Thursday, January 08, 2009

Infrastructure and the possibilities of Central Asian integration

Afghan News Network is saying what we have heard from other sources, that the US and others are trying to establish new routes of access into Afghanistan, to support the American project there. The improvement of transport and communications technology in Central Asia could change the alignment of interests in Asia. Worth watching. Of course politics can always intervene, and often has.

Officials: new NATO routes to Afghanistan likely 8. January 2009, 12:27
By SLOBODAN LEKIC, Associated Press Writer

BRUSSELS, Belgium – Talks aimed at setting up alternative supply routes to the Khyber Pass for U.S. and other NATO forces fighting in Afghanistan are at an advanced stage, officials said Thursday.

The issue is one of growing urgency because of intensifying attacks by pro-Taliban guerrillas on the mountain pass, which links Pakistan and Afghanistan and is the main supply route the soldiers use. Finding alternative routes also is critical as the U.S. troop deployment to Afghanistan is expected to as much as double this year to 60,000.

Last week, Pakistan reopened the pass after closing it for three days during a military offensive against pro-Taliban militants. Authorities said the operation was a success, but a similar offensive in June failed to curtail attacks.

In Brussels on Thursday, a NATO official said diplomatic efforts are nearing conclusion on setting up new routes for U.S. and NATO military supplies that will likely pass through Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

In Washington, a U.S. military official said the proposed land routes would be used as occasional alternatives to the Khyber Pass, or to carry heavier loads if the pass is closed again.

Sensitive military items such as ammunition and armored vehicles for the 62,000 Western troops in landlocked Afghanistan are normally sent in on military aircraft. Land routes are mainly used for other supplies such as food, the official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly discuss the issue.

The Khyber Pass has been a critical trade and military gateway between Pakistan and Afghanistan for centuries, but like much of western Pakistan it has been besieged by the Taliban, including attacks on cargo trucks.

Moscow agreed last year to let the NATO alliance use its territory to resupply Western forces fighting in Afghanistan. But talks with Central Asian nations bordering Afghanistan have been more protracted than expected.

At issue are flyover rights and at least one rail link near the Afghan border just north of the Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif, where the German contingent has a large military base, the NATO official said.

Military experts have proposed extending the existing railroad line from Uzbekistan to Mazar-e-Sharif. That would eliminate the need to transfer supplies from the rail cars to trucks to haul them into Afghanistan.

Individual NATO members such as Germany and France already use the so-called northern route to supply their forces in Afghanistan on the basis of bilateral agreements with Russia and the Central Asian states. But the alliance as a whole still relies on the route from Pakistan's port of Karachi and through the Khyber Pass.

Kurt Volker, U.S. ambassador to NATO, said Thursday that the alliance would welcome the opening of more routes to Afghanistan.

"The idea is not to replace routes through Pakistan, but to create alternate routes to provide for greater flexibility," Volker said.

No comments: