Friday, May 19, 2006 E-Mail this article to a friend Printer Friendly Version

EDITORIAL: Project Afghanistan: Pakistan and NATO

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) wants closer military and political relations with Pakistan. The quid pro quo: Islamabad should support the 26-member alliance’s operation in Afghanistan. Last Wednesday, a NATO spokesperson in Brussels said that “The essence of the relationship will be pragmatic”. What he described as “technical discussion, technical cooperation, specifically related to support in Afghanistan” can be deciphered thus: we (NATO) need operational and relevant political support from Pakistan for the ongoing operation in Afghanistan and in return are ready to help Pakistan. Therefore Project Help Pakistan presumably could include support at various levels: relief work (as happened after the earthquake), intelligence sharing, equipment provision, joint training, and so on.

One thing is clear. NATO does want closer cooperation with Pakistan since it is broadening its operation in Afghanistan and relieving US troops with NATO-ISAF contingents. NATO is also putting troops on the ground in southern Afghanistan, the hotbed of the Taliban, and it makes sense for it to try and enlist Pakistan’s support. Only last week NATO deputy secretary-general, Alessandro Minuto Rizzo, was in Pakistan along with a contingent and met General Pervez Musharraf and other senior officials of the defence and foreign ministry and intelligence services in Islamabad. Mr Rizzo was accompanied by NATO’s senior civilian representative in Afghanistan, Hikmet Cetin, a former Turkish foreign minister.

The presumption seems to be that at some point the security and other interests of NATO and Pakistan converge. As the spokesperson said, Mr Rizzo discussed southern Afghanistan with General Pervez Musharraf and “Pakistan of course wants ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) to succeed. They have the same interest as we all have.” NATO took command of the ISAF in August 2003. Afghanistan is the first mission for the alliance troops outside the Euro-Atlantic area since its formation. Its broad objective currently is to fight the war on terror. The presence in Afghanistan of its troops, whose strength will shortly go up from 9,000 to 15,000, is part of that mission.

The question for Pakistan, currently a major non-NATO ally of the United States, is: Do its interests in Afghanistan converge with those of NATO, and by extension that of the United States?

The presence of the NATO delegation in Islamabad meant that NATO also wants to know the answer to this question. There are two broad theories on it. One says that Pakistan is still supporting the Taliban; the other rejects this and says that Pakistan is doing as much as it can to control the situation on its side of the Durand Line. A third theory, which combines aspects of both, argues that while Pakistan is bent on eliminating Al Qaeda, its interest in the Taliban remains, though this is primarily because Kabul seems to be dancing to New Delhi’s tune. For its part Islamabad denies that it has any soft corner for the Taliban or that it wants to destabilise Afghanistan. Indeed, Islamabad has its own gripe against Kabul for trotting out this line and has accused President Hamid Karzai’s government of advancing India’s anti-Pakistan designs by fishing in Balochistan.

Be that as it may, it should be evident that a stable Afghanistan is in Pakistan’s interest. It should also be clear that Afghanistan cannot go against Pakistan’s interests beyond a certain point. It is landlocked and needs Pakistan for access to the outside world. Besides, Pakistan’s relations with NATO serve the interests of both sides and there is no reason that Pakistan should try to gain tactical points and lose sight of the larger strategic picture. NATO needs Pakistan and Islamabad should take advantage of its need by helping it secure Afghanistan. General Musharraf has reportedly discussed the possibility of opening NATO schools for Pakistani military personnel along the lines of the three such schools in Europe (Rome, Munich and Norway). NATO’s presence in this region is part of its drive to open up towards the countries of this region, an effort that is underpinned by the Mediterranean Dialogue and the Istanbul Initiative.

On the downside, Islamabad will have to be careful about how it communicates its interaction with NATO. The people largely look at NATO as an extension of the US, which is not entirely correct. However, this perception is strong for two reasons: the US is the core state of the alliance; and the US foots the major part of NATO’s bill. In tandem this means that the US also gets to influence NATO in a major way. However, NATO is present in Afghanistan under the UN mandate. In legal-political terms this is very different from Iraq, for instance, where the US embroiled itself against the wishes of even its own NATO allies and without a UN mandate.

Pakistan has therefore to look at its interaction with NATO only in terms of Afghanistan. It also needs to keep its interaction with NATO on a separate track from its relations with the US. When NATO sent its relief contingent for the quake-affected people, the political opposition raised Cain and accused the government of kowtowing to the US. Wild theories flew around and it seemed that NATO was in Pakistan to either take out Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal or be the vanguard of the cordon against China. The key, therefore, is to sell this idea to the people as it is. That’s the tough part. *
This is an editorial from a Pakistani newspaper Daily Times.

It raises interesting issues vis a vis the US, NATO, Pakistan and Afghanistan and with some reference to India too.

Unlike other countries, Afghanistan has always had strong warlords based polity with a nominal head at Kabul. It has been governed by tribal customs and have rarely been a cohesive nation as such. It is because of this situation that controlling Afghanistan has not been an easy task for anyone. Each warlord to his own, so to say.

Being landlocked and with a demanding terrain, while it is picturesque, it hardly supports agriculture or industries. Education has never been an attraction in Afghanistan.

In such a scenario, something more troublesome to govern that the "wild west", to have only 40,00 troops to "control" the nation and bring it to some semblance of democracy is well nigh impossible, especially since it is but small zones of tribal power centres and hardly a nation!

The current government or even the past ones were never friendly with Pakistan since there has always been the demand for Paktunistan (the land of the Pathans or Pashtuns or Pakhtoons) based on parts of Pakistan (inhabited by Pashtuns) and that of Afghanistan. And likewise Pakistan has always eyed Afghanistan with some suspicion. Afghans have never been easy with Paksitan. It must be remembered that Afghanistan is not a pure Pashtun country.

Therefore, for any organisation or country to expect Pakistan to assist without expecting anything in return is but a pipedream. That is why at regular intervals, Pakistan has to be woken from their reverie to take action in NWFP as was seen when President Bush visited Pakistan and admonished them for a tardy response to the War on Terror.

One wonders if the US is serious about bringing some semblance of order to Afghanistan. The Soviets had 120,000 troops and they failed (of course there were other reasons too). In India to contain the Pakistan sponsored cross border terrorism, there is a huge number of troops and para military (because India does not use artillery or air to control the terrorists) and yet the US expects to bring control with a mere 40,000!

One wonders how that could be possible.

Britain is sending 600 troops which is an understrength battalion in Indian terms.

Could someone explain how it is expected that Afghanistan can be 'normalised" with a mere 40,000 troops and with Pakistan being unable to control the Taliban and AQ from entering Afghanistan from Pakistan and return to their safe havens in Pakistan?

The worst case scenario being that Pakistan is actively aiding these Taliban and AQ to foment problems for ISAF!!