July 4, 2012: Pakistan now agrees that it might allow NATO to again truck supplies from Pakistan into Afghanistan. Pakistan had closed its border to this since last November because the U.S. would not say it was sorry that 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed when they fired on American troops. The U.S. refused to say it was sorry for what was considered an incident caused by Pakistani incompetence or deception.
The Pakistanis are also demanding at least $14 million in additional bribes a month in order to open the border. The U.S. Secretary of State said she was sorry about the Pakistani soldiers being killed but said nothing about the additional bribes. The border is still closed. The U.S. was using the Pakistani route less and less even before the closure last November.
The U.S. admits that it costs nearly three times as much ($20,000) to move a container in via Central Asia, compared to going via Pakistani roads. Pakistan wants to take advantage of this by imposing an additional fee of $4,750 per cargo container. Most of this cash would go into the pockets of senior officials. That comes to $14 million a month in bribes. The Pakistanis consider this a good deal because it is costing NATO $38 million a month in additional transportation costs because the Pakistani route is not available. Actually, the cost is $100 million a month, but the U.S. and NATO had been shifting most cargo to the more expensive northern route even before Pakistan closed its border. Containers brought in via the Pakistani route were increasingly subject to theft and damage, which caused a shift to the northern route. While more expensive to move stuff in via Central Asia, it was believed to be cheaper in the long run because of the losses incurred using the Pakistani route.
American politicians note that the U.S. has been giving Pakistan over $80 million a month in military aid, so that aid is being withheld and may be cancelled completely if Pakistan does not open the border. The Pakistanis are also aware that the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan will involve the shipment of over 100,000 containers (and half a billion dollars in loot for Pakistani leaders, not the Pakistani people). So far, NATO and the U.S. refuse to give in to these extortionate demands, which included the U.S. taking the blame for last November's friendly fire incident that left 26 Pakistani soldiers dead. There is a long history of Pakistani troops firing across the border at NATO and Afghan forces. Giving the Pakistanis the apology they demand would be bad for NATO morale, as American and NATO troops are still facing a lack of cooperation from Pakistani forces along the Afghan border.
Over five years ago NATO and the U.S. began negotiating agreements with Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Russia to move all sorts of supplies and equipment over the Northern Distribution Network (NDN). Three years ago nearly all land movement of supplies came in via Pakistan. But that changed after Pakistan closed its border to NATO supplies last November 26, because of a friendly fire incident on the Afghan border that left 24 Pakistani troops dead. The plan was always to completely replace Pakistan but that has happened sooner, rather than later. Now Pakistan has to worry about losing some of the transport business for Afghan civilian goods. That's a major industry in Pakistan because nearly all (save air freight) cargo enters and leaves Afghanistan by truck. But now Afghanistan is building its first railroad system, connecting it with the Central Asian rail network terminal on the Uzbek border. Even with the longer distances, moving cargo would eventually be competitive coming and going via rail through Central Asia, compared to going via truck through Pakistan. The NDN makes for a fundamental change in Afghan-Pakistan relations. Now Afghanistan can look north for economic, cultural, and political alliances, rather than just with Pakistan and Iran, two countries that have not always been kind to Afghanistan.