American supply routes to Afghanistan causing political weakness

Supply

As its relationship deteriorates with Pakistan, the U.S. has been forced to get creative in resupplying its troops in Afghanistan. Now the government must pay a higher cost — either diplomatic or monetary (the choice is with the Pentagon) — to keep troops fed.

The Diplomat explains:

The U.S. and NATO, having already anticipated problems with Pakistan, had been building up another set of overland supply routes from Europe through the former Soviet Union to Afghanistan, known as the Northern Distribution Network (NDN). By the time of the Pakistan cutoff, a bit more than a third of NATO cargo to Afghanistan went in via the northern route, slightly more than via Pakistan. The remainder goes in by air, which avoids any geopolitical complications but is far more expensive.

It’s not known how long Pakistan will keep the supply routes closed, but after an incident last year in which the U.S. killed three Pakistani soldiers, Pakistan shut off the border for ten days. U.S. officials say that with the NDN, and with large amounts of goods stockpiled in Afghanistan, they don’t anticipate any shortages as a result. Still, recent events have shown that the United States’ partners on the northern route may now try to take advantage of its increased dependence on them.

Uzbekistan has been a key partner on the NDN and an estimated 98 percent of overland traffic from the north to Afghanistan passes through the southern Uzbekistan border city of Termez. As a result, and despite the unseemliness of cooperating with one of the most brutal and repressive governments in the world, the United States has been strengthening its ties with Tashkent. Washington recently changed its policy which forbade sales of military equipment to the country because of its miserable human rights record. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on a visit to Tashkent in October, said there had been “progress” on human rights and democracy in the country, prompting critics to claim that Washington was selling out its principles for the sake of access for its military.

The U.S. is now forced to rely on countries fundamentally opposed to American ideals. Uzbekistan has something of a human rights crisis, condemned just today by Human Rights Watch for torture and a corrupt justice system, among other things. Human Rights Watch said the U.S. has failed to address the former Soviet state’s failures for need of access.

“Driven by a short-term interest in Uzbekistan’s strategic importance … the U.S. and the (European Union) have failed to respond to Uzbekistan’s deepening human rights crisis,” HRW said in its report.

The U.S. could be using more air transport or alternate routes instead, but in the interest of keeping costs down, has opted to use more politically precarious routes. The Diplomat explains the options:

By the time of the Pakistan cutoff, a bit more than a third of NATO cargo to Afghanistan went in via the northern route, slightly more than via Pakistan. The remainder goes in by air, which avoids any geopolitical complications but is far more expensive.

Russia isn’t as essential a link as Uzbekistan – the coalition can bypass Russia by transiting through the Caucasus, across the Caspian Sea into Kazakhstan and then Uzbekistan. But the Russian route is nevertheless easier and cheaper.

The added money would have a political cost back home, and taxpayers likely would rather not pay to airmail chemically preserved meatcakes to the troops. Americans would almost always rather read about atrocities in the paper than pay extra taxes to keep money out of the hands of those who commit them.

The bottom line is that without Pakistan as a suplly route, and even with it, Washington’s political power, foreign and domestic, will suffer. With taxpayer money flowing to the oppressive regimes they publically condemn and a very sensitive polticial string in the hands of a country on the other side of a nuclear missile shield only so America can continue to send its young men to attempt (in vain, some say) to stabilize the Graveyard of Empires, this can not end well.

Photo/Creative Commons/Defence Images

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