as they feel that the involvement of NLC would ensure better security of the traffic towards Afghanistan.
Despite all the hope and happiness related to the speculations that Nato supplies would be reopened soon through a resolution by the joint sitting of the parliament, the truckers are not ignoring the threats being hurled by the religious groups against reopening of the routes.
“We cannot forget the year 2010 when a very large number of our vehicles were looted ad burned causing huge loss to the truckers,” said Khan Dil Khan, the chairman of All Pakistan Goods Association, Mauripur truck stand at Karachi. “In many cases police and organised criminal gangs were involved in the attacks.”
Since most of the attacks have been recorded in districts of Attock, D.I. Khan and Mianwali on the Karachi-Peshawar route, the truckers feel that better security could be provided to the carriers with the involvement of NLC.
But these anxious truckers are also aware of the Defence of Pakistan Council (DPC) threats to attack the Nato/Isaf goods if the routes are opened.
But worried as they are about these threats, they also – at some level – sympathise with their agenda, which they would have supported had it not been for simple economics.
“My heart is with them and I am convinced that the Americans should not be helped but what can I do, this is my profession I have to feed my children,” said Haji Shazad, a Karachi-based trucker belonging to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.