US may opt for Russian route for Nato supplies

As the Pakistani authorities have decided to claim approximately $600 million from the US-led Nato/Isaf forces stationed in Afghanistan as compensation charges for using the country’s extensive road network to transport food and military supplies to the war-torn Afghanistan, the Centcom has moved swiftly to open an alternate supply route to Afghanistan via Russia and Central Asia, bypassing the ambush-prone main supply routes through Pakistan.

US may opt for Russian route for Nato supplies
06 October 2010 - 06:47

LAHORE: As the Pakistani authorities have decided to claim approximately $600 million from the US-led Nato/Isaf forces stationed in Afghanistan as compensation charges for using the country’s extensive road network to transport food and military supplies to the war-torn Afghanistan, the Centcom has moved swiftly to open an alternate supply route to Afghanistan via Russia and Central Asia, bypassing the ambush-prone main supply routes through Pakistan.

‘Pakistan bound to provide security to Nato containers’

The decision is set to hurt Pakistan in financial terms as Islamabad currently receives a huge reimbursement of economic and military services and logistic support provided to the United States. The high command of the US-led allied forces stationed in Afghanistan had earlier warned Pakistan that its failure to prevent rising terrorist attacks targeting the Nato/Isaf supply trucks travelling to Afghanistan via Pakistan could force them abandoning Pakistan as a key supply route for transportation of food and military supplies. Since 2002, three-quarters of all the military equipment and food supplies for the US-led allied forces had been reaching Afghanistan via Pakistan. Before Islamabad decided to suspend the Nato/Isaf supplies last week in the wake of the allied forces’ incursions into the country’s tribal belt, almost 75 percent of the ammunition, vehicles, foodstuff and around 50 percent of fuel for the 140,000-strong international forces fighting against the Mulla Mohammad Omar-led Taliban militia in Afganistan were being transported via Pakistan.

Well informed diplomatic sources in Islamabad say the Centcom’s decision to choose an alternate supply route to Afghanistan was prompted by Pakistan’s refusal to give a timeline for the resumption of the Nato supplies, which remain suspended at the country’s Torkham border with Afghanistan for a full week now. The US-led allied forces had earlier apologised to the Pakistani authorities over their Thursday’s cross-border helicopters attack that killed three Pakistani soldiers and injured three others. Reacting sharply, Pakistan blocked the main land route Khyber Pass at Torkham for Nato convoys carrying supplies to Afghanistan.

However, the suspension of the Nato/Isaf supplies was not the only action taken by the Pakistani authorities. According to diplomatic sources, the decision makers in Rawalpindi and Islamabad further decided to claim $600 million from Nato/Isaf forces as compensation charges for causing damage to Pakistan’s extensive road network while transporting food and military supplies to Afghanistan since 2002.

The Pakistani authorities have decided to bill the Americans while maintaining that the country is suffering a huge loss of around $83 million annually due to the Nato/Isaf freight truckloads that have badly damaged the national highways network, for the last seven years. They have further argued that the average damage caused by Nato/Isaf on main routes leading to Afghanistan, was 20 percent of the total expenditure incurred on the repair and maintenance of the road infrastructure by the National Highway Authority.

Nevertheless, while ignoring the Pakistan demand for payment of compensation charges, the Centcom high command has decided to open an alternate supply route to Afghanistan via Russia and central Asia.

The diplomatic sources say the alternate supply route starts in the Latvian port of Riga, the largest all-weather harbour on the Baltic Sea, where container ships offload their cargo onto Russian trains. The shipments roll south through Russia, then southeast around the Caspian Sea through Kazakhstan and finally south through Uzbekistan until they cross the frontier into north Afghanistan. The Russian train-lines were in fact built to supply Russia’s own war in Afghanistan in the 1980’s. It was actually in July 2010 that the Americans had finally convinced the Russians to let them use the said supply route. Previously Russia had only allowed the United States to ship non-lethal military supplies across its territory by train. The diplomatic circles say the development is important because it signals Russian willingness to indirectly support the US-led Nato/Isaf forces stationed in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, in Islamabad, a spokesman of the US Embassy on Tuesday claimed that Pakistani law enforcing agencies were responsible for providing security to containers and oil tankers of Nato while passing through its territory.

