http://www.smh.com.auEven with the recent re-opening of critical supply routes from Pakistan, the US military confronts a mammoth logistical challenge to wind down the war in Afghanistan, where it must withdraw nearly 90,000 troops and enormous depots of equipment accumulated over the past decade. Assuming Pakistan doesn't seal its border again, US and NATO commanders still face the prospect of pulling out at least a third of the cargo from northern Afghanistan on a winding, makeshift network of railways and roads that cross the former Soviet Union. Those routes carry strategic risks of their own. Access to transit lines depends on the whims of several authoritarian central Asian leaders as well as the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, a long-time nemesis of NATO. Moreover, the cost of shipping goods along the northern routes is about triple that of the much shorter Pakistani lines. The only other option for departing landlocked Afghanistan is by air - an even more expensive alternative, costing up to 10 times as much as the Pakistani ground routes. Advertisement US military logisticians are preparing to bring home 100,000 shipping containers stuffed with materiel and 50,000 wheeled vehicles by the end of 2014, when the United Nations and NATO combat operations are scheduled to cease. The US military has increasingly relied on the supply lines that cross the former Soviet Union to deliver cargo into Afghanistan since those routes opened in 2009. After Pakistan sealed its border in November in protest at a US airstrike that killed 24 of its soldiers, the US military shifted about 60 per cent of its supplies to the northern routes, with the remainder arriving in the war zone by air. Although delivery disruptions were largely avoided, the move cost about an extra $US100 million a month. The importance of the northern routes will become even more acute when the traffic is reversed. By the end of September, 23,000 US troops are scheduled to withdraw from Afghanistan, along with a commensurate amount of materiel. At first, Russia and several central Asian countries approved deals that let the Pentagon and NATO deliver ''non-lethal'' supplies - no ammunition or armoured vehicles - into Afghanistan, but provided no mechanism to withdraw the equipment. They also opened their airspace for planes carrying troops. The deals ''focused on the needs of entry and didn't address the needs of exiting'', a central Asia specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Martha Brill Olcott, said. ''All of this changed after Pakistan closed down.'' Over the past several months, the administration of the US President, Barack Obama, and NATO have signed two-way transit deals with many of the former Soviet republics. But negotiations continue over a host of side issues. ''These countries know it's the last chance, it's the last negotiation, so they're going to squeeze very hard,'' Alexander Cooley, a Barnard College professor and expert on US military relations in central Asia, said. ''They can escalate their demands in the confidence that this is a one-off transaction.'' Even with Pakistan re-opening its border, the northern routes are seen as a vital hedge against a change of heart. From the north, there are two primary ways out of Afghanistan: by rail into Uzbekistan or by road into Tajikistan. Both are authoritarian countries with checkered human rights records. Beyond that, shipping convoys - which are run by private companies - must cross Kazakhstan or Kyrgyzstan, with most of the land routes then entering Russia before zig-zagging to ports in Siberia or on the Baltic Sea. Negotiating with the central Asians has often been as difficult as with Pakistan, US and NATO officials said. The countries distrust, compete with and often try to sabotage each other while seeking to exact more concessions from Washington and its allies. ''They all want to play against each other,'' a senior NATO official said. The Secretary-General of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said last month the alliance had forged agreements with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan to allow for the withdrawal of equipment. A NATO spokeswoman declined to release details of the accords, such as transit fees, but acknowledged that weapons and ammunition were still prohibited cargo on the northern land routes. NATO remains in talks with Russia about establishing an air hub in the city of Ulyanovsk - Lenin's birthplace - that would accept rail shipments from central Asia and then load the containers onto Europe-bound cargo planes. Vice-Admiral Mark D Harnitchek, a senior US military logistician who was instrumental in setting up the northern routes, said he was confident the network would remain reliable during the withdrawal. ''If you were going to design a system to come into Afghanistan, you wouldn't do it from the north, but it's proven to be robust,'' Vice-Admiral Harnitchek, the director of the Defence Logistics Agency, said last week. ''Those countries have all been remarkably co-operative.'' But many haven't hesitated to exploit their bargaining power to make special demands. In April, for example, military officials from Kyrgyzstan asked Marine General James Mattis, the head of the US Central Command, if the Pentagon would donate drones after its departure. Meanwhile, Uzbekistan has sought to capitalise on its status as the only country with a rail link to Afghanistan by seeking a 50 per cent surcharge on shipments leaving the war zone - insisting on a premium on what its neighbours earn. ''Everybody wants to up the prices,'' Ms Olcott said. ''The Kazakhs complain that the Uzbeks get much better terms.'' She said the same rivalries have emerged when Washington has sought to pay with used military equipment instead of cash. ''The Uzbeks complain about the Tajiks, or the Kazakhs about Kyrgyzstan, that it will just give them weapons they can effectively use against their neighbours, or against trouble in their own country.'' Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/world/mammoth-task-awaits-as-us-prepares-to-quit-afghanistan-20120713-221b1.html#ixzz20WGgO61R
