Monday, 30 January 2012

Northern Distribution Network (NDN)

The NDN is a network of road, rail and air routes connecting Baltic and Caspian ports with Afghanistan via Russia, Central Asia, and the Caucasus. It came into being in early 2009, to enable supplies to US forces in Afghanistan, and was developed as an alternative to the Pakistani supply line that had become increasingly vulnerable to ambushes. Its strategic importance increased when Pakistan blocked all supply routes to Afghanistan following the US drone attack which killed 24 of its soldiers in November 2011.

Despite higher transit costs, the NDN carries close to 75 percent of all non-military items bound for Afghanistan. In addition, more than 60 percent of Coalition Forces’ fuel needs are transited through Central Asia.2

While the impetus behind creating new supply lines is grounded in the military’s immediate needs, their establishment nonetheless offers a unique opportunity for Washington to further longer-term strategic goals. This project will help the United States take responsible steps towards a viable Afghanistan that is economically and politically integrated with regional and global markets.  At the same time, the project will help the United States further its interests within transit states. 1

Therefore NDN and the expanded US presence in Afghanistan will impact the geopolitical landscape of Eurasia.  Key transit states will enjoy new leverage over Washington while others could apply pressure indirectly. Analysts draw attention to the authoritarian regimes (Uzbekistan, Tajikistan), terrible human rights records (Pres. Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan), regional hostilities between the nations (Uzbekistan and Tajikistan), instable nature of the Central Asian states (Tajikistan’s economy relies on drug trafficking and exporting labour to Russia; in Kyrgyztan two revolutions have toppled leaders since 2005), with whom the US needs to now cooperate. Additionally, Moscow occasionally uses its cooperation on Afghanistan as a bargaining chip. 5

When Pakistan blocked all supply routes to Afghanistan, in addition to US forces, Afghan businessmen were also widely affected. Thousands of Afghan-bound containers loaded with commercial goods have been stranded in the port city of Karachi. Each and every time commercial goods are grounded in Pakistan, Afghan businessmen are losing money and Afghan consumers are paying higher prices for goods that are imported through Pakistan. The NDN could be the alternate route for Afghan businessmen too, however to fully utilize this network, the Afghan government needs to sign a pact with several countries.3