Pakistani security experts believe that supply of lethal Nato cargo through alternate routes could expose the Central Asian States to terrorist attacks. At present, cargo supplied mainly through Pakistan is regularly attacked by the Taliban.
On the other hand, the Central Asian States host the Northern Distribution Network (NDN) for movement of Nato supplies and troops to Afghanistan. According to estimates, some 55 percent of non-lethal cargo at present goes through the NDN through road and rail network. In the wake of the blockade by Pakistan, plans are underway to further increase this capacity.
The NDN mainly goes through Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. But it is not a viable alternative to Pakistan as these routes are very long and costlier. In fact, they are five times the length of 1,000-miles Karachi-Kabul route.
“The US-Nato operations in Afghanistan can only be successful to some degree if there are secure and effective lines of communication,” said an analyst at an Islamabad think-tank. “But the NDN provides ineffective solution to foreign forces in Afghanistan.”
He said the Manas Transit Center in Kyrgyzstan was used by the foreign forces for air supplies. All foreign troops use this base, where facilities of aerial refuelling, emergency evacuation and other essential services are also available. Some critical equipment, including weapons and ammunition, is also sent through this base.
“But keeping the large number of troops in mind, the air shipment mode cannot be used on a massive scale,” the analyst said, adding that it costs Nato to transport goods through Karachi to Kabul only 30 Cents per pound as compared to $3 per pound by air to Afghanistan.
Moreover, the huge financial and political costs of sending supplies by routes through Central Asia may not be sustainable in the long term and there are fears that it could expand the conflict.
The NDN countries do not allow transportation of lethal weapons and other combat supplies by US/Nato through their territory. One reason is that they do not want to antagonize neighbouring countries on account of Russia-Georgia and Armenia-Azerbaijan conflicts. But there are also strong chances that if lethal supplies start going though the NDN routes, the Taliban now operating in northern Afghanistan with impunity or other groups could target the convoys and this could widen the Afghan conflict.
It should be remembered that in 2010, Pakistan was forced to suspend the Nato supplies to Afghanistan for one week when a Nato helicopter killed two Pakistani soldiers within the Pakistan borders. After Nato assured Islamabad that no such incident will occur in future, the supplies were restored.
Unfortunately, the incident was repeated on a grander scale on the border with Afghanistan on November 26, 2011 with Pakistan after the killing of 26 Pakistani troops being forced to block the Nato supply routes. Since then, the vital supply line remains blocked.
— Waqar Ahmed