Logistics: An Ancient And Honored Custom

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January 6, 2009: After several days of military operations against tribesmen near the Khyber Pass, the Pakistani Army declared the route once more open to truck traffic. The army arrested dozens of tribesmen and seized tons of weapons and ammunition. Tribal leaders got some threats as well, although more cooperative, and dependable tribal chiefs received gifts and promises of more if things remained peaceful.

The Taliban say they were trying to cut the U.S./NATO supply line from Pakistan to Afghanistan. To do this they had to halt the truck traffic going through the Khyber pass, which is the main road from Pakistan to landlocked Afghanistan. Some 75 percent of the supplies for foreign troops come via this road. The rest are flown in, or come via Russian and Central Asian railroads.

Normally, about 700 large trucks a day make the Khyber run, but several times in the past year, trucks have been attacked by gunmen, and destroyed, stolen or looted. This has halted traffic for as long as a week. This has not hurt U.S. or NATO troops, who, as is the military custom, maintain reserves of all supplies. The Taliban took responsibility for some of the attacks.

Moving goods across the border is a major business for Pakistan, and vital to the economy of Afghanistan. So both countries have responded to the threat by moving more troops and police in to guard the road. Local tribes have also sent more armed men along the route, as they have long done, to go after anyone who threatens the vital trade, and the money they get out of it. It's believed that many of the recent interruptions to Khyber Pass traffic were more about money, than about the Taliban. NATO and the U.S. are seen as rich foreigners, who can pay more than the Afghan and Pakistani merchants who own most of the goods going up the road into Afghanistan. Squeezing some extra cash out of rich foreigners is an ancient and honored custom in this part of the world. But the Pakistani government is worried that the U.S. and NATO will take their trucking business elsewhere if the interruptions persist. They have good reason to worry.

NATO and the U.S. have negotiated with Russia to allow supplies to move to Afghanistan via Russian rail lines and those of Central Asian nations. These only go as far as the Afghan border. There are no railroads in Afghanistan. Thus from the Uzbek border, the freight containers would have to be trucked south to where most of the U.S. and NATO troops are stationed. The U.S. is seeking a Russian contractor to arrange for the movement of 50,000 freight containers a year via the trans-Siberian railroad. Afghans would have the opportunity of forming trucking companies to move the containers south, along with civilian cargo that could also move in and out of a rebuilt rail yard on the Uzbek border. This would amount to a large loss of business for Pakistani transportation firms, and is an incentive for the Pakistanis to protect the traffic going through the Khyber pass.

 


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