For NATO, Pakistan Blockade Highlights Uzbekistan's Crucial Role
As a result of a NATO attack that killed as many as 28 Pakistani soldiers today, the Pakistani government has closed off NATO supply routes to Afghanistan. From Reuters:
Hours after the raid, NATO supply trucks and fuel tankers bound for Afghanistan were stopped at Jamrud town in the Khyber tribal region near the city of Peshawar, officials said.
The border crossing at Chaman in southwestern Baluchistan province was also closed, Frontier Corps officials said.
A meeting of the cabinet's defence committee convened by Gilani "decided to close with immediate effect NATO/ISAF logistics supply lines," according to a statement issued by Gilani's office.
It's not clear how long Pakistan will cut off NATO supplies, but they did it for ten days after another NATO attack killed three Pakistani soldiers last year.
According to the latest data from Reuters, NATO supplies into Afghanistan are roughly divided into thirds: a third goes overland via Pakistan, a third by air and a third overland via the Northern Distribution Network through Central Asia, primarily Uzbekistan. The U.S. had already been trying to increase their share of cargo shipped via the northern route, worried about the reliability of Pakistan. And now with the Pakistan route cut off indefinitely, that will put immediately more pressure on the northern route and Uzbekistan.
It's bad timing for the coalition, given that a key bridge on that northern route, between Galaba and Amuzang near the Uzbekistan-Afghanistan border, was damaged in a Nov. 17 explosion under mysterious circumstances and has apparently been closed since then. The authorities in Uzbekistan have been very tight-lipped about the incident as has, for that matter, the U.S. So it's not clear to what extent that incident has impeded supplies going to Afghanistan. But it's safe to assume that it has. It's also safe to assume that U.S. logistics planners aren't getting much of a Thanksgiving vacation as they try to sort out this mess, and that Pakistan's reaction is going to make the U.S. even more sensitive to making sure Uzbekistan gets what it wants in exchange for permitting the transit to Afghanistan.
UPDATE: My colleague Deirdre Tynan tells me her sources are telling her that the NDN hasn't been affected at all by the explosion, only traffic between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. So this isn't quite the hassle for the U.S. that I originally predicted, but will still force the U.S. to cooperate more closely with the government of Uzbekistan.
Joshua Kucera, a senior correspondent, is Eurasianet's former Turkey/Caucasus editor and has written for the site since 2007.