Along with the Taliban, Pakistan will be a massive gainer from America's troop drawdown from Afghanistan by end-2014. A top-level US official, speaking off-the-record, has told Business Standard that Pakistan will get first call on all the American military equipment that costs too much to be transported back to the US.
Washington believes it is obligated to Islamabad for bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table at Qatar, for discussions aimed at reducing violence in Afghanistan, which would smoothen the American troop drawdown this year and the next. Furthermore, Washington relies on Pakistan for overland transit from Afghanistan to Karachi, where heavy equipment is loaded onto cargo vessels bound for the US.
Uzbekistan, which also provides transit routes to the US, had earlier sought to buy the surplus US equipment in Afghanistan. But routing through Uzbekistan, and then over a road and rail network in Central Asia and Russia called the Northern Distribution Network, is four to five times more expensive and time consuming than transiting through Pakistan. Washington has now decided conclusively in favour of Pakistan.
An earlier report in The Washington Post had estimated that the US military would leave behind some $7 billion worth of defence equipment, one-fifth of what is deployed in Afghanistan. US military officials tell Business Standard that aircraft, heavy weapons, vehicles and equipment are likely to be repatriated to the US. Much of what Pakistan will benefit from will be ammunition, vehicles, construction material, air-conditioners, etc.
Much more could be left behind if the situation deteriorates; Taliban resistance would determine what could feasibly be transported. Sceptics in New Delhi point out that Pakistan controls the spigot of violence.
It has not been revealed how much Pakistan would pay for the equipment left behind, but US officials say it would be a fraction of the real value. Given that the US is paying billions of dollars each year to build up the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP), it remains unclear why Washington has not given Kabul the first call on the surplus equipment being left behind.
The cost of repatriation, says Bloomberg News, could be about $7 billion. Danish container giant, Moeller-Maersk A/S, Singapore-based Neptune Orient Lines, and German company, Hapag-Lloyd AG will ship out some 22,000 container-loads of equipment, says US Assistant Secretary of Defence for Logistics, Alan Estevez.
Much of that business would go to Pakistani truck operators in Peshawar and Quetta. Equipment in northern Afghanistan would be transported over the Khyber Pass, through Peshawar to Karachi; while equipment in the south of Afghanistan would cross the Bolan Pass, and then be taken through Quetta to Karachi.
Islamabad has effectively demonstrated to Washington its reliance on Pakistani goodwill. After a US air strike killed 24 Pakistani soldiers at a border post in November 2011, Islamabad shut down transit routes till July 2012, forcing the Pentagon into costly dependence on the Northern Distribution Network.
Over the years, Washington has provided Islamabad an approximate $2.5 billion annually in military aid. About half of that is Coalition Support Funds, which reimburses the Pakistan military for counter insurgency operations in the tribal areas along the Afghanistan border. Over the last decade, US media reports have extensively documented that the Pakistan military has been submitting inflated expense reports to claim more money.