President Obama's recent summit meeting with his Russian counterpart in Moscow has led to the signing of an agreement between the US and Russia to allow transportation of American troops and military equipment across the Russian territory to Afghanistan. The US has hailed this agreement as a valuable Russian contribution towards helping the American forces fighting in Afghanistan. President Medvedev has also committed his country to work with the US in other areas as well to help stabilise Afghanistan, including providing more assistance to the Afghan Army and police and training counter-insurgency personnel. Can the military supplies through the Russian territory for the US troops in Afghanistan reverse the course of war, which, according to many observers America is fast losing if not already lost? And how the opening of this route would affect Pakistan's relevance to NATO's war effort in Afghanistan? These are two important questions, which require to be answered in the wake of this development. Since the invading Red Army of the erstwhile Soviet Union beat a retreat from Afghanistan in 1989, the permission granted to use the Russian territory and space for flying American troops and supplies to Afghanistan is the first instance of Russia's re-entry into Afghanistan as an influential player. In the view of many an observer, the decision to send troops and military supplies through the route passing through the Russian territory is fraught with dangerous implications for the long-term strategic interests of the US not only in Afghanistan but also in Central Asia. It may lead to an increased US dependence on Russia for fighting the war in Afghanistan, and ultimately, may enable the Russians to stage a come back in the region from where they were forcibly ousted two decades ago. It was precisely for this reason that the US was initially reluctant to accept such a proposal Russia attempted to sell at the NATO summit last year in Bucharest. But, America's NATO allies had shown great interest in the proposal and in fact held a series of talks with the Russian officials on the precise routes to be used. Two developments prompted the US also to look at the Russian offer: One was the decision early last year by Kyrgyzstan to ask the US to vacate Manas military base. The loss of Manas base was considered to be a serious setback for the Obama Administration's plans for the upsurge of US forces in Afghanistan. Most observers suspected Russian hand behind Kyrgyzstan's decision to evict Americans from Manas; but almost immediately after the Kyrgyz decision, Russia offered an alternative route through Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. The US was long seeking such cooperation from Russia in countering the Taliban in Afghanistan. In fact, the acceptance of Russian offer is a prelude to a much larger strategic partnership between Washington and Moscow to ensure the success of NATO in Afghanistan, which the two countries regard absolutely necessary to eliminate the threat a Taliban come back can pose to Russia and Central Asia. Russia is opposed to USA' bids to get a foothold in the Central Asia region, which Moscow still regards as its sphere of influence, but at the same time it wants NATO forces to succeed in Afghanistan as their failure will inevitably lead to the revival of multiple Islamist insurgencies in the Central Asian region, especially Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, whose Islamic movements were inspired and assisted by Taliban dominated Afghanistan. The second factor, which pushed the US to accept the Russian offer, was the growing vulnerability of NATO supply routes running through Pakistan. Since their arrival in Afghanistan more than three years ago, the NATO forces have received more than 80 percent of their supplies via routes through Torkham and Chamman crossing points on the Pak-Afghan border. But for the last couple of years, the trucks carrying the supplies for NATO forces in Afghanistan have been attacked, burnt and their supplies looted by the suspected Taliban in Pakistan. Pakistan based militants caused a serious disruption of NATO supplies for Afghanistan, when early last February they bombed and destroyed a bridge in the Khyber Agency. This act showed how vulnerable the NATO supplies through Pakistan were. The supplies destined for Afghanistan through Chamman in Balochistan were was also attacked by militants and a number of containers were torched. Obama's decision to double its military presence in Afghanistan further added to the urgency for an alternative route for supplies, which were to grow many fold as the troop strength increased. For this purpose the US took a number of steps to diversify its supply routes to reinforce its growing military forces in Afghanistan. A train route via Latvia-Russia was already being used for transporting non-lethal supplies to Afghanistan. In February this year, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan agreed to let non-lethal supplies for NATO forces in Afghanistan pass through their territories through rail and road routes. These routes are expected to carry between 50-200 containers of supplies to Afghanistan. The US entered into similar agreements with Kazakhstan and Russia early this year to transport supplies for its forces in Afghanistan. These routes, however, were for transporting non-military supplies. The agreement during the Moscow summit provides for flying US troops and weapons to Afghanistan across the Russian territory. It, therefore, represents a quantum jump in strategic cooperation between the America and Russia on Afghanistan. Undoubtedly the arrival of military supplies through Russia and Central Asian would intensify fighting in Afghanistan, particularly in the eastern and southern parts of the country lying along the international border with Pakistan. The increase in violence in these areas is going to directly affect Pakistan as the regions along the border with Afghanistan are already in turmoil. Under pressure from the beefed up US/NATO forces, the retreating Taliban can enter into the Pakistani territory. This is likely to make the existing situation in the tribal areas of NWFP and Balochistan further complicated. Pakistan has already re-deployed its army on Pak-Afghan border to preempt the entry of militants into Pakistan. Significant though it may be the alternative route is unlikely to turn the tide of insurgency in favour of the allied forces for three principal reasons: the strength of the US troops deployed in South and East of Afghanistan is still far below the number required to weed out well entrenched insurgents. Secondly, the routes running through Central Asia and Russia are long and costly. It will take the supplies considerably long time to reach the battlefield. Thirdly, the active involvement of Russia and Central Asian states may provoke the Taliban to extend their activities in these countries. In no way, the corridors provided by the Russian and Central Asia states can substitute the transit route through Pakistan. Hundreds of trucks carrying supplies unloaded at the Karachi seaport ply between Pakistan and Afghanistan through two entry points of Torkham and Chamman on the international border between the two countries. The International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) heavily depend upon these supplies, which constitute more than 80 percent of all supplies used by foreign troops in Afghanistan. This dependence will continue and, as a former US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Mr Inderfurth said last year: "Pakistan is a country that can make or break (NATO's) mission in Afghanistan." The writer is a research fellow at the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IRPI)