WASHINGTON: As supply routes in Pakistan remain closed in the aftermath of the NATO airstrike that led to the death of 24 Pakistani soldiers, a new Senate Foreign Relations Committee report says that “American strategy is focused on Central Asia in part as a response to the challenges of transiting supplies through Pakistan for the Afghan war.”
According to the new SRFC report, the US has increasingly relied on the Northern Distribution Network to send non-military supplies to Afghanistan since 2009. “Close to 75 per cent of ground sustainment cargo is now shipped via the NDN.” The NDN, according to report, is made up of three land routes. “One stretching from the Georgian Black Sea port of Poti, through Baku, Azerbaijan, across the Caspian Sea, and into Central Asia; one from the Latvian port of Riga through Russia, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan; and a final route that originates in Latvia and travels through Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and passes into Afghanistan via Tajikistan.”
Citing figures from the US Transportation Command, only 29 per cent of cargo goes through Pakistan, whereas 40 per cent goes through the NDN, and the rest is shipped by air. However, the committee report says that the NDN is not an ideal replacement for current supply routes in Pakistan. The NDN only allows goods to be sent to Afghanistan and not back, and also only allows for the transit of non-lethal supplies. “Sensitive and high-technology equipment is transported by airlift.”
The NDN supply route also costs the United States more money. An additional $10,000 is spent on sending a 20-foot container to ship via the NDN as opposed to sending it through Pakistan. Airlifting supplies into Afghanistan is the costliest – with an additional $40,000 per 20-foot container spent on sending it by air.
The report also highlights the challenges faced by the United States in allying with Central Asian states. “In many cases, the United States is forced to rely on highly corrupt, authoritarian governments in countries whose populations are suspicious of US intentions.” Citing fears that Russia and China has about US involvement in the region, the report says that China is “even more nervous about the risk of instability in Afghanistan should the United States and its partners fail to help stabilise the country.”
Recommendations presented in the report including striking a balance between security and political priorities in Central Asia, working on regional cooperation especially in controlling narcotics trafficking, and working on the New Silk Road vision, outlined by Secretary Clinton earlier this year, and helping connect South and Central Asia via Afghanistan.
US spending cuts “reduce” not “freeze” aid
US spending plan for fiscal 2012, which began October 1 the House of Representatives approved the bill on Friday and the Democratic-run Senate approved it on Saturday.
The legislation allocates $850 million for a fund to help Pakistan’s military develop counter-insurgency capabilities to fight Islamist militants within its borders. This is actually a slight increase from last year’s $800 million but less than the $1.1 billion President Obama requested for the fund in 2012.
However, a massive defense bill Congress passed on Thursday freezes 60 per cent of this amount, or $510 million, until the US defense secretary provides lawmakers with assurances that Pakistan is working to counter improvised explosive devices (IEDs). US lawmakers say that many Afghan bombs that kill US troops are made with fertiliser smuggled by militants across the border from Pakistan into Afghanistan.
No number was included for economic aid to Pakistan, leaving the Obama administration to specify the amount in consultation with Congress. This is a comedown for Pakistan; in each of the past three years, about $1 billion or more in economic aid for
Pakistan was written into spending bills, in part to meet pledges made under 2009 legislation sponsored by Senators John Kerry and Richard Lugar.
Economic as well as security aid was made conditional on Pakistan’s cooperation in fighting militants such as the Haqqani network. Many lawmakers have been calling for aid to Pakistan to be reduced since US special forces found and killed al Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden in a Pakistani military town May 2
Uzbekistan restrictions waived to facilitate supply to US troops in Afghanistan
The legislation would allow the United States to waive restrictions on aid to Uzbekistan if the Secretary of State certifies this is needed to obtain access to and from Afghanistan. US military aid to Uzbekistan has been restricted since 2004 because of its poor human rights record. But the United States is also expanding US use of the central Asian country as a route to supply troops in Afghanistan.
The legislation also included a requirement that the Secretary of State report to Congress on any diversion of US aid for “corrupt purposes” in Uzbekistan.
Aid to Palestine to continue despite joining UNESCO
The legislation allows US economic aid to the Palestinians to continue next year so long as Palestine is not admitted as a state to any more U.N. organizations. It ignores the UN organisation they have already joined – the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).
“It is linked to the UN because what we’ve said … If the Palestinians went to the United Nations, it means they walked away from the negotiating table (with Israel),” Representative Kay Granger, Republican chairman of the House subcommittee on foreign aid, said recently in explaining the conditions.