Following the NATO led airstrikes on the Salala base that killed 24 Pakistani military personnel, Pakistan had no other option but to close NATO supply routes transiting through Pakistan and Afghanistan. After US and NATO refused to offer an apology for the incident, distances widened and subsequently the NATO supply lines were cut off.
So how was NATO conducting its operations during this entire time period?
It is interesting to note here that in order to lessen its dependency on Pakistan; the US military has extensively expanded its network of supply lines through Russia and Central Asia states. These routes which are collectively known as Northern Distribution Network (NDC), are logistically more complicated, but at the same time are considered secure and stable. At present it is precisely this route NATO is banking on to ensure its supplies across Afghanistan.
According to recent US estimates the NDN now runs 60% of fuel and 52% of non-lethal NATO supplies through Russia, the South Caucasus, and Central Asian region through rail and road network.
However, when using these routes there are two important considerations that cannot be sidelined under any condition. Firstly, NDN can only permit the use of non-lethal NATO supplies. For transporting arms and ammunitions they will have to explore other routes. Moreover, in case if NATO even begins transporting lethal supplies through these routes, it will not be possible for them to protect themselves from terrorist attacks, a fear that has already been voiced by leaders of Central Asian states.
Another crucial factor in the entire situation is that of cost. The US Department of Defense makes approximately $500 million in payment to Central Asian states annually. Officials have disclosed that the actual cost-per-container figure for NDN cargo has been calculated to be $17,500, compared with an approximately $7,200 for cargo passed through Pakistan ground routes.
The difference in costs clearly manifests that without mending fences with Pakistan, US and NATO cannot sustain its forces in the war ravaged region of Afghanistan for long.