Friday, July 13, 2012
EDITORIAL:Daily TimesThe government appears to be gearing up for a political response to the Supreme Court’s (SC’s) insistence on the letter to be written to the Swiss authorities regarding reopening the case against President Asif Ali Zardari. That is why the Contempt of Court Bill 2012 has been passed post haste by the National Assembly on July 9, the Senate just two days after, and signed into law by the president the same evening, in anticipation of the NRO case hearing on July 12. The PML-N expectedly registered its protest and eventually walked out of the Senate against the bill. The PPP’s legal stalwarts, Raza Rabbani and Aitzaz Ahsan, as in the case of the Dual Nationality bill, have expressed reservations about the contempt bill too. Aitzaz felt that at least two sections of the bill need correction, otherwise there is a likelihood that it would be struck down by the SC. He did state on the floor of the house that the contempt law had been misused against Yousaf Raza Gilani. He also argued that the contempt law contradicted the fundamental right of freedom of expression. Raza Rabbani pleaded for harmony and maturity, given the internal and external challenges facing the country. In that spirit, he said, the government and judiciary must avoid a tussle. Senator Haji Adeel of the ANP criticised the judiciary, saying only time would tell which of the courts’ decisions were correct and which were wrong. Wise words and passionate, but developments in the court seem destined to overtake the efforts of the government. In its hearing of the NRO implementation case on Thursday, the SC rejected the Attorney General’s (AG) reply that the SC’s notice/letter had been brought to the attention of the new prime minister, who had asked the Law Ministry to advise him on the matter, which could take some time. The AG’s plea for the case to be postponed until after the court’s vacations was rejected in favour of an order that the prime minister must write the letter if he wished to avoid Gilani’s fate. It instructed the AG to have the order to write the letter implemented and a written report to that effect presented to the SC by July 25. After the proceedings, the AG stated that if the court’s order were constitutional, it would be implemented. That suggests another impasse, since he left unsaid what would happen if the order were considered by the government to be unconstitutional, as in Gilani’s case. The SC once again reiterated its view that if someone claimed immunity under the provisions of the constitution (Article 248 in the context of the president), he/she would have to apply to the court for it. That may open another Pandora’s box if the court finds differently from a plain reading of Article 248. The government’s response to the insistence of the SC that the letter be written has now taken on political dimensions, not purely legal. It seems government circles are quite prepared for the eventuality that the court may strike down the contempt law just passed, which provided immunity from contempt to the president, prime minister, ministers and chief ministers, on the ground of being discriminatory. They may see this as helpful in focusing public attention on the court’s consistent attempts to show through its orders that it sees parliament as subject to the provisions of the constitution, with the SC the only forum to decide on interpretation of those provisions. Political observers see in this continuing executive and parliament versus judiciary clash all the necessary conditions for a derailment of the democratic dispensation once again. Certainly, going by the country’s history, that is not a thought beyond the bounds of possibility. However, as each truncation of democracy has by now amply demonstrated, such abortion of the democratic process has brought nothing but grief to the country in the past, and is unlikely to bring anything else but more grief in the future, should such an eventuality come to pass. The watchword should have been restraint on all sides and by all institutions of state, but that seems like a lost, forlorn plea under the obtaining circumstances.
The Express Tribune NewsFour people were killed and 10 others were injured when a blast took place outside the venue for the Awami National Party (ANP) rally in Kuchlak, Express News reported on Friday. The rally, set to begin after Friday prayers, was being attended by the by the party’s provincial president. Cars standing nearby were also destroyed. According to reports, the bomb was planted in a cycle that was standing a few feet away from the stage. “At least four people, including a young girl, were killed and eight others wounded when the bomb planted on a bicycle went off,” local police official Wazir Khan Nasir told AFP. Police personnel confirmed the death and injuries and began efforts to cordon off the area. Eyewitnesses said there was one little girl among those injured. No rescue teams were able to reach the scene due to the location and people began rescue efforts on their own. The injured were shifted to the Civil Hospital.