Cen­tral Asia Un­safe Roads

The U.S. finds it­self in a quandary with Pak­istan hav­ing blocked NATO sup­ply routes. What al­ter­na­tive can Cen­tral Asian states of­fer?

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Chris Cork

There is noth­ing easy about trans­port­ing sup­plies to the forces fight­ing the war in Afghanistan. The coun­try is land­locked, moun­tain­ous in large parts and mostly desert in the rest, and all roads lead to in­se­cu­rity. Sup­ply routes into the coun­try at a for­mal level fall into the av­er­agely dif­fi­cult – the Pak­istan route – and the fiendishly dif­fi­cult – the north­ern sup­ply line. The Pak­istan route has been cut since the at­tack by NATO/ISAF troops on the Salala out­post, which saw the deaths of 24 Pak­istani sol­diers on Novem­ber 26, 2011. The en­tire com­plex of re­la­tion­ships that ex­ist be­tween the Amer­i­cans and the Pak­ista­nis is ei­ther in the freezer or on hold and the shape of the new re­la­tion­ship will not be known with any clar­ity un­til a par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee is­sues its re­port on Jan­uary 30 – but it may be rea­son­ably spec­u­lated that their rec­om­men­da­tions will be highly con­di­tional.

For the Amer­i­cans, the loss of their south­ern sup­ply route, in­volv­ing as it does a sin­gle coun­try of tran­sit and a sin­gle cross­ing point, has been a sig­nif­i­cant in­con­ve­nience. It is by no means cer­tain that the route will open in the near fu­ture and the Pak­istan gov­ern­ment has said that it is ‘up to par­lia­ment’ as to whether or not sup­plies start to flow again.

The re­li­gious par­ties have ready said that they will op­pose a re-open­ing; but the pow­er­ful and mostly Pash­tun trans­porters who have been earn­ing a sub­stan­tial liv­ing from truck­ing sup­plies into a war that at the very least they feel am­biva­lent about – will have their own busi­nesslike per­spec­tive. Sup­ply­ing the Amer­i­cans to fight the mostly-pash­tun Tal­iban gives an ex­er­cise in cog­ni­tive dis­so­nance that would be wor­thy of ad­vanced psy­cho­log­i­cal anal­y­sis for many, but the fis­cal im­per­a­tive usu­ally wins.

Even though Amer­ica is com­mit­ted to a combat-forces pull­out by 2014, in re­al­ity they are go­ing to be there for years af­ter that in a va­ri­ety of roles – as will some of their coali­tion part­ners. Those for­eign forces still there, as well as agen­cies en­gaged in re­cov­ery and de­vel­op­ment of Afghanistan will need a sup­ply route. If the Pak­istan op­tion is open to the va­garies of pol­i­tics and thus closed from time to time, where else can the U.S. turn?

The route through Rus­sia, Turk­menistan, Kaza­khstan and Uzbek­istan is al­ready well es­tab­lished. Prob­lems with the Pak­istan route were an­tic­i­pated and the US and NATO set up what is known as the North­ern Dis­tri­bu­tion Net­work (NDN). Cur­rently, around a third of all NATO/ISAF

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