Commentary

Pakistan and Afghanistan Take Center Stage at NATO Summit

Middle East In Focus

Middle East In Focus

The 28 member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) met in Chicago this week to discuss the future of the organization and its ongoing involvement around the world. Central among those discussions were the endgame in Afghanistan and the reopening of supply lines from Pakistan. It is unclear whether much was really achieved at the summit, but the debate over the future of Afghanistan and the difficult U.S.-Pakistan relationship continues on the pages of the region’s dailies.

Looking at the meeting from a decidedly local perspective, the Khaleej Times editorial noted “Nato’s eastward movement.... The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation is on the move. Gone are the days when its eastward expansion sent shivers down the spine, and the pundits of doom expected a war between the erstwhile Soviet Union, or for that matter even today’s Russia, and the United States....The structure and utility of Nato, irrespective of being a mega-Europe dominated body, solely lies at the discretion of Pentagon militarily and the White House politically. It is, however, a good sign that Nato is realising the potential of many of the Muslim countries in the region, and the words of appreciation that the United Arab Emirates received in Chicago is a case in point.”

Taking a decidedly more direct tone, Najmuddin A. Shaikh reflects on this week’s events and concludes: “The hoopla is over. President Obama can [be] congratulated...on having won an endorsement for the ‘irreversible’ departure of all Nato troops from Afghanistan by Dec 31, 2014 and for the cessation of active combat operations by Nato forces after July 2013. Beyond this what was achieved?...To me, the summit suggested that America and its Nato partners, despite the hoopla and the brave words, are quite prepared to cut their losses in Afghanistan and treat it as a lost cause....If we work sincerely using the levers we have to promote this intra-Afghan dialogue we can succeed....Let our mantra now be ‘reconciliation, reconciliation, reconciliation’. This, more than the transit route issue, should be our principal preoccupation.”

Given the enormity of the challenge ahead of them, the Afghanis were unsatisfied with all the emphasis on the withdrawal date: “What is overemphasized by NATO is to put an end to their combat role by the end of 2014. But it is not explained if the war will be over by then of whether Taliban will be defeated completely or reconciled in one way or another. There is a growing concern about the exit of NATO among Afghan people....The reconciliation has not paid off and the Taliban seek to re-establish their Islamic emirate. They even do not show any willingness to accept a power-sharing agreement with an Afghan government. There is not enough pressure on the Taliban to force them to come to the negotiating table either.”

But for some the more realistic approach adopted by the NATO countries is to be expected. As another Pakistani daily, The Nation, argues in its editorial, “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....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?”

In fact, for some, it was how the Pakistani riddle would be solved that would ultimately determine whether the endgame in Afghanistan would succeed or not. On this point, some of the dailies agreeed that Pakistan was within its right to demand more for less.

For example, the Khaleej Times editorial board, dedicating an editorial to the issue for the second time in a week, makes it clear that “The faux pas in Chicago has turned out to be how to deal with Pakistan. The invitation to Islamabad was widely considered to be a gesture that would work in reopening the supply lines. But what Pakistan has asked for in Chicago is nothing new — with the only exception of putting up a higher price tag for resuming supplies....The answer as far as Pakistan is concerned could be in making its ends meet, as it faces a severe economic backlash. The Chicago summit shouldn’t waste this opportunity of building more bridges and chartering out a roadmap through which not only the mess in Afghanistan is addressed but also peace restored in southwest Asia.”

The economic and financial dimensions of the Pakistani question are of considerable importance for the Pakistani daily Dawn contributor, Mahir Ali, as well: “President Barack Obama’s reluctance, meanwhile, to grant his Pakistani counterpart the symbolic satisfaction of a bilateral tęte-a-tęte was also related to money matters....Obama is reportedly miffed at what the Americans see as barefaced greed, given that the U.S. has already been pouring substantial funds into Islamabad’s coffers as the price for Pakistan’s support in what used to be called the war against terror — often without, from Washington’s vantage point, sufficient returns....Pakistan’s calculations in this context are presumably based on the assumption that Nato’s need is greater. It’s interesting to note, though, that the economic repercussions of a reopening of routes extend well beyond Islamabad.”


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