Original Articles, World

Afghan War: The politics of logistics

It is said, logistics is the stuff that if you do not have enough of, the war will not be won as soon as.

With the ‘War against Terror’ getting protracted for well over a decade, the United States of America and the Obama administration is learning this the hard way. Escalating civilian deaths, rising war costs and a susceptible foreign policy is pushing America to rethink its Af-Pak strategy. It is struggling to find a solution to teething logistical problems of getting man, machine and rations to its troops in the war zone through long and dangerous supply lines.

Until about a year back, America shipped 90 percent of its military surface cargo to Pakistani ports and then transported the cargo through mountain passes into Afghanistan. This was the cheapest and best supply route available to feed the Afghan war. However, in the light of the recent Osama killing, a distrustful Pakistan is pulling all stops to make its displeasure known. Like the recent September impasse when Pakistan closed down a crossing near the Afghan border that resulted in a gridlock of hundreds of supply trucks and fuel tankers, Pakistan is subtly playing the ‘closing supply lines’ card with America once again.

It is time the Obama administration understands the necessity to reassess its supply routes. Even though it has managed to reduce the dependency on Pakistani support by building a parallel supply route, christened as the ‘Northern Distribution Network’, the route substantially adds to the cost of war. The network, a motley of railroads and passages in Central Asia carries surface cargo and other supplies to Afghanistan from the north instead Pakistan. However, this route is highly vulnerable to insurgents and to the American foreign policy. America’s increased dependence on Central Asian authoritarian governments greatly reduces its ability to speak out against these governments, many of which have tainted human rights records. Additionally, the new route heavily depends on tactical support from Russia. The old world super power holds immense clout in the region, and parts of the new route pass through areas that Russia believes are strategically important to it. Given the history the two nations share, reaching such an agreement would be extremely challenging.

America can ill afford a disgruntled Pakistan until it develops and fortifies the Northern Distribution Network. Pakistan understands this and is continuously leveraging its position in this geo-political tangle while exploiting America’s need to depend on Pakistani forces for security. It is smartly coercing America by threatening to move its soldiers form the Pakistan-Afghanistan border towards India peeving Indian aggression. In order to appease Pakistan, America has little choice but to give unconditional aid and supress India’s involvement in Afghanistan. Both of which are detrimental to the cause at hand.

The Obama administration must find an economically viable way to bypass Pakistan or reduce the supplies that it moves through the country to a trickle to ensure that Pakistan’s leverage comes down to nought. Excluding Pakistan as the sole transit point in the supply chain will see greater Indian involvement in Afghanistan’s reconstruction efforts that will go a long way in rebuilding the war torn nation and bring stability in the region.