When Pakistan recently closed its border with Afghanistan in retaliation for US air strikes that killed Pakistani soldiers, a private company called FMN Logistics issued a press release promoting its role in the Northern Distribution Network, an emerging supply line that takes US and NATO goods overland through Russia and the ex-Soviet Central Asian states rather than via dangerous and unpredictable Pakistan.
‘With the recent developments in Pakistan it’s vital that a safe alternative for supplying FOB's (forward operating bases) and organizations operating within Afghanistan exist,’ the company's CEO, Harry Eustace Jr., said. ‘FMN has delivered more consignments to NATO and US Forces than any other freight forwarder operating on the NDN. As concerns continue to grow about the Pakistani supply routes, the NDN and FMN's capabilities there are crucial to the continuing support of United States and NATO Forces and their prime service contractors.’
What the press release didn't say was that FMN is a former subsidiary of the Uzbekistan holding company Zeromax, in which Gulnara Karimova, daughter of Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov, is widely believed to have a large role. Karimov has ruled Uzbekistan since shortly before it became independent from the Soviet Union, and in that time has amassed one of the worst records of human rights abuses and misgovernment on the planet. The government holds thousands of political prisoners and police widely use torture. It’s one of only nine countries to get the worst possible score on Freedom House's rankings of civil and political liberties and in the most recent Transparency International rankings, it was named the fifth-most corrupt country in the world.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
But by virtue of military necessity, the United States is deepening its ties with Karimov's government. Supply lines from Pakistan have been the target of frequent attacks by the Taliban, and the early October shutdown of the border proved that route was subject to the will of Islamabad as well. The terrible floods in Pakistan this summer further disrupted the routes.
For the last two years, the US military has been hedging its bets by sending more military cargo via the NDN. The United States now ships about 30 percent of its equipment for Afghanistan on the NDN, and nearly all of that crosses into Afghanistan through Uzbekistan at Termez—the same border crossing that Soviet troops relied on to invade, and then retreat from, Afghanistan.
The NDN is administered by the US military, but the actual shipping is done by a web of private logistics companies, like FMN. The US also has contracted with Uzbekistan's state railway company to build a railroad from the Uzbekistan-Afghanistan border to the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, to facilitate shipments of cargo into Afghanistan.