Chicago’s message

Published: May 23, 2012
The writer was Pakistan’s ambassador to the EU from 2002-2004 and to the US in 1999

The writer was Pakistan’s ambassador to the EU from 2002-2004 and to the US in 1999

As details of the Nato summit in Chicago still emerge, Nato has agreed to hand over control of Afghanistan to its own security forces by the middle of next year. Though called primarily to discuss the post-2014 strategy for Afghanistan, the Chicago summit spent no less time during its informal sessions discussing Pakistan, whose ties with the US and Nato have been in a free fall since the Salala attack. The summit declaration included Pakistan among the countries having  “an important role in ensuring enduring peace, stability and security in Afghanistan and in facilitating the completion of the transition process”. Nato Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen also made it clear that Nato was “counting on Pakistan’s commitment to support ISAF and Nato efforts in Afghanistan”, while demanding “reopening of the land routes very soon, because we need these”.

While diplomatic niceties protected President Asif Ali Zardari from public criticism, US and Nato officials made known their frustration with Pakistan for failing to act on its promise to reopen the critically-needed Nato supply routes and continuing to support the Haqqani network.

The White House annoyance with Pakistan was also evident from the kind of briefing given to the media, which claimed that President Barack Obama would not receive President Zardari. The two leaders did, however, have a brief chat, which was used by Obama to inform the press that he had emphasised the “need to work through tensions that have arisen”, adding that President Zardari had assured him of “his belief that these issues can be worked through”. But in a thinly veiled warning, President Obama declared that he did “not want to paper over real challenges”, while pointing out that “it was in Pakistan’s interest to see that they were not consumed by extremism in their midst”.

Regarding Afghanistan, President Obama has admittedly lowered American expectations, no longer viewing it as the “war of necessity”. Nor is he willing to buy the argument advocated by his generals that a troop ‘surge’ was likely to turn the tide in Afghanistan, though he was smart enough to let them try out this option earlier. President Obama has no interest in ‘remaking’ Afghanistan but remains deeply concerned about Pakistan. As his National Security Council Chief, Tom Donilon, confirmed prior to the summit, the US “goal is to have an Afghanistan that has a degree of stability such that forces like al Qaeda and associated groups cannot have safe havens unimpeded, which would threaten the region and threaten US and other interests in the world”. In other words, the US will focus, henceforth, on Afghan security and much less on its social sector.

This would not, however, mean any diminution of concern with Pakistan, as confirmed by President Obama in his post-summit comments. In fact, White House sources have confirmed that he has come around to what Bruce Riedel — a counterterrorism adviser and confidant — had warned him about, namely, that it is Pakistan more than Afghanistan that the US should be worried about. Moreover, with US problems likely to worsen in Afghanistan, the refrain to ‘do more’ would surely intensify, along with threats and warnings.

At the summit, President Zardari sought to shield himself behind the parliament’s resolutions but there were no takers for this. The government should have recognised the nation’s inherent limitations and its inability to stand up to US pressure before engaging in rhetorical flourishes that have placed it in a bind. With American patience wearing thin, further dithering and lack of clarity that has at present characterised our policy would be disastrous for the short term as well as long term future. Nato can congratulate itself for having agreed on an ‘irreversible’ path out of a decade-long, unpopular war. Now, it is time for us to opt for similar rational thinking and ‘hard’ decisions on what ails us at home, along with skilful diplomacy to enhance our options.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 23rd, 2012.

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Reader Comments (11)

  • John B
    May 23, 2012 - 1:45AM

    So what the ambassador is trying to say is this:,” Open the supply route, Mr. President?

    Security and stability of Afghanistan – translation : keeping pressure on PAK.

    PAK has a role to play in Afghanistan transition- translation: keep the proxies under tight leash.


  • s shah
    May 23, 2012 - 3:27AM

    The civilian govt has no power over security or foreign policies. It is a puppet for the armed forces. The armed forces want the NATO routes opened and the release of coalition funds. However, they have painted themselves into a corner with their demands and by whipping up anti American hysteria in groups like Difa Pakistan.

    By refusing to open the NATO routes until the Parliamentarian demands are met ( which demands are in effect the demands of the army) Zardari has played a master stroke and the ball is back in the army’s court.

    At this time the army has neither the coalition funds, nor military aid, nor the money from the NATO routes, nor an apology, nor adulation from the public. What the army does have is its unsavoury strategic assets and right wing parties, over whom it is fast losing control!


  • Thoughtful
    May 23, 2012 - 5:51AM

    Didnt your foreign minister characterise it as very very positive? Why this negativity then.


  • Adeel759
    May 23, 2012 - 6:36AM

    It is absolutely disheartening to read the leading Pakistani Journalists, Observers, Experts and top Diplomats complaining about pakistan’s unclear stance on Afhanistan. If Pakistanis are not clear what they want from Afghanistan Upheavel then I am sure they also doing know what is in the box’ for them after Nato withdrawal. And that box could be full of Black Cobras.Recommend

  • waqas
    May 23, 2012 - 8:51AM

    I think Pakistan conveys his reservations and conditions for restoration of NATO supply routes very well and it was a successful visit indeed.


    May 23, 2012 - 10:49AM

    Impose transit fee on Drones.

    USA may well agree even if it is $10,000 per drone. Get rich formula for Pakistan.


  • Ajay
    May 23, 2012 - 11:06AM

    After NATO pullout, indeed Pakistan will find itself holding a basket of black cobras and without any friends, aid or international support in the event there is a natural disaster, a terrorist strike anywhere pointing to Pakistan, lack of development funds or IMF funding, internal squabbling and terror….no sympathy from any quarter will be coming Pakistan’s way. The Pakistan military will have no choice but to SUBMIT to US then but they will be getting much less in return. Can anyone imagine that in the event of Pakistan being engaged in a war with US or NATO forces, how many Pakistani personnel will desert army?


  • Polpot
    May 23, 2012 - 12:00PM

    “Impose transit fee on US Visitors to Pakistan”
    USA may well agree even if it is $10,000 per CIA Spy. Get rich formula for Pakistan.


  • Uza Syed
    May 23, 2012 - 2:13PM

    Enwar Baig has already explained PML-N stand on this Chicago thingy and I guess it’s time for Maulvi Fatmi Saheb to call it a day. Time spent, pretending expertise in internal politics and relations on behalf of Nawaz League, is time wasted. The retired public servant is better off reconciling himself with the fact that his paymasters played politics with him, local brand of it, and a politician has outsmarted him, period. May be Difa-e-Pakistan guys could use the product of his imagination, check them out.


  • May 23, 2012 - 4:20PM

    Let us admit that blocking of routes has not yielded the results and therefore to demand an extra ounce of flesh is not working.Pakistan should release the Nato supplies and work on a more stable relationship.

    To stop drone attacks the first thing is to integrate tribal areas fully into Pakistan as recommended by NAP. At least it convey to the World that US is targeting Pakistani territory.

    It might be difficult but you cannot make ommlette without breaking eggs.


  • Menon
    May 23, 2012 - 6:41PM

    Whom should we believe? Mrs. Khar who was at the NATO summit in Chicago saying the outcome was fanatstic or a writer who wasn’t at the summit?

    My vote is for the writer.


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