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Monday, 15 December 2008

The aftermath of the possible suspension of NATO supplies through Pakistan .... An analysis

Handling the post-Mumbai situation

.....The suspension of NATO supplies through Pakistan will probably satisfy those who have recommended it as Pakistan’s response to the CIA drone attacks coming from Afghanistan. But this suspension will symbolically alter the status, in part if not in full, of a NATO ally given to Pakistan when it agreed to “comply” with the UN Security Council Resolution 1373 in 2001. The “expenses” of the supply line going through Pakistan are included in the payments made to Pakistan for its efforts to fight terrorism. An alternative supply route may cause several other anti-Pakistan developments to take place.

Finding an alternative route will not be easy. NATO is negotiating with Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan for a railway route that will have to be endorsed by Russia, a difficult possibility given the problems between Moscow and Washington. However, it is not impossible and if it could be done, two things would happen. The current leverage enjoyed by Pakistan will be gone. But even more than that, the final arrangement will change the status of the Central States now increasingly under Russian influence because of the alleged threats, in the case of the key state of Uzbekistan, radiating from Pakistan’s Tribal Areas. The inclusion of Russia among the states providing the support system to NATO-ISAF forces will change the strategic map further against Pakistan.

Has Pakistan finally decided to suspend the NATO supply route, and if it has, was any thought given to the downside of such a policy? Of course, no such decision has been taken officially. But the way the convoys have been burnt down one after the other signals to NATO that, at the minimum, Islamabad is either incapable of controlling its territory or is unwilling to invest in ensuring security of supplies. The Frontier Constabulary (FC) Deputy Commandant Rehmat Khan, talking to a TV channel Saturday, said the force did not have the additional personnel required for deployment at NATO terminals. Eleven more trucks were gutted as he said this. If it is some sort of signalling to NATO in response to drone attacks then it is important to ask the question of whether this will stop the drone attacks.

Just as Pakistan needed international cooperation to face up to the growing strength of the Taliban and Al Qaeda, events seem to have thrown “other” challenges before it. One good development so far was the quiet on the western border because of the normalisation process. It allowed Pakistan to focus more on internal threats. The Mumbai attack has changed that. Anticipating a formal accusation by India, given the trajectory of events, that the ISI was involved with Jama’at-ud Dawa, the government has announced that there are no links between the two. It has likewise declared that there is no proof that Dawa is involved in terrorism. Perhaps these announcements could have been reserved for a later occasion. Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee has already told Lok Sabha that the investigations are going on and Delhi has so far provided no formal evidence to Pakistan. Yet, the UN has already declared Dawa a terrorist organisation. Hasty that action may be but it shows the power of perceptions and how they can influence the course of events and politics.

This is a situation which requires Pakistan to co-opt the world. But the action-reaction pattern that has set in may make it even more difficult for Islamabad to do so. Pakistan’s “pulling out” of the NATO effort in Afghanistan might lay it bare to a more aggressive NATO-CIA policy of striking deep inside Pakistan’s territory with drones and missiles. Shifting dependence to the Central Asian states and Russia introduces a new “regional” element in the equation with negative results for Pakistan in its future determination of policy towards Afghanistan. It must be noted that after the 2005 suicide-bomber attacks against President Karimov mounted allegedly from Pakistan’s Tribal Areas by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan of Tahir Yuldashev, Tashkent, which had stayed away from Moscow’s efforts to bring it into its sphere of influence, was compelled to go into a defence pact with Russia.

No one is thinking in terms of the movement of Chechen and Uzbek warriors from Central Asia to Pakistan’s Tribal Areas. But the world is wary of their potential to create mischief when they strike in Russia and other parts of Central Asia. The world knows that Central Asian rulers are all despots, but it is developing tolerance for them because of their resistance to the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Among those who prop up these despots is China, which has suffered Uighur terrorist attacks in its western province of Xinjiang from our Tribal Areas. Together with India and Iran, these states will determine what kind of future shape Afghanistan takes. It is therefore very important for Pakistan not to isolate itself while responding to the challenges produced by the terrorists doing mischief abroad from its soil. (Daily Times, 15 Dec 2008)

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