Endgame dangers

Published: December 6, 2011

The writer is distinguished Professor of Economics, Beaconhouse National University, and FC College University

On the barren hills of Salala, the blood of 24 brave soldiers constituted the red line in Pakistan’s engagement with its coalition partners. It catalysed a nation’s resolve to protect its own legitimate interests. It also spells the beginning of the end of this particular phase of the ‘Great Game’. From here onwards, if Pakistan’s government is to protect its national sovereignty, it will have to show flexibility and understanding in the complex interplay between large states, smaller states and non-state entities. Let us outline the state of play.

Following the November 26 air strike on Pakistan’s military outposts, the government, for once, gave a firm and measured response: (1) indefinite closure of the Nato/US supply route through its territory; (2) the US was given notice to vacate the Shamsi airbase; (3) cancellation of Pakistan’s participation at the Bonn conference where the main stakeholders were to devise an endgame process; (4) initiating a comprehensive review of all forms of cooperation with Nato and the US.

How will the US respond? Two factors are central to the magnitude of the pressure that will be placed on Pakistan. Firstly, the importance to the US of the supply route through Pakistan. On the face of it, only 30 per cent of supplies pass through Pakistan. As much as 40 per cent of US supplies pass through the Northern Distribution Network (NDN) which is essentially under Russian control. Another 30 per cent of the supplies come by air.

A new and unexpected development has made Pakistan vulnerable to greater pressure than was anticipated when the supply route closure decision was taken. Mr Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s ambassador to Nato, has threatened closure of the NDN supply route in response to the deployment of the US ballistic missile defence system (BMD) in Europe.

If the Russian threat of NDN closure is implemented and Pakistan persists with its own blockade, the capacity of the US to wage war in Afghanistan will be seriously undermined. As George Friedman has argued, closure of both overland supply routes would result in the US either conceding defeat, or going to war to secure its supply lines. I would argue that while the US is unlikely to risk war with Russia on this issue, it can certainly apply heightened pressure on Pakistan at a level that it would be unable to bear.

The second factor that will determine the magnitude of pressure is possible hostile follow-up actions by Pakistan after the withdrawal from the Bonn conference. Pakistan’s cooperation in this, the final stage of the Afghan war, is of strategic importance to the US for a face-saving exit from Afghanistan. It is one thing to send through the Bonn boycott the message that Pakistan will not be pushed around, but quite another to subsequently use Taliban groups to engineer a strategic political defeat of the US and the government of President Hamid Karzai. The former may be tolerated but not the latter.

Pakistan has strategic power with respect to both the supply line and the political process in the endgame. Yet there are limits to power. Pakistan will be placed in peril if these limits are ignored.

The need of a smaller country to take a flexible position in the current power play is derived from its key vulnerabilities, which in Pakistan’s case are: first, the Taliban coalition that operates within Pakistan’s territory aims to take over the state, even as some Taliban groups are considered as useful means to influence the endgame in Pakistan’s favour. Second, the democratic structure necessary for keeping the federation intact is fragile. Third, the economy is even more fragile. Both the budget and the balance of payments deficits are rising towards dangerous levels as mass poverty persists.

The key to securing a future is to be flexible and seek cooperation with other states. However, this has to be conducted by defining more clearly the spheres wherein interests differ and those where they coincide. Only then can a joint endgame strategy based on equilibrium of interests, be formulated. Only then can destabilising deceit by the coalition partners be avoided and more suitable rules of engagement at the tactical level, specified.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 6th, 2011.

Reader Comments (23)

  • Dec 6, 2011 - 1:25AM

    Please perish the thought that Pakistan would indulge in long term denial of transit to the Americans. Pakistani Army and politicians are made of a fabric called stupidity and corruption. Strategic thought in the country comes out of the head of the Chief of Army Staff and that is it.

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  • Mirza
    Dec 6, 2011 - 1:53AM

    All these decisions against NATO are going to do the following:
    Fool the people to believe that the army did not fail again. They are tough and brave.
    The “fee” to cooperate with the US has been increased.
    The new cooperation with the USA would show a weakness of elected govt not the army.
    In short the more the things change the more they stay the same!

