Pay up! Pakistan puts price on US cooperation
The route was shut down last month after a cross-border air strike killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. Relations between Washington and Islamabad hit a new low after the incident and Pakistan is now talking about slapping on a tax of some $1,500 dollars per truck.
Chris Woods said that the new rules of engagement with Washington sought by Pakistan will include imposing tax on every one of the estimated 2,500 trucks that pass through Pakistani territory every year. If the tax is imposed, the cost of Washington's campaign in Afghanistan will rise. But this would not hit US pocket too much, Woods believes.
“It’s in the tens of millions of dollars, perhaps around $40 million a year, the cost of imposing that tax,” he said. “In terms of a war that is costing the US upward of a trillion dollars per year that is actually a small amount of money.”
About 40% of NATO supplies currently pass through Pakistan, and the alternatives will be far more expensive, Woods speculates.
“Actually, as a tax, I suspect the US may be assessing it and thinking it may be a fair price to pay to maintain good relations with Pakistan,” he said.
Woods cited several Pakistani newspapers that suggested that Pakistan wants all future drone strikes by the US military to be carried out only with “the direct involvement of Pakistani intelligence.”
“This of course is something that the US will want to resist very strongly indeed,” he added.
Pakistan recently stopped US forces from using Shamsi airbase on its territory, which brought speculation about the US eventually losing Pakistan's support entirely. But Woods says that Washington still has the ability to use other military facilities throughout the territory of its strongest ally in the region.
“The issue with Shamsi is that it has become the public face of the drones in Pakistan and it had to go,” he said. “The US will continue to have access to at least five other military bases in Pakistan, at least one of which will be capable of flying armed drones.”
While there is another way to deliver supplies to Afghanistan – from the north through Russia and Central Asian countries – it would be much more expensive for NATO and not necessarily safe from “political fallout,” believes Jason Ditz, a political analyst at the US-based website Antiwar.com.
Ditz says that Pakistan is making a strategic mistake by agreeing to re-open the supply route to Afghanistan for such a small fee.
“It seems like both Russia and Pakistan have a vested interest in negotiating some sort of more permanent understanding with the US,” he said. “And if one or the other sort of buckles in and gives in, opening the route just for $30 million… it is going to really weaken the bargaining positions of both of them.”
Author and journalist Webster Tarpley says that the idea of a transit tax is a “cheap trick to provide political cover for Pakistani politicians who want to cave in and appease the US one more time.”
“The idea of a tax may sound like something radical, but it is really not radical, it is a way to get this flow of military supplies going,” he said.