Rejecting the Islamabad Police’s claim that they were not responsible for providing security to the trucks/trailers carrying supplies for Nato forces in Afghanistan within the jurisdiction of the capital city and its adjoining areas, the US Embassy on Tuesday insisted that the Pakistani government was bound by a bilateral agreement to ensure safe passage of the Nato supplies to Afghanistan through its soil.

“How could the Islamabad Police chief exonerate himself from the Nato containers’ security is beyond my understanding. His government has an agreement with our government under which it is binding on them to provide security cover to the supplies passing through the Pakistani territory,” Richard Snelsir, the spokesman for the US Embassy in Islamabad, told our sources over phone.

The Inspector General of Police (IGP), Islamabad, Kaleem Imam, had earlier said that security to the Nato containers was not the job entrusted to the Islamabad Police in accordance with the laid down standard operating procedure (SOP). He, however, said that he had issued instructions to policemen deployed in the city to ensure safe passage of the Nato containers through the ICT limits.

“Nato itself should take measures to protect its convoys on the Pakistani soil,” the Islamabad IGP said. When asked, Snelsir was quick to reject Kaleem Imam’s point of view, saying Washington and Islamabad had an understanding which binds the latter to provide security to the Nato supplies on its soil en route to Afghanistan. He argued as to whose responsibility it would be by the way if a Pakistani truck or container moving on the New York roads faced some trouble.

“Definitely, the responsibility will solely rest with the US authorities,” he said to his own argument.He said he failed to understand how the Islamabad Police chief came up with such a claim.

The embassy’s spokesman also told our sources that under an agreement signed with the US Embassy, some Karachi-based shipping and transportation companies had been insuring all those aboard the vehicles carrying Nato supplies against such deadly attacks. He, however, declined to disclose names of the said companies.

A police official, when approached, told our sources that each trailer/vehicle carrying containers or other supplies, including vehicles as well as oil tankers taking fuel for the Nato forces in Afghanistan, had four people on board. “They include a driver, a helper and two armed guards detailed by a local private security firm,” the police official told our sources.

However, neither in the Sunday night attack nor in a similar attack a few months ago, almost in the same area, no resistance was put up by these armed security guards who were supposed to be aboard all these tankers/trailers and vehicles.

If Islamabad Police official’s assertions are taken as correct, then there should have been at least 40 well- equipped and trained armed security guards who should have put up at least some sort of resistance like shooting a few rounds here and there to ward off the purported Taliban attackers, who came on motorcycles and were said to be only eight in number.

Some police officials even claim that they can smell a rat in this practice of attacking and setting these oil tankers or trailers, carrying containers filled with all sorts of supplies for the Nato forces in Afghanistan, on fire.

“We have not heard even a single incident in which the two well-armed and well trained security guards provided by this private security company engaged by the US Embassy or the Consulate General in Karachi or somebody in the Nato or Isaf itself, have put up any resistance against such attacks. In fact, we have not even seen any of these guards after such incidents,” the police officials said.

“There is something wrong somewhere. When the Nato or the US has entrusted the responsibility of safety and security of these trailers/tankers and the staff on board these vehicles to some private security company, then the first thing they should be doing is that they should be investigating that particular security company as to why they had not deployed the security guards. They are supposed to be trained and believed to be very well equipped and yet they have never offered any resistance to such attacks,” the police officer argued.

“It sounds strange how these eight or so Taliban riding motorbikes managed to break through the security cordon, which these security guards deployed on each and every vehicle under the use of Nato, should have immediately formed wherever they are supposed to be stopping for any short or long period of time,” the police official argued.

“If there is a suspect, then first of all it is the security agencies engaged for providing the well-equipped and trained armed guards and the second are drivers and helpers of these vehicles,” the police officer argued.

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