Pakistan shut down the supply route from its Indian Ocean ports to Kabul and Kandahar. Initially, the closure was in retaliation for the deaths of 24 Pakistani soldiers in an errant NATO airstrike six months ago. Pakistan insists the U.S. failed to adequately apologize for those deaths, but now the impasse seems to have crystallized around money.
Pakistan had been charging a $250-per-truck transit fee. But after the killings, Pakistan demanded $5,000 per truck to reopen the route. Now there are reports that the government has lowered its demands to $1,800 to $2,000 a truck, but the Pentagon still isn’t buying.
Instead, NATO has negotiated a deal with the surrounding nations of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan to allow the alliance to begin hauling out the immense numbers of vehicles and supply containers it needed to fight the war. Russia had earlier agreed to the transit of outgoing war material and has offered the use of an air base as a logistics center.
With the Afghan security forces expected to reach their full strength of 350,000 members in the next couple of months and international forces to be out completely by the end of 2014, the window for Pakistan to profit is beginning to close.
While radical Islamic and pro-Taliban groups are opposed to reopening the route, pressure on the government is starting to build from trucking companies and local governments that depended on that flow of cash.
An accommodation would be in everyone’s interest, except, of course, for the Taliban. If Pakistan truly wants us out of the region, this is the fastest way to do it. The northern route has its own problems: It’s longer, more dangerous and has a horrendous bottleneck at the Salang Tunnel, a notoriously dangerous tunnel north of Kabul, built by the Russians in 1964 and that has seen little upkeep since.
Pakistan is surely aware that the U.S. is fully capable of building, maintaining and defending an alternate exit route from Afghanistan. We’re leaving, one way or another, with or without Pakistan. That decision has already been made.