TORKHAM (AFP) - Fearful of Taliban attacks and death on dangerous roads, truckers on the Nato supply line from Pakistan to Afghanistan curse their jobs and say they feel like traitors in a time of war.
An unprecedented assault on at least 30 trucks packed with military vehicles and Nato supplies on the outskirts of Islamabad killed seven people this week and renewed fears about insecurity in the country.
Mir Jan said he had twice been threatened by the Taliban for driving Nato supplies up the infamous Khyber Pass - part of which Washington has branded the most dangerous region on earth - and that there were nights he could not sleep.
They stopped me twice here in Khyber. They told me to stop supplying goods to Americans, he said. They said, we will skin you alive if you dont stop this.
I am cursing myself for doing the wrong job. I ask myself all the time, why am I helping these kafirs (non-believers)?
Like most of his fellow truckers from Afghanistan, Mir Jan is illiterate and from a poor family, with little other prospect of gainful employment.
The Pentagon says around half the cargo sent to Afghanistan travels overland through Pakistan, much of it threading through Khyber to the Torkham border crossing after being sent by ship to Karachi.
It says less than one percent of cargo routed through Pakistan is lost and the cost of this weeks damage has not yet been quantified. But that offers little solace to those on the ground.
I have no other option but do this job and I know it is wrong because I am helping those kafirs, Qameesar Khan, 52, told AFP at Torkham as he waited his turn to drive home into Afghanistan. Strapped on his truck are two armoured vehicles. He lives in Nangarhar, just across the border in eastern Afghanistan.
Drivers say they earn the equivalent of 300 to 400 dollars per trip from Karachi or an inland depot across the border, where the 142,000-strong US-led foreign military force is set to increase to 150,000 by August.
The war ripping apart Khans country may ultimately keep him in work, but he feels bitter at the Americans, the Taliban and Pakistanis, whom many Afghans accuse of fuelling the nearly nine-year conflict in their country.
Americans have failed in Afghanistan, he said. Pakistan is like a B-team of America, there is no Taliban. Its all a game, a game of Pakistan and a game of Americans, he said.
Although truckers have said they feel safer since a recent military operation against militants in Khyber, they remain unhappy about the bribes they say they have to shell out.
Furious at the conditions, the All Pakistan Oil Transporters Association called a three-day strike by convoys to Afghanistan after this weeks attack at Tarnol, demanding government protection from criminals, bribery and the Taliban.
We are protesting against the government for not providing security to us, the groups president, Yousaf Shahwani, told AFP.
Police and other institutions are robbing us by imposing taxes. Now weve been attacked, nobody is listening us. We have forwarded our demands to the government and are waiting for the government response.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani ordered law enforcement agencies to take foolproof measures to avoid a repeat incident but his office provided no further details in a statement.
Authorities have said repeatedly that police are not responsible for providing security to Nato supply trucks as they are working on a private basis and are hired by private contractors.
That offers little comfort to Mohammadullah, a father of seven taking a break at the chaotic border crossing before driving to Bagram, the largest US-led military base in Afghanistan, just north of Kabul. Several times armed men stopped me and asked why I was taking goods for the Americans but I have no other option, said the 56-year-old, sitting in the shade beside his 22-wheeler truck loaded with military jeeps.