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Tuesday, August 7

The Salang Tunnel

From Pakistan's Business Recorder, datelined today:
Despite acknowledging that MoU signed between Pakistan and United States regarding opening of Nato supply is a public document, the government is yet to put the detail of agreement on website of Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Information.
No detail of final MoU has been revealed to public so far after passage of six days. The notification has already been issued. Pakistan and the United States on Tuesday signed the MoU to regularise the arrangements for the Nato supplies, which are currently based on "verbal understanding".
Yes; this is bothering me, too. The other night I spent 20 minutes trying without success to find an internet site that had a copy of the final signed agreemment. I had to content myself with the 'final' draft version that had been sent by Pakistan's government to various news outlets and what I could glean from the AP report I linked to in the Shell Game post, which also links to the draft MOU. To my knowledge, the U.S. government hasn't published the final version of the agreement, either.

If the Strategy Page is to be believed (from the July 31 entry in the India-Pakistan index):
[...] While the new [NATO supply] agreement runs through 2015, the Pakistanis are disappointed that NATO has permanently moved most supply activity to the NDN.

The main use of the Pakistani route will be to move out equipment belonging to foreign military units leaving Afghanistan in the next two years.

While the new deal led to the release of $1.8 billion of American aid to Pakistan (frozen in retaliation for the border closing last November), the new deal also held Pakistan responsible for theft or destruction of NATO supplies being moved through Pakistani territory and implied that U.S. aid would be withheld and cut if Pakistan failed to meet the terms of the agreement.

The U.S. is already cutting aid to Pakistan, mainly because American politicians are fed up with Pakistani lies and double dealing when it comes to Pakistani support of Islamic terrorism.
I certainly hope all that is true, but there is a big problem with the NDN, aside from the expense and length of the northern routes into Afghanistan. The problem's name is the Salang Tunnel. From CBS, June 9:
SALANG, Afghanistan - Since Pakistan closed the Khyber Pass border-crossing late last year, NATO has had to supply its forces through the Salang Tunnel, a 1.6-mile long Soviet-era relic with unforgiving dimensions and a deadly history.

With only inches to spare, a huge tanker squeezed past a bus and through the Salang Tunnel. The badly rutted road can jam trucks against the rocks or tip them over. Drivers can wait for more than a week to get through this dangerous mountain pass.

Despite the risks, coalition troops rely on the tunnel for 85 percent of their fuel. This is the best route available since Pakistan closed its borders to NATO trucks seven months ago.

Since then, a tunnel built for 1,000 vehicles a day has 10 times that traffic.

Afghan Gen. Mohammad Rajab is in charge of maintenance on the pass. "It's just one accident away from disaster," he said. "And unless something is done soon, it will be impossible for the tunnel to function."

The tunnel has no lights. And the ventilation system doesn't work. The air is choked with such high levels of carbon monoxide that some passengers get sick.

While there are other routes through the Hindu Kush mountains, the Salang Tunnel is the only one that is protected. So drivers have to make a choice: take your chances on this road, or risk being attacked by insurgents.
The flaws in the tunnel that CBS cited are not the only ones. The biggest flaw is the location of the tunnel. It's a sitting duck for avalanches. The way around the flaw is to build a second tunnel. From Wikipedia's article on the Salang Tunnel:
Technical studies for a second Salang tunnel started in May 2012.

USAID has started studying plans to construct the second tunnel in Salang and the cost of the project will be specified once the study has been completed. USAID and the World bank have both shown an interest in helping pay the costs of the project.

The new tunnel will decrease the problems of travelling on the Salang highway, on which seven thousand vehicles travel daily. Hence less risk of snow avalanches, and a less winding road in the new tunnel. The new tunnel will stretch further than the current tunnel, but the new road will be 30-40 kilometres shorter when comparing equal distances. The new tunnel will reach from the Olang region in Parwan province to DoShakh in Baghlan province, going through the mountains of the Hindu Kush.
So the one good thing about reopening the Pakistan supply route is that it provides a little breathing room to get the second tunnel built.

The U.S. is going to be in Afghanistan a long time, so it's best to get the second tunnel built ASAP, and to make at least some repairs on the original tunnel -- again, as fast as possible. Blizzards can shut down the Salang Tunnel and the roads leading into and out of the tunnel for days, so there are only so many months out of the year that work on it can reasonably proceed. Let's speed it up, folks, because Pakistan's government could easily impose another blockade on NATO convoys.

Make hay while the sun shines, and all that.

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