US pursues alternative supply route to Afghanistan

Published: October 23, 2011
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (L) speaks with Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov (R) upon her arrival in Tashkent on October 22, 2011. PHOTO: AFP

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (L) speaks with Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov (R) upon her arrival in Tashkent on October 22, 2011. PHOTO: AFP

TASHKENT: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pressed Uzbek President Islam Karimov on human rights and thanked him for supporting US troops in Afghanistan, during a visit to the strategically-located ex-Soviet state.

US ties with Uzbekistan have for years been a delicate balancing act as Washington seeks to encourage its government to improve its rights record while seeking Tashkent’s logistical support for the war in neighbouring Afghanistan.

“We have a range of concerns about religious freedom, broader human rights issues, the need for further democratic reforms, the trafficking in persons, forced labour issue,” a senior State Department official told reporters.

“The secretary noted the need for progress on these issues,” the official said on condition of anonymity following Clinton’s talks with Karimov in the capital Tashkent.

At the helm of the landlocked nation of 28.5 million since 1989, Karimov wields unchecked power and tolerates no dissent.

“President Karimov commented that he wants to make progress on liberalization and democratization. And he said he wants to leave a legacy of that for both his kids and his grandchildren,” the senior US official said.

Ahead of Clinton’s meeting with the Uzbek leader Human Rights Watch called on the top US diplomat to press Uzbekistan to release political prisoners, end torture in jails and promote civil society.

“The visit to Tashkent is the first since the administration’s controversial move in September to lift longstanding restrictions on financial assistance, including military assistance, to Uzbekistan,” the advocacy group said.

It said the restrictions were put in place in 2004.

The US official said the secretary also thanked Karimov for his role in allowing the transport of fuel and other non-lethal supplies to US troops in Afghanistan through a rail line to Mazar e-Sharif.

But he said the secretary did not go into specifics over US efforts to increase the flow of such supplies as Washington fears it may not always be able to count on the Pakistan route.

“We’ve always said that we prefer to use the Pakistan route because it’s cheaper, it’s shorter,” the official said, recalling that the so-called Northern Distribution Network goes via the Baltic states, Russia and Kazakhstan.

“But still, it’s (the northern route) a good thing to have,” he added.

“And again with our (often troubled) relations with Pakistan, we always have to be prepared should they decide to either want to restrict our access or, even in the worst case, close it off,” the official said.

“We would be prepared to move north through Central Asia if necessary,” he said.

He said about 50 percent of all the non-lethal supplies take the northern route.

The Uzbeks however are “sensitive” about publicising the route to Afghanistan for fear that it will prompt “retribution” from the Taliban and other Islamist militants in the region, he added.

In 2005, Tashkent closed the US air base in the country which was used to support US troops in Afghanistan after US criticism of the crackdown on unrest in Andijan.

But the US official said there were no plans to hold negotiations to reopen the base. Nor were there plans, he said, to increase supplies to Afghanistan through yet another neighbour, Tajikistan, which Clinton visited earlier Saturday.

Meeting Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon earlier Saturday in Dushanbe, Clinton warned his government that its curbs on religious freedoms can spawn extremism and urged a “rethinking” of the restrictions.

Her visits were also aimed at promoting her new Silk Road project linking the economies of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan with those of Afghanistan, Pakistan and other regional countries, part of a long-term plan to boost peace and stability.

It was her first visit to Tajikistan and her second trip to Tashkent since one in December 2010.

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Reader Comments (7)

  • Jadugar
    Oct 23, 2011 - 8:50AM

    America is looking for an alternative supply route to Afghanistan for sometime now but is yet to find any route as good as Pakistan, For NATO and American supply there is no better alternative than Pakistan. The Americans are well aware that if this rourte is closed to them it would affect their supply and cost them more, an expense they rather not have but the best route for them is a route Home.


  • Nadeem
    Oct 23, 2011 - 9:41AM

    If America is able to reduce its dependence on the Karachi supply route, it will help bring the generals down from their high horse of “they need us more than we need them”. Anything that punctures the generals’ arrogance must be good for the rest of us 180 million. It is sad when a nation’s interests and its army’s interests become mutually exclusive.


  • ashok sai
    Oct 23, 2011 - 10:04AM

    Way to go, geo political importance being nullified, time asset owners to smell coffee.


  • Bangladeshi
    Oct 23, 2011 - 11:25AM

    Uzbekistan is also a landlocked state. You have to cross many countries to go through Uzbekistan & thus is much more costly. The US knows very well the importance of PAK but i think they are just trying to reduce the destruction of their NATO trucks but at the end of it all PAK will still hold the leverage over the supply route & that’s a fact unless “axis of evil” Iran cozy’s up to US.


  • Sao Lao
    Oct 23, 2011 - 1:57PM

    America is in no position to spend more money.
    The biggest favor US GOV can do to its own civilians and also to Pakistan and Afghanistan is to get out of this so called dead war.


  • j. von hettlingen
    Oct 23, 2011 - 2:00PM

    Wow, Mrs. Clinton did visit Islam Karimov after all. I recommended her to do so a few days ago, while she’s still in the region and that Uzbekistan is just round the corner!


  • Raj - USA
    Oct 24, 2011 - 10:26AM

    Pakistan route has already become very costly for USA and NATO due to the security concerns and destruction of containers. Uzbekistan may prove to be cheaper and dependable route. Who knows, if the Northern Alliance comes to power, Russia may also open up its route for supplies to keep Northern Alliance in power.


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