Logistics: The High Road To China

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October 12, 2011: The U.S. and Afghanistan wants to open up the Wakhjir Pass to commerce. China, which is at the other end of this route, is not so sure. This is all happening because NATO has shifted its Afghanistan supply lines to the north, bringing freight in via rail, from Baltic Sea ports, through Russia and Central Asia, rather than through an increasing unstable Pakistan.

While negotiating these new arrangements, the United States also approached China, which also borders Afghanistan. But this is an odd border. It is reached through a long, narrow panhandle (the Wakhan Corridor), and the actually border with China is only 76 kilometers long. The actual passage between Afghanistan and China is the 4,923 meter (15,261 feet) high Wakhjir Pass.

The Wakhan Corridor area has never been very violent, and escaped most of the fighting that has torn apart Afghanistan since the 1970s. But China refused to open its border with Afghanistan, fearing complications with the mainly Moslem population on their side of the frontier. There are no roads through the pass, only trails. The pass is closed five months of the year by snow. For several more months the pass is closed intermittently by bad weather.  The Wakhan Corridor itself was once part of the Silk Road, but only when weather allowed caravans through. The Chinese Wakhan Corridor border has been closed to traffic for over a century.

But the U.S. and Afghanistan have kept after China about this, and Google Earth images have shown that China has recently built a new road to the border area, along with additional guard posts. The Chinese road was only built to make it easier to move border guards, and their supplies, to the frontier.

China has since said that it is reconsidering opening the border, but a sturdy road would have to be built along the length of the 210 kilometer long corridor, before significant freight could be brought in via China. The border would be opened more for the purpose of fostering trade, than to support the NATO war effort, because the pass can only be used for about half the year. This is what the Afghans want, trading routes that do not go through Pakistan, no matter how limited they may be.

 


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