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منگل، 22 مئی، 2012

NATO Chicago summit and Pakistan

Pakistan`s role at the Summit is unclear, though its importance in a final settlements is evident. It should also be acknowledged that the decision to re-open Nato supplies without an apology for the Salala massacre, which provoked the ban originally.

The southern route of supplies was blocked by Pakistan following the November 26, 2011, attack on its border posts by NATO air forces which killed 24 Pakistani servicemen

That this time around the Nato member countries seemed to have taken a slightly realistic view of the war in Afghanistan was evident mainly from two signals emanating from the summit. The first was the statement by President Obama after his meeting with President Karzai that though the alliance is committed to a stable Afghanistan, there could be “hard days ahead.” What he meant by hard days is of course dropping a hint the combat forces are bogged down in the mess and could further get embroiled in the maelstrom. In the presence of representatives from other countries, who have had a first hand experience of the power of the Taliban, he was careful not to brag about victory like he did at the Bagram air base recently. Secondly, and in fact even more importantly, the summit came out with the general realisation expressed by Nato officials as well as President Karzai that Pakistan’s role was central to establishing lasting peace inAfghanistan. For one thing, this is going to be a huge disappointment for New Delhi that has been trying to isolate us. The funds earmarked for nation building including the Afghan National Army and public infrastructure also bode well for the future since currently its economy lacks any source of income except for poppy cultivation and smuggling. The Summit simultaneously tried not to give the impression that it was a losing side, apparent from French President Hollande’s unwillingness to stay put in the quagmire anymore and also from thousands of protestors fiercely clashing with the police outside the McCormick Palace demanding an end to the war. Condescending as it might seem, in reality Nato Chief Rasmussen’s statement that they were in no hurry to get out of the country was more of an attempt to put a gloss over their dilemma. Otherwise the member countries would not have agreed to stick to the 2014 roadmap. On the sidelines, when President Zardari whose late flight cost him his scheduled meeting with Rasmussen had a discussion with Secretary of Sate Hillary Clinton.  As expected, it ended without the Pakistani camp extracting either an apology or agreement over new transit rates. How can Pakistan have a central role in the Afghan equation if its basic problems are not taken care of?
Meanwhile, it is interesting to note that the Taliban too had been closely observing these developments. It is because they have time and again shown the occupying forces what they are capable of that the leaders at the Summit seemed so concerned. Any future settlement would also have to take into consideration their growing control of the country. Their inclusion in the political process would greatly help establish peace once the combat troops withdraw.

While the leaders of NATO countries and guests at the NATO summit in Chicago were discussing plans for troop withdrawal and Afghanistan's future, one issue remained unresolved and threatened to overshadow whatever relative success might have been achieved during the discussion. The issue in question is the relationship between the alliance and its one-time ally-turned-nuisance, Pakistan. Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari had received a last-minute invitation to the summit in what most observers saw as an attempt to put more pressure on him in order to persuade Pakistani authorities to reopen the southern route of supplies for the NATO forces in Afghanistan. For the U.S. President Barack Obama  a consent from his Pakistani colleague would have meant a boost in his reelection campaign. In early May he managed to sign a Strategic Partnership Agreement with Afghanistan, and reopening the route would have meant a double success in his efforts to get out of the war with a saved face. The southern route of supplies was blocked by Pakistan following the November 26, 2011, attack on its border posts by NATO air forces which killed 24 Pakistani servicemen. Since then, NATO has had to rely upon the northern route going via Russia, the Caucasus and Central Asia, which is much longer and an estimated 2.5 times more expensive. The importance of the resumption of the southern route is highlighted by the assumed troop pullout – moving more than a hundred thousand soldiers and thousands tons of equipment from Afghanistan via the northern route seems virtually impossible. But Pakistan's Zardari turned out to be much less servile than his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai. Pakistani authorities remain firm in their determination to demand at least three concessions from Washington needed for reopening the route of supply. First, Pakistan still demands an apology for the November incident. NATO and the U.S. have expressed regret, but stopped short from a formal apology. Second, Pakistani president still demands an end to all drone strikes over Pakistani territory, and reiterated this demand during his meeting with the U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Sunday. As for Washington, it has not sent any signal that it intends to stop the drone strikes. And third, Pakistan is demanding a transit fee for every truck moving via its territory amounting to $5,000 (a 20 to 25-fold increase from the previous fee of $200-250). The U.S. rejects the demand as unreasonable. The reason why Obama's administration and Obama himself are not inclined to fulfill Pakistani demands is simple. If they did, this would be regarded both in Pakistan and in the U.S. as a sign of weakness, which Obama cannot afford in the middle of the ongoing election campaign, when he is constantly accused by the Republicans of being too soft in his foreign policy. This has left only one option open for the U.S. and NATO topmost officials in their treatment of Pakistani president – that is, open humiliation of the latter. NATO General Secretary Anders Fogh Rasmussen initially made an appointment to meet President Zardari on the sidelines of the summit, but later cancelled the meeting citing a "scheduling conflict". White House officials totally ruled out the possibility of a bilateral meeting between President Obama and President Zardai. Instead, Zardari met with State Secretary Clinton, which is totally unbefitting of a head of state according to the protocol. Now, this leaves open one question, what's next? The need to reopen the route is still there. So, how is the U.S. going to achieve this end? Was the mistreatment of Pakistani President in Chicago meant to make him more submissive, or are Washington strategists mulling other options? It should be kept in mind that for Zardari, too big a concession would also be disastrous in view of his low popularity and the looming general elections that are to be held in 2013, but may happen even sooner. This suggests that the U.S. has already discharged Zardari as the head of state in 2014, and now Washington is looking for someone in Pakistan who would be more cooperative. But in view of the general public mood in today's Pakistan, the task seems even harder than the one of forcing Zardari into cooperation. __________________________________________________________________

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