With the much-trumpeted Nato Summit in Chicago coming to an end, it is time to tally the scorecard for the major participants. This being an election year, the Summit had a domestic agenda apart from its foreign policy objectives. US President Barack Obama was largely successful in reassuring his unhappy voters that his promise to disengage militarily from Afghanistan was “irreversible”. Earlier, he had secured a major victory, convincing Afghan President Hamid Karzai to agree to their bilateral strategic agreement that will provide the US with the legal framework to retain control over Afghanistan’s many military facilities.
Other Nato countries can also congratulate themselves for getting the alliance’s formal approval for the departure deadline, which was important in quelling growing unrest among large sections of the American populace.
President Karzai, too, has good reasons to feel satisfied. He was not only the summit’s sought after star, but one whose role in the endgame was highlighted. This has given rise to speculation that he may seek exemption from the constitutional ban on a third term, offering his candidacy as the only politician enjoying domestic consensus as well as foreign acceptability.
It was, however, Pakistan which was the lone man out, especially after failing to honour signals from the US, indicating their readiness for the supply routes through Afghanistan to be reopened, which in fact helped Pakistan receive a last-minute invitation. Earlier, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar had acknowledged that notwithstanding her earlier rhetorical flourishes emphasising national honour and dignity, it had now dawned on her that Pakistan could not afford to annoy the Nato! Consequently, President Asif Ali Zardari had to suffer the indignity of Secretary General Rasmussen declining to meet him on the plea of scheduling problems, while President Obama rejected the request for a formal call.
The summit in Chicago did confirm that neither the US nor the Nato are interested in building a democratic state any longer, satisfied instead with what they call “Afghanistan is good enough”. President Obama admitted that there is never going to be a “point when we can say that this is perfect … it may sometimes be a messy process”, while his National Security Council chief Tom Donilon alluded to the limited nature of US strategy, when confirming that the US now aimed to ensure that al Qaeda and associated groups “cannot have safe havens unimpeded”. With the US goalposts having been lowered, it was no surprise that the summit failed to outline a post-withdrawal political strategy for Afghanistan. Nor did anyone ask as to what happens when the country is threatened by civil war, with the Taliban appearing to have lost interest in the reconciliation process, thanks to the Pentagon’s intransigence. Most likely, Nato will pursue a ‘Fortress Kabul’ strategy, while holding Pakistan responsible for the inevitable mess in that country. Both President Obama and Secretary General Rasmussen made obvious their worries on this score, with the latter pointing out that “there can be no drawdown of troops from Afghanistan without Pakistan’s help”, while President Obama was harsher, remarking: “the US did not want Pakistan to be consumed by its own extremists”.
In retrospect, it would appear that our eagerness to be present in Chicago without having first carried out necessary homework was a mistake. Confusion reigns supreme, with Pakistan claiming that the issue of supply routes lies with parliament, though demanding a much higher fee, prompting Defence Secretary Leon Panetta to reject it as “gouging”. The US says it wants to rebuild relations but instead of resolving issues, it has added to the ‘charge sheet’ against Pakistan, calling Dr Shakil Afridi’s imprisonment “unwarranted”. Both countries appear to have lost their ingenuity and imagination, frozen in mutual recriminations, while oblivious to the looming dangers in post-2014 Afghanistan, with its ill-trained and tribally fractured army incapable of ensuring peace in the country. The consequences of this are likely to be bad for everyone, but primarily so for Pakistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 30th, 2012.
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