IMPROVISED EXPLOSIVE DEVICES

PROFESSOR ALI SUKHANVER

 

In the second week of December 2011, theUScongress agreed on a defense bill that includes a provision to freeze some $700 million in assistance untilPakistancomes up with a strategy to deal with improvised explosive devices.  According to CBSNEWS, the fertilizer smuggled intoAfghanistanis being used in creating explosives and through this defense bill Congress is specifically trying to urgePakistanto take more action against this smuggling. Commenting on the billChairman,U.S.House Armed Services Committee Rep. Buck McKeon said, “The U.S. wants assurances thatPakistanis countering improvised explosive devices in their country that are targeting our coalition forces inAfghanistan”. It is yet to be decided whether this suggested bill is a sincere effort to counter terrorism in the region or simply a reaction to the rapidly uneasy relationship between theUnited StatesandPakistan. The U.S. military sources blame that around 80 percent of Afghan bombs are created with the fertilizer that becomes a powerful explosive when mixed with fuel oil and the primary ingredient in all of the homemade bombs is fertilizer produced by a single company in Pakistan; the Pak-Arab Fertilizers Ltd. Multan. According to theUSarmy sources only in the period of one year the Pak-Arab Fertilizers Ltd legally produced calcium ammonium nitrate fertilizer enough for making of at least 140,000 bombs. Is Pak-Arab Fertilizers Ltd. Multan manufacturing fertilizers for the terrorists or the farmers; no doubt a very important question.Pakistan, being an agricultural country requires a lot of fertilizers for its crops. It is amongst the countries having acutest shortage of water. This scarcity of water is growing serious day by day asIndiais building dams on the rivers flowing towardsPakistanin violation of the Indus Water Treaty. The water scarcity whichPakistanhad been facing in 1950 was 5000 m3 and it will reach below 1000 m3 by 2035. Furthermore the lack of energy resources, the foreign supported terrorist activities and the economic instability, no doubt, a result of theUSwar on terror; all these factors have joined hands together to givePakistanreally a tough time.

 

BlamingPakistanfor smuggling fertilizer toAfghanistanfor the purpose of bomb-making seems the part of the same blame-game which is being played for the last many years simply to defame and disrepute Pakistan. MoreoverPakistanis not the only fertilizer producing country. Huge quantities of fertilizer are made inUzbekistan,Iranand acrossCentral Asia.Pakistanproduces 600,000 metric tons of fertilizer per year. The alleged Pak-Arab Fertilizers Multan produces only 300,000 metric tons per year. That is the quantity which is insufficient even to meet the local requirements of fertilizer. Total production of fertilizer throughout the world is 3.7 million ton.Pakistanproduces less than 1% of the gross world production. Calcium Ammonium Nitrate is the basic ingredient used in making of fertilizers throughout the world. This is also one of the chemicals most commonly used in IEDs as explosives but it is not the only chemical used for this purpose.

 

The abbreviation IED stands for improvised explosive device. IEDs can be called a homemade bomb constructed and deployed in ways other than in conventional military action. An IED has five components: a switch (activator), an initiator (fuse), container (body), charge (explosive), and a power source (battery). It is a misconception that IEDs are being used inAfghanistanfor the first time ever in the history. The coalition forces have ever been a very favourite target of IEDs. BeforeAfghanistan, IEDs were used extensively against coalition forces in Iraq War and by the end of 2007 they had become responsible for approximately 63% of coalition deaths inIraq. IEDs were also used extensively by Tamil Tigers against military targets inSri Lanka. In all these cases certainly it was notPakistanproviding fertilizers to the makers of IEDs. Moreover Calcium Ammonium Nitrate is not the only element which is used as explosive in an IED. According to a report released by theUSdepartment of Homeland Security, ‘many commonly available materials, such as fertilizer, gunpowder, and Hydrogen peroxide can be used as explosive materials in IEDs. The required explosives must contain a fuel and an oxidizer which provides the oxygen needed to sustain the reaction. A common example is ANFo, a mixture of ammonium nitrate, which acts as the oxidizer and fuel oil.’ The same report says, ‘Concerns about the use of explosives created from liquid components that can be transported in a stable form and mixed at the site of attack is the reason that in 2006 the US Department of Homeland security restricted the amount of liquids that passengers can carry on commercial aircraft.’

 

The alleged fertilizer which could be helpful in preparation of IEDs is made with 68% of nitric acid called ammonium nitrate. This type of fertilizer is used in arid, barren and sandy regions where there is scarcity of water. In the regions where land holdings are either very small or unproductive, such fertilizer is also called the ‘lifeline of subsistence farming’ because it is efficient as well as economical. The decision of freezing $700 million assistance toPakistanby theUScongress will directly affect poor farmers and their families. There is no surety that this action would put a full-stop to the IEDs’ attacks on the US forces in Afghanistan,  the terrorists can resort to other forms of IEDs. There are half a dozen other countries which borderAfghanistanand most of them produce fertilizers. There is no proof that only Pakistani fertilizers are being used in making of IEDs. It is simply an insane demand thatPakistanmust stop the production of fertilizers on theUSfears that fertilizers are used in making if IEDs inAfghanistan? Must we let our crops die to save the lives of US soldiers inAfghanistan?

 

The writer is a Pakistan based analyst on defence and strategic affairs.

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