US now less dependent on Pakistan for Afghan supplies
WASHINGTON (PAN): Central Asian countries have a vital role to play in Afghanistan's prosperity and peace, a key US Senate committee said Monday, as it released a report that said the US was now less dependent on Pakistan for supply of cargo for its troops.
Amid a standoff between Washington and Islamabad over supplies through the country, the Senate committee report said that only 29 percent of the total Afghan cargo supply now goes through Pakistan, which about an year ago was nearly 50 percent.
Islamabad has closed the crucial NATO supply route from Pakistan after the 26 November airstrikes that killed 24 of its soldiers.
“Since 2009, the United States has steadily increased traffic on the Northern Distribution Network (NDN), a major logistical accomplishment. According to US Transportation Command, close to 75 percent of ground sustainment cargo is now shipped via the NDN,” the report “Central Asia and the Transition in Afghanistan” said.
An estimated 40 percent of all cargo transits the NDN (Northern Distribution Network), 31 percent is shipped by air, and the remaining 29 percent goes through Pakistan. An estimated 70 percent of cargo transiting the NDN enters Afghanistan via Uzbekistan’s Hairaton Gate, said the report released by the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
As a result of increasing dependence on NDN for supply of logistics and cargo to its troops in Afghanistan, Senator John Kerry, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, emphasized the need to build relationship with the Central Asia countries.
“Central Asia matters. Its countries are critical to the outcome in Afghanistan and play a vital role in regional stability. As we reassure our partners that our relationships and engagement in Afghanistan will continue after the military transition in 2014, we should underscore that we have long-term strategic interests in the broader region,” Kerry said.
“Pakistan’s internal dynamics may have the most profound impact on the conflict, but Central Asian countries provide military supply routes for non-lethal cargo and participate actively in reconstruction,” he said.
“The Obama Administration has advanced a comprehensive regional agenda to build on these cooperative efforts. As the United States enters a new phase of engagement in Afghanistan, we must lay the foundation for a long-term strategy that sustains our security gains and protects US interests. This long-term strategy is dependent upon striking a balance between meeting our security needs and promoting political and economic reform in Central Asia and the region,” Kerry said.
The report “Central Asia and the Transition in Afghanistan” is based on an October 2011 field visit by the Committee’s staff in Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan as well as extensive staff meetings with experts and policymakers.
Among its key recommendations are striking a balance between security and political priorities in Central Asia; translating the New Silk Road (NSR) vision into a working strategy for the broader region beyond Afghanistan, and linking the regional Central Asia Counternarcotics Initiative (CACI) with bilateral initiatives that offer traction, given the constraints on regional cooperation.
The Senate committee report said as the United States increases security cooperation with the countries of Central Asia to support efforts in Afghanistan, it must also lay the foundation for a long-term strategy that sustains these gains and protects U.S. interests in the region.
Security assistance has an important role to play, but the United States should continue promoting political and economic reform by making greater investments in democracy and governance, public health, economic assistance, and English language training, it said.
“Given the tight fiscal climate, the Administration should consider using existing Afghanistan resources on cross-border projects that promote regional stability. It should also prioritize and increase assistance to Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, given their fragility and importance for broader regional stability,” the report said.
Translating the New Silk Road (NSR) vision into a working strategy for the broader region beyond Afghanistan will require identifying needs, available resources, US comparative advantages, and the economic reforms regional governments must take to support increased trade and investment.
Connecting Central to South Asia via Afghanistan will be challenging in light of the barriers to continental transport and trade, including the lack of regional cooperation, it noted. “NSR will not be a panacea for Afghanistan’s economic woes, but it offers a vision for the region that has the potential to foster private sector investment if projects are prioritized and steps are taken to create an enabling environment,” it said, adding that US states can play a vital role by supporting political and economic reform and leveraging its resources.
According to the report Central Asia Counternarcotics Initiative (CACI) provides an important vision for reform and information sharing to tackle narcotics trafficking in the region.
“While there is demand for such an initiative among local agencies with a mandate to combat the drug trade, significant challenges remain. Regional cooperation has a checkered history in this part of the world. Corruption is widespread and prospects for the task forces remain unclear, given the lack of political will,” it said.
The Administration should consider piloting the task forces in countries where they stand the greatest chance of success, which will require a comparative regional assessment of efforts to combat the drug trade, the report said, adding that should also scale up cross-border operations between Central Asian and Afghan law enforcement and military officials, including joint training activities.
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