How you move stuff around is an interesting topic, isn’t it?

China has shown interest in the construction of two railway lines—-one in Pakistan via the Gilgit-Baltistan region and the other in Afghanistan. While the railway line through Gilgit-Baltistan, ultimately extending up to Gwadar on the Mekran coast, will meet the external trade requirements of Chinese-controlled Xinjiang and other regions of Western China, the proposed line in Afghanistan will meet the requirements of a copper mine which China is developing in the Aynak area in Afghanistan.

– Raman’s Strategic Analysis

8. However, because of the alternate routes through the CARs being developed by them and their ability for air-lift from Bahrain, they are able to manage despite the increasing attacks on the convoys in Pakistani territory. When the US and other NATO forces start thinning down their presence in Afghanistan, the Afghan National Army (ANA) would not enjoy these benefits. The Pakistan Army and the Taliban acting in tandem would be able to choke the ANA by interfering with its logistic supplies. Even if the US plays a diminishing role in ground operations after July 2011, it cannot reduce its logistics role in support of the ANA. Otherwise, the ANA could collapse.

– Raman’s Strategic Analysis

Although the Chahbahar port has been an Indian project for some time, the Iranian side has been notoriously lax in keeping to its end of the bargain.

The port is strategically important — serving as the entry point for India’s outreach into Afghanistan and Central Asia, bypassing Pakistan. For this purpose, India also spent a lot of money and human lives to build the Zaranj-Delaram road in Afghanistan’s Nimroz province, which was intended to link up with the Chahbahar port. But establishing those linkages turned out to be more difficult than India imagined. The political situation in Iran over the past year has scarcely helped.

Times of India

Both sides need one another: The U.S. gives billions in military and other aid to Pakistan, and the U.S. and NATO use Pakistani roads to transport the majority of their non-lethal supplies to troops in Afghanistan.

New York Times (via Small Wars Journal)

That last is an odd statement; Pakistan’s Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, informed the ISAF commanders just a few weeks ago that they were responsible for the safety of ISAF supply lines in Pakistan — yet Pakistan’s government continued to refuse to allow the ISAF to provide military escorts for the convoys.


It is sensible to try a strategy of persuasion and rewards first before resorting to pressure and coercion. However, Pakistan’s closure of the Torkham crossing has revealed that the large buildup of U.S. and coalition forces inside Afghanistan has removed the option of applying pressure on Pakistan. Although the United States has negotiated with Russia to obtain an additional supply line into Afghanistan from the north, the tripling of U.S. forces in Afghanistan since Obama took office means that there is no escaping Pakistan’s strong leverage, amounting to a veto, over U.S. military operations.

Robert Haddick (Small Wars Journal)

11 thoughts on “How you move stuff around is an interesting topic, isn’t it?”

  1. Indeed, if you want to move things that are heavy and bulky, there is no substitute for either railways or water transportation. (And while there are frequent sneers at America’s passenger-rail system in comparison to those of Europe and Japan, our freight-rail system is excellent.)

    At least one Chinese railway expert has raised concerns about the amount of resources being spent on high-speed passenger rail (via dedicated tracks) versus expansion of the traditional rail system to serve both freight and interoperable passenger equipment. “The government just wants to have the biggest and fastest number one train set in the world,” he remarked.

  2. Madhu, if you’re interested in logistics you might enjoy my post about a relatively-new company called RailEx, which is focused on the coast-to-coast movement of fruit, vegetables, wine, etc. Last I checked, they seemed to be doing nicely. See also Railroads: The Next Phase.

    I also recommend Linda Niemann’s memoir On The Rails, an incredibly well-written book…the author is surely just about the only female PhD in English ever to have taken a job as a brakeman. My review is here.

  3. Wow, thanks for those links, David F! :)

    From your Niemann link:

    Niemann had gotten a PhD and a divorce simultaneously, and her life was on a downhill slide. “The fancy academic job never materialized,” and she was living in a shack in the mountains and hanging around with strippers, poets, musicians, and drug dealers. Then she saw the employment ad for the Southern Pacific railroad.

    The above sort of goes along with Instapundit’s latest posts about the higher education bubble.

    (Regarding one of the links in my post above, I wonder if the Indians could supply the ANA sometime in the future if the Iranian port thing works out?)

    – Madhu

  4. If Niemann *had* gotten the “fancy academic job”, I wonder if she still would have developed into the exceptional writer that she became…There’s no way to really know, of course, but I would guess that without her experiences on the railroad and the diverse set of people she worked with, the answer would be “unlikely.”

  5. You know what they say… dilettantes discuss tactics, amateurs discuss strategy, professionals discuss logistics.

    Afghanistan’s remoteness and problematic neighbours are both significant reasons for its problems and obstacles to solving them.

  6. T. Greer: Those are great links, thanks.

    Nicholas: Afghanistan is tough nut logistically, isn’t it? I’m pretty amazed at what we have accomplished to date.

    – Madhu

  7. Madhu & DF,

    Thanks for the book recommendation (in the link)—the lady and the railroads. I’ve yet another book on the way for the anti-library.

    My son worked for Norfolk Southern for about 18 months after earning his undergrad–and enjoyed it very much; he was forever telling stories about RR stuff that never made the news and was truly interesting. They want him to come back after he finishes his law degree—and might just do it.

    Thanks for an interesting post.

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