Pak – US Relations Part – 6

ISAF Routes to Afghanistan

The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which is led by the US, needed Pakistan to attack and take over Afghanistan, which is landlocked. Its first and most important goal was to get goods to Kabul in a safe and inexpensive way. At the start of the war, the airlift was the third biggest in history, after the Berlin Airlift and the Gulf War Airlift of 1990. Since the cost of airlifting was $14,000 per tonne, which was up to ten times more than the cost of land transport, everything but the weapons had to be moved by road. There were many ways to get to Afghanistan by land. Iran through Chabahar was not an option for the US and its allies, but there were two other land routes to Kabul: one through Pakistan, called Ground Lines of Communications (GLOC), and the other through Russia and Central Asian Republics, which became known as the Northern Distribution Network (NDN). Most NDN traffic went through Riga, Latvia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Afghanistan. Poti, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Afghanistan were also popular paths. A third route was taken to escape the often dangerous interior of Uzbekistan. It went from Kazakhstan to Kyrgyzstan, then through Tajikistan, and then from Termez, Uzbekistan, into Afghanistan. But compared to Pakistan, all of these lines took five times longer and cost five times more money. From the port of Karachi in Pakistan, there were two land paths. One road went over the Khyber Pass, into Afghanistan at Torkham, and ended at Kabul. This route brought supplies to the north of Afghanistan. The length of this trip was about 1,600 km. The other route went through Baluchistan Province, crossed the border at Chaman, and finished in Kandahar, which is in southern Afghanistan. Most of the ISAF’s fuel and other non-lethal supplies were moved by GLOC. “The military burned an average of 575,000 gallons of fuel per day, and 80% of that fuel came from Pakistani refineries,” said the Associated Press. So, “about 1,000 oil tankers went through Pakistan every month,” as the sentence says. Also, “about 4,000 containers carrying food for ISAF every month” went through Pakistan 80% of the time.

Post Salala Incident Happenings

In 2002, Musharraf made two “one-sided” agreements that were only good for him. Pakistan decided, among other things, to let the ISAF military supplies go freely to Afghanistan. Before the Salala incident on November 26, 2011, when Pakistan shut its borders to ISAF supplies to protest the killing of its troops, the US was happy with this deal. The US started using the NDN lines right away, even though they cost $100 million more per month than the GLOC. This showed that Pakistan had saved the US billions of dollars in the cost of a war that has been going on for over 20 years. The stoppage over Salala lasted for more than seven months, and during that time, thousands of containers were left in parking lots near border points. Because of this and the extra cost of the NDN routes, the US had to arrange the reopening of GLOC. This gave Pakistan a chance to “fix Musharraf’s mistake.” But the talks that followed got stuck over two major points. Pakistan asked the US to pay a passage fee for each trailer or container and say sorry for what happened in Salala. Pakistan said that since 2002, NATO crates had damaged the country’s roads to the tune of Rs100 billion without paying anything in return. It asked for $5,000 for each trailer or container. The number included the cost of fixing all of the damaged infrastructure, as well as the cost of protection and a new rate. The US turned down the request right away. Pakistan dropped the bet to $1,000, which turned out to be between $1,800 and $2,000 per trailer or container after other fees. This was also turned down by the US, which said, “It won’t be priced out of reach.” In the same way, the US didn’t give an inch on the apology. Earlier, President Barack Obama had said he was sorry, but he didn’t apologise. Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta said in June 2012 that they were “not willing to apologise” and that “I think it’s time to move on.” Even though they seemed to be playing games, the US “believed that without cooperation from Pakistan, it would be a horrible task to have an honourable exit from Afghanistan and a logistical herculean effort to bring back its equipment and troops from this war-torn country without safe passage and support from Pakistan.”
So, on July 3, 2012, when relations between Pakistan and the US were at their worst ever, the two sides decided to break the stalemate. The US Secretary of State said she was sorry for “the losses the Pakistani military had to go through.” The Finance Minister of Pakistan said that Islamabad was required by the 2002 deal to not charge any transit fees. The US Secretary of State praised Pakistan for giving in “in the larger interest of peace and security in Afghanistan and the region.” This was meant to make Pakistan feel better about having to swallow a bitter pill. And, as against $3 billion, payable to Pakistan military from the Coalition Support Fund (CSF) for counterterrorism measures, which had been withheld since the closure of GLOC to ISAF in November 2011, the US agreed to release only $1.1 billion. It took it another six months to repay $688 million on 6 December 2012. After 9/11, the CSF was set up to help Pakistan and other US partners pay for the costs of the War on Terror. It was, by no means, US help. It was used to make payments that were mostly rebates. Despite the patch-up, Pak-US relations stayed on the rocks. The trust gap, betrayed, inter alia, by the killing of Osama Bin Laden in the CIA-led Operation Neptune Spear (2 May 2011) in Pakistan, without Pakistan’s knowledge, and the Salala onslaught six months later, continued to grow by the day. The US continued to “(accuse) Pakistan’s intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), of maintaining ties to militants targeting U.S. troops in Afghanistan” and, therefore, withhold reimbursements time and again. Pakistan continued to lament that its contribution and sacrifices were not being recognised adequately; dispel the “myth that (it was) a beneficiary of tens of billions of dollars”; and complain that even its real costs were not being reimbursed in full and in time. Nonetheless, the forced marriage, bereft of mutual trust and respect, lived as an ineludible necessity till the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.

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