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  • Salmaan
    Dec 6, 2011 - 2:00AM

    “Another 30 per cent of the supplies come by air.”
    Afghanistan is land locked. Air space of which country is used for air supply?

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  • Guddu
    Dec 6, 2011 - 2:29AM

    Wait for a few days and all your 4 points will be proved wrong by the Govt.Recommend

  • Fatah
    Dec 6, 2011 - 2:29AM

    Pakistan should demand that Russia shut down the Northern Distribution Network. Russia has made diplomatic and economic advances towards Pakistan in the past year.

    Russia should be warned that to be considered a “Friend of Pakistan” – Russia must close the supply route to the Americans.

    Also, Pakistani Airspace must be closed to all US aircraft, transport, drone, helicopter or fighter jet. NO US PLANES in Pakistan or its Airspace.

    America must be put on NOTICE that any Drone Attack is a Violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and will be considered an ACT of WAR by America on Pakistan.

    Refuse ALL American military supplies and money.

    No to America.

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  • MarkH
    Dec 6, 2011 - 6:31AM

    @Fatah:
    You’re delusional in regard to Pakistan’s reach. They would never do something at Pakistan’s request unless they already had an intention to do so. Not to mention, as the most famous of grudge holding countries, you should be well aware there are better hidden negative sentiments towards Pakistan in Russia. Just as much, if not far more than towards the US. A name change means little in that regard.

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  • You Said It
    Dec 6, 2011 - 9:11AM

    @Salmaan:
    Afghanistan is land locked. Air space of which country is used for air supply?

    Pakistan and Iran’s. Do you think Pakistan can deny use of its airspace to to US flights? This would be dangerous escalation, that will have far-reaching consequences for Pakistan. Particularly, if US starts providing fighter escorts for its transport flights, Pakistan will have no choice but to back down.

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  • You Said It
    Dec 6, 2011 - 9:11AM

    @Salmaan:
    Afghanistan is land locked. Air space of which country is used for air supply?

    Pakistan and Iran’s. Do you think Pakistan can deny use of its airspace to the US flights? That would be dangerous escalation, that will have far-reaching consequences for Pakistan. Particularly, if US starts providing fighter escorts for its transport flights, Pakistan will have no choice but to back down.

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  • You Said It
    Dec 6, 2011 - 9:18AM

    @Dr. Haider Abbas:
    Strategic thought in the country comes out of the head of the Chief of Army Staff and that is it.

    The last truly strategic thought to come out of Kayani’s head was to get himself a 3 year extension. That will be the greatest achievement of his career — of course, in addition to his 4 great achievements of 2011: Jan 27, May 2, May 22 and Nov 26!!

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  • Feroz
    Dec 6, 2011 - 10:07AM

    I am not too sure whether this is going to be an endgame for Afghanistan, am very sure we are seeing the endgame being enacted in Pakistan. When for people black looks like white and red looks like blue, decline maybe slow but definitely terminal.

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  • vasan
    Dec 6, 2011 - 11:09AM

    Fatah: After all that Pakistan has done to the erstwhile USSR, you must have some cheek to ask Russia anything at all, forget about demanding. Russia may play its own game with US and get its way or may not get its way. But to do Pak’s bidding will be the height of irony. I wonder even your “all weather” friend will do anything at your bidding unless it suits its national interest,

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  • Dec 6, 2011 - 1:06PM

    Dr Akmal Hussain,

    After all the things Pakistan did to USSR ? Go to Russia and talk to the common people.

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  • Munir Kakar
    Dec 6, 2011 - 1:26PM

    But why is it that we are at war with everyone, let alone with ourselves? Now an overwhelming majority of international community has reached to the conclusion that we are the trouble maker. This unpalatable situation if persisted for long can bring about or the disastrous consequences for the country. An economically weak, a politically polarized and socially fragmented country can hardly face such an international onslaught. We are not used to eat grass as we are rhetorically led to believe. The sooner we extricate ourselves from the quagmire of Afghanistan the better it would turn out to be.

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  • Adam
    Dec 6, 2011 - 3:09PM

    All three “vulnerabilities” stated by Dr. Hussain are actually not substantial, for example issue of economy is nothing new and deficit is largely due to corrupt govt, let the govt default on foreign loans so they don’t get any more loans, common people don’t get any benefit from these loans anyway.

