The sovereign can no longer say, "You shall think as I do on pain of death;" but he says, "You are free to think differently from me, and to retain your life, your property, and all that you possess; but if such be your determination, you are henceforth an alien among your people."

(Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1835)

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Supplying Afghanistan

This study by the IISS provides an interesting snapshot of the bigger geostrategic picture surrounding the war in Afghanistan. It takes a look at supply lines leading to Afghanistan and asks how instability in Pakistan has forced ISAF to diversify and make considerably greater use of northern routes.

Whereas previously 80% of ISAF supplies went through Karachi (and then either to Kandahar via Chaman or to Kabul via the Khyber Pass) that figure has now fallen to 50% since the opening of the northern route in May 2009. Taken in isolation, that statistic is quite striking and would seem to be clear proof that incidents such as the torching of 50 ISAF trucks at a depot near Islamabad in June have had a significant impact on the war effort.

On the other hand, it should be noted that, even with this diversification of supply lines (which is basic common sense, whatever the circumstances), supplies through Peshawar and by extension the Khyber Pass have doubled this year alone, presumably matching the surge in troop numbers. Furthermore, it is also worth pointing out that some countries along the northern routes place caveats on the use of their territory and/or airspace, notably forbidding the transport of lethal cargo, so the importance of Pakistan to the ISAF logistical effort remains uncontested.

Looking at the map makes one wonder though - the US and NATO had to strike deals with all those countries along the northern route and it would be interesting to gain more insight into the financial and geopolitical implications of this. This is yet another example of how the war in Afghanistan is having a significant effect across a very large, important and unstable region.

The article even mentions that the US is looking into the possibility of opening a land route through China, all the way from its eastern seaboard. Aside from the physical challenge of hauling supplies across the Tibetan Himalayas and the Karakorum Range, one wonders what price China would demand for such a service.

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