Like a broker tracking the dips and spikes of a volatile but lucrative stock, Mohammad Shakir Afridi has kept a close eye on U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan since the first Americans landed in the country 10 years ago. As president of the Khyber Transport Assn., one of the largest associations of truck owners in Pakistan, Afridi’s biggest contract involves moving military equipment for American and coalition forces through Pakistan to military bases in Afghanistan. The slightest policy shift in Washington can carry major consequences for Afridi and his business.
Sitting on a rooftop in a leafy residential block in Peshawar, the largest city in northwest Pakistan, Afridi slaps the morning paper on the floor beside his mat. “Twenty-four of our boys in one go,” he spits out. A front page photograph shows a field full of coffins draped in Pakistani flags. The soldiers were killed on Nov. 26 when U.S. helicopters and jet fighters from Afghanistan fired on military outposts on the Pakistani side of the border. The relationship between Pakistan and the U.S., which has been rocky for years, hit a new low. While the U.S. military promised to investigate and the NATO chief regretted the “tragic, unintended” incident, the Pakistani Prime Minister said there would be “no more business as usual” with the U.S. Pakistan demanded the U.S. vacate an airbase it was using in the South and choked off all U.S. and coalition military supplies traveling through the country.