n Imran Malik Prudent, farsighted and visionary statecraft is epitomised by the relentless pursuit of national interests and the uncanny ability to convert national challenges into opportunities. One would have expected Pakistan to have done the same even after having been browbeaten and bullied into the US war on terror. However, with conflicting strategic-end states emerging from the outset, the US and Pakistan were soon at odds and chasms appeared. When Pakistan tried to use the leverage on US logistics passage through the country to put a stop to the drone campaign, the break in relations became inevitable. The US logistics strategy envisaged the landlocked Afghan theatre of war being sustained through the South i.e. from the Arabian Sea, port of Karachi, onto Chaman and the Khyber Pass. By 2009, the US was transporting about 90 percent of its nonlethal surface cargo through Karachi. However, chastened by the steep decline in the bilateral, intelligence and military relations, and deadly though sporadic militant attacks on its convoys, the US felt constrained to adopt alternative routes. So by mid-2011, the US had made the strategic shift in its logistics policy by initially transferring about 35-40 percent of its nonlethal surface logistics through the Northern Distribution Network (NDN) leaving only a limited percentage to go through Karachi. The NDN is a Eurasian approach and is a combination of three sub-routes. The NDN North emanates from the Baltic Sea at Riga, Latvia, moving cargo by train through Russia, then southeast around the Caspian Sea through Kazakhstan, and finally south through Uzbekistan to Afghanistan. The NDN South goes across the Caucasus bypassing Russia and currently carrying about 35 percent of the US cargo on the NDN. Starting from the Black Sea, Port of Ponti, Georgia, it moves north by road to Baku, Azerbaijan, where the cargo gets ferried across the Caspian Sea to Kazakhstan and is then trucked to Afghanistan via Uzbekistan. A variant of the Non North emanates from Riga, travels to trans-Russia, bypasses Uzbekistan, and then moves through Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan into Afghanistan. The NDN as a whole suffers from a strategically vulnerable, but inescapable bottleneck at Termez-Hairaton on the Uzbekistan-Afghanistan border. Other options include Iran, which provides the most direct and cost-effective sea-rail-road approach through Bandar Abbas and Chahbahar into Afghanistan. But this is unavailable for obvious reasons. An approach through China (Xinjiang-Wakhan Peninsula) is impractical. Thus, for geopolitical and security reasons, the US has been constrained to restrict itself to the NDN option (transporting a ton of cargo by air to the Bagram Airbase, reportedly, costs $14,000), but it suffers from numerous inherent vulnerabilities. It is the longest and least cost-effective choice. The convoys have to go through numerous border crossings, customs and changes in mode of transportation. Further, the NDN is also potentially within the reach of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Al-Qaeda and even the Afghan Taliban. This could potentially drag the Central Asian States (CAS) and even Russia into the war adding vastly to its complications and embroiling the US even deeper into the imbroglio. Worst, it exposes the US to immense leverage that the Russians, the Caucasian and CAS could exploit at a time and occasion of their choosing. Russia would also be keen to facilitate the US in stabilising Afghanistan and in the process cleansing its southern underbelly off the terrorists for it. It would not be averse either to see the US proverbially bleed from a thousand cuts. The CAS would be content that their autocratic governments would be spared by the US and Wests criticism and censure. This strategic imbroglio leaves both Pakistan and the US facing a Hobsons choice each. For America, will it be Pakistan and a compromise on the drone campaign? For Pakistan, will it be the alliance and a continued violation of its sovereignty? But does it have to be an either/or situation? One feels that yet again the US and Pakistanis have worked themselves into a corner and unsustainable positions displaying an amazing lack of perseverance, co-management skills, strategic thought and foresight. They appear to have lost sight of their common strategic end - that is, winning the war They should have created common space on the drones issue accommodating Pakistans sensitivities and giving it some say in the campaign. In turn, Pakistan should have guaranteed safe, secure, fluent and uninterruptible railroad passage to all US cargo/convoys from Karachi en route to Chaman-Spin Boldak and Khyber Pass-Jalalabad. As a further quid pro quo, Pakistan could have asked for a revamping of its communications infrastructure, for instance, improving the railways bridges and engines, adding modern signalling systems and features where required. Pakistan could have also sought help in the development of a railroad network, along the west bank of the Indus deep into northwest of Pakistan. Under strictly considered conditions laid down by Pakistan, the US could have been allowed passage through the Gwadar Port provided that a road-rail network in its hinterland was financed and developed by the US on priority basis. This road-rail network should have dovetailed into the existing national communication grid. Thus, we could have developed North-South, as well as East-West, communication corridors with far-reaching geopolitical, strategic, and economic implications. Vital national interests on both sides would have been served. Could this yet be considered in the Strategic Dialogue that both Pakistan and the US are trying to rejuvenate? It could create extreme goodwill, ease both out of their Hobsons Choices and improve their collective chances of winning the war. n The writer is a retired brigadier and a defence analyst. Email: im k@hotmail.com