It’s not easy getting supplies into landlocked Afghanistan. In order to sustain the over 200,000 troops and contractors that the US and NATO have deployed there, an enormous amount of cargo has to be hauled daily over rugged mountains and inhospitable terrain that border Afghanistan. Until recently, the bulk of those supplies came from Pakistan, over roads that crossed through the country’s troubled borderlands, and down to the teeming port city of Karachi, a metropolis of nearly 12 million residents.

The result has been a dramatic expansion of Pakistan’s trucking industry, with a host of unintended political and economic consequences. In Afghanistan the repercussions of running privately-contracted supply convoys through violence-wracked areas have been well documented: a chain of payoffs and protection rackets that link pro-government warlords with the insurgency. In Pakistan, however, little is known about the politics of a trucking business that by necessity passes through Taliban-dominated areas. The trucking routes have also brought the borderlands into Pakistan’s heartland cities—which means that today, in Karachi, Taliban-linked trucking gangs clash for control of the slums with established political syndicates. The periodic spasms of urban warfare bringing the city to a near-standstill.

Since US warplanes fired on a Pakistani border post (November 2011) the NATO trucking routes through Pakistan have been closed and US-Pakistan relations have steadily worsened. With NATO looking for alternate routes out of Afghanistan, Pakistan’s truckers face an uncertain future.

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Matthieu Aikins lives in Kabul and has been reporting from Afghanistan since 2008. His feature writing and photography have appeared in such US, Canadian, British, and French publications as ...