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?
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