Amateurs discuss strategy while professionals talk logistics. The truth of this statement was hig hlighted by the recent events on our western border. The US requires about 3,000 tons daily for sustaining its forces in Afghanistan and 80 percent of this is routed through Pakistan, amounting to nearly 500 trucks per day. However, the US congressional staffers have just proved their amateur status by finding out that the supply chain for the American forces in Afghanistan is subject to extortion and corruption by whoever is controlling the roads. This is something which is known to every truck driver in the region and had also been publicised in the US media in 2009. So, it was hardly a subject which merited a congressional enquiry (Warlord Inc Extortion and Corruption along the US Supply Chain in Afghanistan, Report of the Minority Staff, US House of Representatives, June 22, 2010). In Afghanistan, unfortunately there is no black and white, only shades of gray and if one has to operate in the area one has to learn to ignore the paradoxes. This institutionalised corruption in the transport sector also has advantages of guaranteeing delivery, ensuring quick clearances, allowing businessmen to make extra profits by under invoicing and mis-declaring goods on the documents and providing extra cash for the impoverished tribes and government officials. The only loser is the consumer, who has to ultimately pay for all these charges. However, there is a limit to this extortion. If it exceeds 20 percent, the transporters find it cheaper to divert the cargo through Iran (a facility not available to the US). The central Asian route is being availed, but is two or three times the cost and adds about 20 days of transport time. The system works quite well since the cost of payments for the bureaucracy and tribes is known in advance and factored into the final price. During my posting in Kabul, the only time our businessmen complained was when the FC held up their trucks of fresh fruit shipments on the grounds that perishable goods required additional payments. Speed money has its merits and corruption for a good cause (i.e. free trade) has its saving graces. The downside is that contraband and illegal items are also allowed a free passage, if the price is right. In fact, one of the main reasons for the rise of the Taliban was the complete paralysis of the transportation network in Afghanistan following the jihad against the Soviets, when the mujahideen were transformed into commanders and decided to levy tolls on the highways as a means of extortion. The situation had become so bad that from Chaman to Kandahar there were 120 check posts, averaging a post every kilometre. Most of the initial financing for the Taliban, therefore, came from the transporters, while the Taliban compensated them in full by providing complete security on all the roads under their control at the cost of only 10 percent in custom duty. At that time, our Embassy and Consulate officials could travel from Chaman to Kandahar and from Torkham to Kabul without any escort or weapons, something it was not advisable to do on the Peshawar-Torkham and Quetta-Chaman routes. The Taliban used to contemptuously call the numerous check posts which remained on our side of the border as the Pakistani Commanders. The Taliban had made the tribes part of the solution, as there was hardly any Taliban presence on the roads, since they were busy trying to expand their territory in the north. The report exposes the circumstances surrounding the Department of Defence outsourcing security on the supply chain in Afghanistan to questionable providers, including warlords. This arrangement has fuelled a vast protection racket run by a shadowy network of warlords, strongmen, commanders and corrupt Afghan officials. In addition, one of the major sources of funding for the Taliban is from this protection money estimated at $300 million annually compared to the total supply contract of $2.16 billion. These estimates seem too conservative, since they ignore the Pakistan section where similar procedures are followed. A more realistic figure would be double the estimate making this by far the larger source of income for the Taliban, compared to the $300 million they are supposed to get from the opium trade. Not all of this amount is spent on the war effort and most of it is used for the people employed on protection duty. These payments are, therefore, considerably more useful than the amounts spent by USAID, as they directly reach the poorest segments of society. This beneficial factor is manifested most clearly in the Nangrahar Province where because of these payments the Shinwari and Afridi tribes are among the richest and the province is one where there is hardly any insurgent activity. The US is merely following a practical and pragmatic policy in the tradition of the Mughal and British empires, which also had to pay protection money in the guise of subsidies to the tribes in order to ensure freedom of traffic on the roads through Afghanistan. The spark for the first Afghan war was, in fact, the British reduction of subsidies for the tribes. Other problems identified in the report are that the warlords, who are running the protection racket, are becoming more powerful than the government and that suppliers, who do not pay the protection money, are subject to continuous attacks on their convoys. This they feel is undermining the entire US counterinsurgency strategy and they have, hence, recommended that the policy be scraped and replaced by a more transparent arrangement. However, if these recommendations are followed it would bring a drastic stop to all the supplies to Afghanistan. The Soviets had provided security escorts for their convoys and the result was that they never had enough troops for combat missions or occupation of key provinces like Kandahar. The report is, however, extremely useful in providing details of the present system and identifying the major players, who are taking advantage of the system. As expected, these include the beltway bandits and the Afghan Presidents favourites. The writer is a former ambassador.