Although Pakistan reopened its border with Afghanistan of U.S. and NATO military back in July, traffic there is still moving so slowly that the coalition forces haven't even moved all of the goods that had backed up there -- meaning the Northern Distribution Network through Central Asia remains the key means of supplying foreign forces in Afghanistan. That's according to Air Force Col. Robert Brisson, chief of operations for U.S. Transportation Command, in a recent interview with Military Times.
U.S. military officials have spent the past five months wrangling with the Pakistanis over a formal legal agreement and also working to clear out the roughly 7,000 shipping containers that were stalled in transit when the Pakistanis abruptly closed the border crossings in November 2011.
Coalition forces are only able to get between 10 and 50 cargo trucks per day across the border, compared to around 100 before the border was closed, Col. Brisson said.
“We haven’t booked any new cargo into the ports of Karachi and Qasim to move northbound, nor have we started moving new cargo heading southbound out of Afghanistan,” Brisson said.
New cargo may begin moving in late December or January, he said.
The U.S. and Pakistan are still working out the terms of the new agreement to ship goods through that country, and apparently the biggest sticking point is the question of transit fees.
On the subject of transit fees, there was an interesting discussion of the fees that the U.S. pays on the Northern Distribution Network. At an event discussing a new report by the Open Society Foundations on the NDN, Les Viguerie, Office Director for Central Asia at the State Department, emphasized that the U.S. does not pay transit fees in Central Asia. As he explained, the U.S. just pays a flat fee to private carriers, who then ... pay transit fees:
"Contrary to some inaccurate reporting that has developed a life of its own, the United States government does not pay transit fees to the Central Asian governments to facilitate the NDN. What happens is that the Department of Defense pays transit carriers one price, approximately $17,500 per container. That price pays the carrier to ship the [container] from point A, which is usually in the continental United States, to point B, which is Afghanistan. The payment that DoD makes is inclusive of any necessary transit fees, transportation costs, and profits for the carrier."
The details of those subpayments are proprietary company information, and so can't be divulged, Viguerie said. But the transit fees charged to NDN cargo by Uzbekistan are reportedly around $2,000, and Tashkent's ongoing efforts to price gouge on this transit have been well documented. Pakistan gets a mere $250 per container. One wonders, then, why Islamabad isn't driving a harder bargain.