US seeks alternative supply routes to Afghanistan. Russia agrees. What do Qazi and Imran want now?

Russia allows transit of Nato arms to Afghanistan (Dawn, 21 Nov 2008)

MOSCOW, Nov 20: Russia said on Thursday it had authorised the transport of German military equipment to Afghanistan through Russian territory, the first time it had allowed such a transit by a foreign state.

Russian authorities on November 10 “issued a permit for… the rail transit through Russian territory of arms, military equipment and military property of the Bundeswehr to Afghanistan,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

“This will be the first experience of this kind between Russia and a foreign state, emphasising the close cooperation with Germany in the sphere of cooperation in countering mutual problems and threats to security,” it added.

Russia has since April allowed the transit of non-military supplies through Russian territory for countries such as France and Germany contributing to the Nato force in Afghanistan.

But this is the first time Russia has allowed military hardware to pass over its soil and the fact the agreement is with Germany is richly symbolic given the hostility in World War II.

The German shipments would use Russia’s vast rail network which leads into Siberia and then connects into Central Asian countries towards Afghanistan.

The foreign ministry said that the issue was discussed by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a summit meeting in Saint Petersburg on October 2.

Relations between Russia and Nato have suffered a deep chill over Moscow’s war with Georgia in August but the two sides have maintained a close cooperation over Afghanistan.

Nato’s 53,000-strong International Security Assistance Force is struggling to put down a Taliban-led insurgency amid increasing violence. Germany has a contingent of about 3,300 soldiers in Afghanistan.—AFP


Dawn, 20 Nov 2008

US seeks alternative supply routes to Afghanistan

By Our Correspondent

WASHINGTON, Nov 19: The United States is seeking alternative supply routes for Nato troops in Afghanistan, including a tortuous overland journey from Europe, The Washington Post reported on Wednesday.

The United States currently uses the Karachi-Khyber Pass route for supplying 67,000 foreign troops stationed in Afghanistan, including 32,000 Americans. Nearly half of US forces operate under Nato command.

About 75 per cent of Nato and US supplies bound for Afghanistan — including petrol, food and military equipment — are transported overland through Pakistan.

Last week, Pakistan was forced to suspend supplies after militants launched back-to-back assaults on US convoys and hijacked 13 trucks.

The supplies resumed on Monday after Pakistan beefed up security along the route that passes through the lawless tribal region. But the attacks forced the Pentagon to expedite its efforts for developing alternative routes.

The Post has obtained US Defence Department documents showing that the Pentagon is seeking far longer, but possibly safer, alternate routes through Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia.

In September, the US Transportation Command sent a notice to potential contractors saying that “strikes, border delays, accidents and pilferage” in Pakistan and the risk of “attacks and armed hijackings” in Afghanistan posed “a significant risk” to supplies for Western forces in Afghanistan.

The Post noted that supplying troops in landlocked Afghanistan had long been the Achilles’ heel of foreign armies, most recently the Soviets, whose forces were nearly crippled by Mujahideen attacks on vulnerable supply lines.

The Post noted that last week’s attacks on supply trucks in the Khyber Agency was one in a series in recent months that had cost Nato suppliers millions in losses this year. In March, insurgents set fire to 40 to 50 Nato oil tankers near Torkham. A month later, Taliban raiders made off with military helicopter engines valued at about $13 million.

Forced by these attacks, the United States has already begun negotiations with countries along what the Pentagon has called a new northern route.

An agreement with Georgia has been reached and talks are ongoing with Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, according to an Oct 31 Pentagon document. “We do not expect transit agreements with Iran or Uzbekistan,” the Transportation Command told potential contractors.


Rough roads
Sunday, November 23, 2008

Transporting the materiel to fight the war on terror in Afghanistan has for many years been a hugely profitable business for the long-distance hauliers of Pakistan. It is Pakistani vehicles, their owners, drivers, loaders and ancillary staff who have all benefited from the US using the Karachi-Khyber Pass route to supply the 67,000 foreign troops – including about 32,000 Americans – currently stationed in Afghanistan. Almost 75 per cent of all NATO and US supplies including petrol, food, military equipment and possibly ammunition are moved overland through Pakistan. It may not be for much longer.

Militants in the tribal areas through which the vehicles pass en-route to Torkham have made a series of effective high-profile raids which forced the government to suspend the operation a week ago – resuming it last Monday after security was belatedly improved. Tens of millions of dollars-worth of supplies have been lost in the last ten months. March saw between 40 and 50 tankers burned out, and in April the Taliban captured a consignment of helicopter parts – which they will have no trouble selling on the international arms black market. The straw that seems to have broken the camels back was the hijacking of 13 trucks recently, containing among other things two Humvee jeeps. The trucks were recovered, the jeeps were not.

A report in the Washington Post says that the leakage along the route through Pakistan has forced the Pentagon to look for alternative routes. These will be more expensive in terms of the fuel needed to traverse them – but safer. They are likely to run through Europe, the Caucasus and some Central Asian states, but not Iran or Uzbekistan. Agreement for transit has already been reached with Georgia and talks are under way for a similar agreement with Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan.

The supply of foreign armies fighting in landlocked Afghanistan has for centuries been the Achilles heel of every nation that has fought a war there. The British in their numerous military adventures used almost exactly the same route as is being used today – but without interdiction by the Taliban. The Mujahideen almost brought the Russians to their knees by cutting their lines of supply. America and its allies are rich and powerful enough to circumvent the problem by simply walking around the Taliban in Pakistan. If they make life too uncomfortable here, Uncle Sam will simply take his business elsewhere, with Pakistan the loser again. It would have made both economic and strategic sense to protect our goods vehicles in their transit of the tribal areas. The distance is not great, there is only one road and it should have been within our capacity to secure it. We didn’t -or couldn’t – and it will be the Pakistani haulage industry (and the other big loser, the Karachi Port Trust) that will end up paying the price of poor planning and yet another failure of foresight. (The News, 23 Nov 2008)