Kabul, Jan 25 : The head of the Tehreek-e-Taliban and the suspected mastermind behind Benazir Bhutto's assassination, Baitullah Mehsud, has stolen sophisticated NATO equipment by raiding the alliance's supply lines running through Pakistani territory.
Baitullah has emerged as a threat to the flow of supplies for British and American forces fighting in neighbouring Afghanistan. His increasing prominence shows how Pakistan under President Pervez Musharraf is steadily falling under the sway of Islamist militants.
A senior government official, based near the frontier town of Tank, said that Baitullah's men regularly ambushed container lorries carrying hardware bound for NATO forces in Afghanistan.
Their latest target was a supply convoy outside the town of Dera Ismail Khan on the Indus Highway, one of Pakistan's main arteries; the Daily Telegraph quoted the official, as saying.
"They managed to single out the most important lorries, removed the drivers and then vanished the consignment lock stock and barrel," the official added.
"Among the booty they discovered trucks carrying cargos of pristine 4x4 military vehicles, fitted with the most modern communications and listening technology," he claimed.
The official said that Mehsud's gunmen lacked the expertise to operate the equipment. So they enlisted the help of Uzbek and other foreign militants who are based in Pakistan's lawless tribal areas lining the North West Frontier Province.
Pakistan's military spokesman Major-General Athar Abbas declined to comment on this incident.
However, a NATO spokesman in Kabul did not rule out that material had been stolen in transit through Pakistan, but denied that any weapons or military equipment had been lost.
"This may hinge on what people's definition of 'equipment' is," he said. "I have been assured that no military equipment has been lost," he added.
About 40 per cent of the supplies needed for NATO's 42,000 soldiers in Afghanistan pass through Pakistan. The vital supply routes follow the Indus Valley from the port city of Karachi to the border town of Peshawar.
They enter Afghanistan through the Khyber Pass. Other border crossings from Pakistan's province of Baluchistan are also used.