Multan: The main ingredient in most of the homemade bombs that have killed hundreds of American troops in Afghanistan is fertilizer produced by a single company in Pakistan, where the US has been pushing unsuccessfully for greater regulation.
Enough calcium ammonium nitrate fertilizer for at least 140,000 bombs was legally produced last year by Pakarab Fertilizers Ltd, then smuggled by militants and their suppliers across the porous border into southern and eastern Afghanistan, according to US officials.
The US military says around 80 percent of Afghan bombs are made with the fertilizer, which becomes a powerful explosive when mixed with fuel oil. The rest are made from military-grade munitions like mines or shells.
The United States began talks a year and a half ago with Pakistani officials and Pakarab, one of the country`s largest companies. But there is still no regulation of distribution and sale of calcium ammonium nitrate fertilizer.
"If you have a host country that has a factory making a substance that ultimately becomes the problem, then that country has to contribute at least half the solution," said Democratic Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, who led a congressional delegation to Pakistan last week to press Army and civilian leaders for action.
US officials say Pakistan and Pakarab have expressed willingness to regulate the fertilizer, which is also widely used in the manufacture of bombs used by insurgents to kill thousands of soldiers and civilians inside Pakistan. They acknowledge the difficulties: 15 years after ammonium nitrate was used in the Oklahoma City bombings, the US government only presented its proposals to regulate it on August 02.
But with the death toll from homemade bombs rising almost daily inside Afghanistan, continuing inaction by Pakistani authorities will add more strain to a US-Pakistani relationship already frayed by allegations that Islamabad is aiding Afghan insurgents on its side of the border.
"This is a test," Casey said. "The key thing now is to see results."