Saturday, October 2

Highly placed diplomatic sources in Islamabad: "U.S. may abandon Pak-Afghan supply route"

Today's issue of Dawn reports that the U.S. military spokesman in Pakistan, Lt-Col Patrick Ryder, told the paper that “International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) Commander Gen Petraeus called (army chief) Gen Kayani and expressed his sincere regrets over the death of [3] Pakistani soldiers.” (The U.S. military is still investigating the deaths.)

Dawn noted:
Reacting to the incident, Pakistan partially shut down a Nato supply route and lodged a protest with the Nato command in Brussels, demanding an apology. ... It is believed that the temporary stoppage was meant to remind Washington how much it depended on Pakistan for sustaining the military operations in Afghanistan.

“There was no closing of Khyber Pass route as such. The movement of the convoys was stopped temporarily in view of growing resentment over the aerial attacks and the resulting threat to their security,” an official said in a clearly rehashed position on holding up of supplies.

An attack on oil tankers carrying Nato fuel in Shikarpur, analysts said, was just an indication of what could happen if Pakistan were to stop providing security to the convoys.
That last is an odd statement; Pakistan's Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, informed the ISAF commanders just a few weeks ago that they were responsible for the safety of ISAF supply lines in Pakistan -- yet Pakistan's government continued to refuse to allow the ISAF to provide military escorts for the convoys.

So here is another indication of what could, and should, happen. From today's issue of Pakistan's The News (emphasis mine):
U.S. may abandon Pak-Afghan supply route
By Amir Mir

(LAHORE) Upset over mounting terror attacks targeting the Nato/ISAF supply trucks travelling to Afghanistan via Pakistan, the high command of the US-led allied forces stationed in Afghanistan has warned the decision makers in Islamabad that their failure to prevent such assaults could force them to abandon Pakistan as the major supply route to Afghanistan.

According to highly-informed diplomatic sources in Islamabad, the rising number of terrorist attacks on the Nato-ISAF convoys, coupled with the sudden crisis brought about by the recent floods in Pakistan, which have washed away several key bridges and highways, have compelled the high ups of the US-led allied forces to seek alternative supply routes for the international forces stationed in Afghanistan.

Pakistan currently receives a huge reimbursement of economic and military assistance from the United States for providing these logistical facilities to the war-torn country.

The Nato/ISAF convoys travelling through Pakistan are the principal source of logistical support for the US-led allied forces in Afghanistan. It being the shortest and most economical route, almost 75 per cent of ammunition, vehicles, foodstuff and around 50 per cent of fuel for the Nato-ISAF forces fighting against the Taliban militia in Afghanistan have been transported via Pakistan for the last many years.

Pakistan has already blocked a key supply route for the US-led Nato force in Afghanistan on September 30, 2010 after a cross-border helicopter attack in which three Pakistani troops were killed.

The move came a day after Pakistan threatened to stop protecting the Nato/ISAF supply routes to Afghanistan after a series of cross border aerial attacks by the Afghanistan based international forces, killing several innocent Pakistanis, including three soldiers.

Around 100 Nato/ISAF vehicles have already been held up at Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan after these aerial attacks, following which 27 oil tankers carrying fuel for the Nato/ISAF forces were set ablaze by Taliban-linked militants in the Shikarpur district of the Sindh province on Thursday night.

The oil tankers have been torched a few weeks after Interior Minister Rehman Malik’s statement that the Nato/ISAF authorities were themselves responsible for the safety of its supply lines, and that the Pakistan’s federal and provincial governments cannot provide security to the 4,000 trucks, which travel across Pakistan daily.

Available figures show that in a short span of just one month (from Sept 1 to Sept 30), as many as 22 Nato convoys were targeted by the militants, taking the total tally of such assaults for the year 2010 to 55. The convoys that were targeted included fuel tankers, each of which carries about 45,000 litres of oil, as well as containers with unspecified quantities of logistic material for the 120,000-strong Nato/ISAF forces, besides armoured transport for the allied forces, which were either torched or looted by the militants.

Apart from tonnes of small commodities being transported every day from Pakistan to Afghanistan, choppers and Humvees were also transshipped via this route in the past few years.

However, diplomatic circles in the federal capital say, having realized that the Pak-Afghan supply route was not safe now, the high command of the allied forces has decided to warn Pakistan and accelerate efforts to secure an agreement with some of the former Russian states to allow food and military supplies to pass through the Central Asian Republics (CARs).

That the Americans have been trying to secure multiple supply routes for transportation of food and military supplies to Afghanistan is not a secret. Landlocked, mountainous, inundated by civil war and extreme underdeveloped Afghanistan is surrounded by a clutch of hostile, apprehensive, barely functioning sovereignties.

But the allied forces stationed there require a phenomenal mass of supplies from ammunition to toothbrushes, fuel, computers, night-vision goggles, concertina wire et cetera, et cetera — at the rate of thousands of tons a day.

And the problem is that these trucks are 100 percent civilian-operated, with no military escorts, mainly because of the Pakistani sensitivities about its sovereignty. Therefore, these trucks become an easy target of the militants, prompting the Americans to seek alternative supply routes from countries, which can also allow security men to guard them.

According to Islamabad-based diplomatic circles, the Americans are now trying to secure three different alternative supply routes for Afghanistan. The first one is the northern route, which starts in the Latvian port of Riga, the largest all-weather harbour on the Baltic Sea, where container ships offload their cargo onto Russian trains.

The shipments roll south through Russia, then southeast around the Caspian Sea through Kazakhstan and finally south through Uzbekistan until they cross the frontier into north Afghanistan. The Russian train-lines were built to supply Russia’s own war in Afghanistan in the 1980s, and today Moscow’s cooperation is making them available for use by the US-led Nato/ISAF forces in their own Afghan campaign.

The second one is the southern route, which transits the Caucuses, completely bypassing Russia, from Georgia. Starting from the Black Sea port, Ponti, it travels north to Azerbaijan and its port, Baku, where goods are loaded onto ferries to cross the Caspian Sea. Landfall is Kazakhstan, where the goods are carried by trucks to Uzbekistan and finally Afghanistan. While shorter than the northern route, it is more expensive because of the on-and-off loading from trucks to ferries and back onto trucks.

A third route, which is actually a spur of the northern route, bypasses Uzbekistan and proceeds from Kazakhstan via Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, which has a northeast border with Afghanistan. But this route is hampered by bad road conditions in Tajikistan.

However, there are those in the diplomatic circles who believe that it would be hard for the Americans to induce any of the above former Russian states because many of their leaders believe that the American plans to get military supplies via their countries could draw the former Soviet colony into the battle as Cambodia was dragged into the Vietnam war.
Something has to be done, though. The ISAF forces simply can't allow the present situation with Pakistan to continue.

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