Central Asia dispute disrupts NATO Afghan supplies




May 26, 2010, Roman Kozhevnikov



A dispute between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan has left hundreds of railway carriages with supplies for NATO troops in Afghanistan stranded in Central Asia, a Tajik railway official told Reuters. NATO uses Central Asia, an ex-Soviet Muslim region north of Afghanistan, to transport non-military cargo such as fuel and food to support its military operations against the Taliban. It was the second time in Central Asia that supplies for NATO forces were disrupted. Last month Washington suspended some operations at its military air base in Kyrgyzstan for two days after violent riots toppled the country's president. Tajikistan and Uzbekistan have long been at odds over cross-border water use, and Uzbekistan sometimes blocks trains from entering Tajikistan as a way of putting pressure on its smaller neighbor. "As of May 24, 2,500 carriages bound for Tajikistan are being held on the territory of the Uzbek railways," Usmon Kalandarov, deputy head of Tajikistan's state railway company, told Reuters late on Tuesday. "Out of those carriages, more than 300 are NATO cargo for Afghanistan." The supply route through Central Asia has become important in past years as traditional NATO supply lines through Pakistan came under increasingly fierce attack from Taliban insurgents. As for the U.S. air base, its operations have returned to normal following the Kyrgyz uprising. Yet, its longer-term status is unclear as Kyrgyzstan's interim government has hinted the U.S.


A spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Kabul confirmed the latest disruptions. "We are aware there are some tensions in the area and that some carriages carrying NATO supplies are being held up," said Lieutenant-Colonel Goetz Hasske. "We don't know anything about numbers but it is not affecting logistics in the area. We have several border crossing points that we can use and we may have to re-route some shipments. These are ongoing political tensions in the area." Once in Central Asia, trains bound for Afghanistan travel through Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan before reaching northern Afghanistan. Uzbekistan, Central Asia's most populous country, is angry at impoverished Tajikistan's plans to build a new hydroelectric power plant, Rogun, which Uzbekistan says would disrupt the flow of water it needs for irrigation. Tajikistan, for its part, has accused Uzbekistan of blocking transit trains loaded with building materials in an attempt to put pressure on it and prevent Rogun's construction. Uzbekistan's foreign ministry could not be reached for comment. Its government denies any political motives behind holding up Tajik trains, saying delays were caused by technical problems.


(Additional reporting by Jonathon Burch in Kabul; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Maria Golovnina)