What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Russian corridor could be kind of important

After this, especially.
I'm quoting The Australian over the latest attack on ISAF's supply lines in Pakistan:
"... 100 tankers, all owned by private contractors and loaded with fuel destined for Afghanistan, were parked on a dry river bed close to the Torkham border processing point.
The tankers had gathered there because the border post was closed as a result of a long weekend marking the Eid Milad-un-Nabi holiday that commemorates Mohammed's birthday.
The drivers were awaiting clearance to cross into Afghanistan..."
They were waiting to get inside, you see, so one has to presume these tankers were all fully loaded. So one can't not guess the impact of the attack, described below.
"The attack caused an inferno destroying between 40 and 50 of the tankers. Several people were killed and more than 60 were left with serious burns."
If one counts with 44,000 liters as a possible standard payload of fuel for each tanker (I'm taking that figure from a news report about a previous attack), that's 1,760,000 to 2,200,000 liters of fuel lost in the attack. Big fireball, big loss.
No wonder NATO immediately dispatched a delegation of senior officers to Pakistan to come together with counterparts from the Pakistani military for a crisis meeting.
Firstly, the fuel convoys are very much underprotected - contractors transporting the fuel through Pakistan are responsible for their own operational security. Secondly, ISAF is highly dependent on these supplies right now - even some of the Kandahar-based air operations depend on them. Attacks have caused changes to flight schedules in the past there. And they weren't on this scale. Thirdly, militants now look like they are about to focus much more on this vulnerability. Ever since January in fact, when they closed the Kohat Tunnel for a while (key connection from Peshawar through the FATA). The latter exists since 1999, it was built as a "Pak-Japan Friendship Tunnel," and it makes the dangerous road crossing the Kohat Pass avoidable. Militants' goal back then was mainly to impede Pakistani military operations against Baitullah Mehsud's forces in South Waziristan, but surely any obstacle they might have posed to NATO's supplies getting to Afghanistan was a side-effect they must have seen as welcome.
A photo of the Kohat Tunnel, just to include something positive in this blogpost...
... and also to underscore how building something in general is much more complicated than destroying something. Which is important in order to avoid making statements regarding how clever the militants were.
And actually they weren't that clever. An attack like this, at a time when Russia is looking to provide a supply corridor to ISAF for all sorts of gains in return... But of course one also has to see that getting fuel and other supplies down to KAF (Kandahar Airfield) from the direction of Russia takes one through enough tight bottlenecks for it to be uncomfortable. Access through Central Asia has to be provided. In the north of Afghanistan the Salaang Pass, which used to be such a critical (and vulnerable) artery for the Soviets back in the 1980s, is not that problematic nowadays. But getting from Kabul down to Kandahar is not so nice.
I wonder how NATO's new five-year strategic vision statement, to be outlined at the Bucharest Summit (April 2-4), will address these issues.
A footnote for theory-formation: as some readers will be aware, my pet concept is that of Negative Spill-Over Effects, which are crucial to my interpretation of the notion of state failure. Well, the obstruction of liquid material (fuel) in getting from country A (Pakistan) to country B (Afghanistan) by a (supposedly unambiguously) non-IRG*-connected force (the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan) can apparently be a "spill-over" effect. How awkward. Anyway, this is still better than when a certain pair of Middle East scholars talked of "catch basins" needed in Iraq against "spillovers," i.e. against refugee flows. I won't give up my love for water-based metaphors, though.
* IRG stands for Internationally Recognised Government (I just didn't want to put there more stuff in brackets).

1 comment:

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