    Second “vulnerability” i.e. domestic militancy, that is basically a outcome of foreign war of terror, peace can be established if govt sincerely approaches locals.

    Thirds “vulnerability” i.e. fragile civilian govt, I don’t think that needs any elaboration.

    These vulnerabilities are just a tool to keep people mentally enslaved, in reality they hold little weight!

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  • Meekal Ahmed
    Dec 6, 2011 - 6:07PM

    Doc, I think the “firm and measured” response are counter-productive and an excellent example of cutting our nose to spite our face.

    Even blocking the supply-route is dumb unless we want the Taliban to gain significant ground as the draw-down nears.

    But that is the bogus “strategic depth” philisophy that or fauj clings to; it has brought Pakistan much death and destruction.

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  • Lobster
    Dec 6, 2011 - 6:56PM

    @Meekal Ahmed:
    And sir, what is your solution in current situation? Ignore the attack?

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  • Lobster
    Dec 6, 2011 - 6:58PM

    @You Said It:
    I can recall
    Nov 26 (Nato killing without any response from army) and May 2(OBL popped out under the nose of Generals). What are the other two dates? GHQ attack and???

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  • let there be peace
    Dec 6, 2011 - 7:46PM

    If US’s economic situation was better and political clout was same as olden days we would already be hearing about plans of transit line through independednt republic of Balochistan. But the world is not same anymore. maybe both sides will compromise. let’s wait and watch.

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  • LOK
    Dec 6, 2011 - 9:12PM

    Pakistan is in a unique space. Russians think they lost the Afghan war due to Pakistan. Americans and NATO are going to feel the same… Unfortunate and unwanted situation to be in. Need to distance ourselves from war, peace treaty with India, improved relations with Iran & Russia and exceptional relations with Turkey and China is the need of the hour. Imran, here it is, ur foreign policy objectives of 2013 & beyond :)

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  • @ MarkH
    Dec 6, 2011 - 9:56PM

    Its about geography and location – and Pakistan has got it.

    The future of the world’s energy has to go thru Pakistan from Iran to India and China; and from Central Asia to rest of world thru Pakistan.

    Pakistan is the key.

    Russia invaded Afghanistan in 1979 in order to gain a warm water port – something Russia still lacks.

    Russia has made significant overtures towards Pakistan in the last year. Remember it was Pakistan that defeated the Soviet Union.

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  • You Said It
    Dec 7, 2011 - 2:34PM

    @@ MarkH:
    Russia invaded Afghanistan in 1979 in order to gain a warm water port – something Russia still lacks. Russia has made significant overtures towards Pakistan in the last year. Remember it was Pakistan that defeated the Soviet Union.

    You seem to have consumed too much establishment kool-aid. Oil and gas has been getting to India and China bypassing Pak for the past 67 years. You also need to find a neutral source on the motivation for the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan — also, check a map, Afghanistan has no coast.

    When convenient you blame the US created the extremist religious groups in Pak to fight the Soviets. Otherwise, you take credit for defeating the Soviets. Let’s get some facts straight — the strategy for evicting the Soviets was entirely American. The funding was American and Arab. Pakistan’s role was mostly as the hired help. The decision to sustain the extremists after the Soviets withdrew was entirely Pakistani.

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  • observer
    Dec 7, 2011 - 10:54PM

    @Fatah

    Russia should be warned that to be considered a “Friend of Pakistan” – Russia must close the supply route to the Americans.

    And the Higher than Mountain Friend should be warned to pull out the entire 3 trillion Dollars out of USA. And stop trading with USA too.

    And both Russia and Higher than Mountains Friend will jump with joy.

    Sir, in these gloomy times, I will have what you are having.Please.

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  • You Said It
    Dec 8, 2011 - 1:32AM

    @Lobster:
    @You Said It:
    I can recall Nov 26 (Nato killing without any response from army) and May 2(OBL popped out under the nose of Generals). What are the other two dates? GHQ attack and???

    The lead-up and responses to the Raymond Davis and PNS Mehran incidents. Now don’t tell me the Army didn’t have anything to do with these… I lay the responsibility for these squarely where it belongs.Recommend

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