Leon Panetta, the current United States Secretary of Defence said yesterday that the NATO will not agree on a proposed tax of $5,000 per vehicle, which the Pakistani authorities are demanding for the usage of local supply routes. Panetta said that the NATO is not in a position to pay the huge tax, as the rising oil import bills are already stretching its budget. Earlier, the NATO convoys were paying a tax of around PKR 23,000 ($250) per vehicle, before the Pak authorities closed down the supply routes which run through its territory.
The Southern Distribution Network (SDN), which runs from Karachi towards Qandahar and Kabul, is one of the shortest supply routes available for the NATO troops operating in Afghanistan. However, Pakistan closed down the route last year in response to an American cross-border air raid, which killed 24 of its soldiers. Currently the international troops operating in Afghanistan depend on another longer route, the Northern Distribution Network (NDN). The NDN starts at the port of Poti (in Georgia) and terminates at the city of Mazar-e-Sharif in Afghanistan, with Baku (Azerbaijan) and Termez (Uzbekistan) en route.
Although Panetta refused the Pak demand, he admitted that the proposed troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014 will be extremely difficult, if the Pakistani authorities still refuse to allow NATO to use the SDN. Although the NDN is a safer alternative to the SDN, it is several thousands of miles longer than the SDN. Also, the supplies will have to cross the Caspian Sea, which is the largest inland water body in the world.
The Pakistani president, Asif Ali Zardari is attending the NATO summit at Chicago, joining Panetta and other high ranking US officials. The future of the international military intervention in Afghanistan is one of the main talking points which will be taken up during the summit.