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Opinion

America's way out of dependence on Pakistan: Iran

America’s dependence on Pakistan is a key source of regional instability. The only way out is to find an efficient alternative supply route for NATO supplies into Afghanistan. The Chabahar Road through Iran provides that alternative – if Washington will consider its benefits.

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To divert the groups from their demands for independence, Islamabad has lent logistical, military, and ideological support to pan-Islamic militants in those regions – using an ideology of "pan-Islamism" that would unite all of these ethnic groups under the banner of Islamic Pakistan. This redirects the groups' revolutionary fervor toward external enemies.

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Thus Washington’s dependence on Pakistan effectively amounts to American support for a Pakistani military-economic complex that churns out terrorists that are used as strategic weapons. The same complex is the world’s most flagrant nuclear proliferator. American backing – $25 billion in (mostly military) aid over the decade since 9/11 – also reinforces the domestic dominance of the Pakistani military, which pursues confrontation with India, quashes domestic dissent, and lionizes Islamists at the expense of domestic development.

A military “alliance with the United States,” Mr. Haqqani wrote, “became as important a part of…consolidating the Pakistani state as Islam and opposition to Hindu India.”

After 10 more turbulent years in the region, it remains unclear what benefits Washington’s indiscriminate support has produced. When Islamabad closed its supply routes to NATO several months ago, Washington was finally forced to face facts: Based on little common ground, the relationship is mutually destructive.

Seeking a backup, NATO expanded its use of the Northern Distribution Network (NDN), a northern route from the Baltic and Black Seas, across Russia through the Caucasus and Central Asia to Afghanistan. This shift reduced Washington’s dependence on Pakistan for over 70 percent of its supplies and fuel in previous years to less than 30 percent by the end of 2011.

But Russia and Kyrgyzstan have already threatened to close their supply lines seeking political concessions, while the northern route forces Washington to turn a blind eye to some of Central Asia’s most unsavory dictators. And because supplies have to cross thousands of miles and dozens of borders over a mix of road, rail, and sea, the northern route can cost more than five times shipping via the Arabian Sea.

Not to mention, the last time Washington abruptly abandoned Islamabad – in 1990, after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan – it was forced to return, hat in hand, to resume its geographic dependence on Pakistan in 2001, lacking a viable alternative.

Yet there is an important means of accessing Central Asia that is noticeably absent from this calculus: the Chabahar Road, which connects the Gulf of Oman to Afghanistan’s relatively stable western border. The Indian-constructed Chabahar Road and burgeoning railway end Pakistan’s monopoly on Afghanistan’s seaborne trade, which has been a key enabler of Islamabad’s malicious influence in Kabul.

Owing to Pakistan’s closed borders, India has used Chabahar to ship aid to Afghanistan (including 100,000 tons of wheat in April), purchase and transport minerals from the Hajigak mine in Afghanistan, and even serve as a counterweight to China’s regional presence. At 135 miles in length, the road is much shorter and more stable than any of the routes in Pakistan, making it perhaps the most efficient means of reaching Afghanistan.

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