Shortly before Pakistan re-opened its borders with Afghanistan to NATO’s military convoys, I described the (political and economic) frictions of distance involved in supplying the war in Afghanistan in an essay for Open Democracy. I described the two main supply lines, the Pakistan Ground Lines of Communication and the Northern Distribution Network, and the intricate system of political concessions and pay-offs each involved.
The border crossings reopened on 5 July, after a break of seven months, but the convoys have been reduced to a trickle by bureaucratic delays and by drivers’ demands for compensation for the long lay-off.
Re-opening the border provoked angry demonstrations in Pakistan. Standing at the Torkham Gate at the Khyber Pass a local leader of Jamaat-e-Islami, a right-wing Islamist party, declared that ‘NATO supply is haram [forbidden] and against sharia’ and promised to issue a fatwa against it.
But, according to an AP report this morning, it is not only the US military that is relieved at the opening of its supply lines: so too are the Taliban. Previous reports in The Nation by Aram Roston, together with a scathing Congressional investigation, Warlord Inc., documented the routes through which the Pentagon’s logistics contracts made provision for payments to insurgents not to attack their convoys. The central mechanism for the privatisation of the supply chain was Host Nation Trucking, which was cancelled in August 2011 (three months before the border closed).
It was replaced by a new National Afghan Trucking contract, but more than half of the 20 contractors involved in the new scheme had been prime or subcontractors under the previous contract, and convoy security was still in the hands of private contractors. John Tierney, the Democrat chair of the original Congressional investigation, was exasperated: ‘We are right back to the same people that were involved in the problem that instigated the investigation.’ And, as the AP report suggests, this includes the Taliban:
‘The insurgents have earned millions of dollars from Afghan security firms that illegally paid them not to attack trucks making the perilous journey from Pakistan to coalition bases throughout Afghanistan… Pakistan’s decision to close its border to NATO supplies in November in retaliation for U.S. airstrikes that killed 24 Pakistani troops significantly reduced the flow of cash to militants operating in southern and eastern Afghanistan, where the convoys travel up from Pakistan, said Taliban commanders…
“Stopping these supplies caused us real trouble,” a Taliban commander who leads about 60 insurgents in eastern Ghazni province told The Associated Press in an interview. “Earnings dropped down pretty badly. Therefore the rebellion was not as strong as we had planned.” A second Taliban commander who controls several dozen fighters in southern Kandahar province said the money from security companies was a key source of financing for the insurgency, which uses it to pay fighters and buy weapons, ammunition and other supplies. “We are able to make money in bundles,” the commander told the AP by telephone. “Therefore, the NATO supply is very important for us.”
[The] commanders said they were determined to get their cut as the flow of trucks resumes from Pakistan… “We charge these trucks as they pass through every area, and they are forced to pay,” said the commander operating in Ghazni. “If they don’t, the supplies never arrive, or they face the consequence of heavy attacks. … We have had to wait these past seven months for the supply lines to reopen and our income to start again… Now work is back to normal.”‘