NATO Invitation a Sign of Success

DCC Meeting

The announcement that an unconditional invitation was extended to President Zardari to attend the NATO summit in Chicago next week represents an important success on the part of the nation’s military and civilian leadership and demonstrates how institutional cooperation and effective negotiating around mutual intersts can result in a ‘win-win’ for both Pakistan and the US.

In the latest rounds of negotiating, neither side got everything they wanted, but each side is getting some of their original demands, and, most importantly, it looks like a new approach to Pak-US relations is finally being put in place. Ambassador Sherry Rehman explained this in an interview with Dawn.

We want this relationship to be grounded in realistic expectations, respect for each other’s sovereignty, appreciation of each other’s legitimate security interests and understanding of each other’s redlines. Similarly, both sides need to be aware of each other’s limitations and constraints.

The Ambassador is not just speaking for herself, either. Media reports that none less than former Presidential nominee US Senator John McCain told a Washington think tank this week that good relations with Pakistan are in America’s interest, but that they must “take a totally realistic approach” and that “we can’t force the Pakistani government and people to change their ways”. He even termed the Pressler Amendment which cut ties with Pakistan in the 1990s as “one of the gravest mistakes in recent history”.

Of course, not everyone is pleased with the government’s success. Ahmed Quraishi is upset that we may lift the blockade on NATO supply routes. As usual, his complaint is baded more on emotion than reason. He never explains what we would have gained from continuing to block NATO supply routes. He seems to want to block NATO routes just for the sake of blocking them. At the same time, he completely ignores what we could have lost by being defiant instead of being smart.

I would kindly request Ahmed to consider the recent column by Ejaz Haider – a real analyst – about where Ahmed’s “strategy” would have taken us.

What are Pakistan’s choices? Near-zero. The state’s legitimacy is challenged from inside; the state’s ability to influence events in the region has dwindled to almost nothing; the state has no capacity to project its narrative; the rightwing is working against it by isolating it from the rest of the world; the left-liberals consider it a security state that needs to be reshaped in line with the narrative that comes from the outside.

And now, the commitment trap. If the US doesn’t apologise, GLOC won’t be opened. The US won’t. Pakistan won’t get invited to the Chicago summit. Neither side wants it to get worse. Both are committed to their courses of action. The US has more choices. It can now go solo in Afghanistan and also coerce Pakistan. Pakistan’s strategic assets, geography etcetera, are now its liabilities.

Even The News – no supporter of the government itself – agrees that the government has played its hand deftly and developments have unfolded in Pakistan’s best interests.

The closure of the Nato route across our land has been the catalyst for a range of changes. One which will require careful handling is the closer engagement with parliament in the determination of the direction of foreign policy; with specific reference to the USA but, in broader terms, perhaps reading across to all foreign policy making. It is not that the military is any less engaged in foreign policy making, but that the civilian government is more engaged than hitherto; a shift of emphasis rather than power. Then there is the issue of revenue. There has been talk, but no detail beyond some very optimistic figures, of putting in place a per-container levy which would be a welcome income stream for a hard-pressed exchequer. Many thousands of trucks will pass through every month, and if Nato pays a premium for the privilege then so much the better. Any ‘deal’ without such a component would be a poor deal indeed. There is also the issue of back payments to the Coalition Support Fund (CSF). The US has always been dilatory in paying its dues to the CSF, and ceased altogether when the convoys were halted. We need the money if the coming budget is to be anywhere close to balanced and regular CSF payments must also be a part of any agreement.

Politically the reopening without the imprimatur of parliament is somewhat fraught. The opposition parties have all voiced varying degrees of anger at the possibility of a resumption of supplies, but at the end of the day the government probably had little choice but to reopen the roads. There will be some opposition of that there is little doubt, but once the point has been made pragmatism (and vested interests) will in all likelihood prevail. Internationally the Chicago conference and our place at the table is timely indeed. Thus far we have been either sidelined or simply ignored by the Americans working on the post-conflict scenarios in Afghanistan — but it is crucial that we are closely engaged.

After months of hard fought negotiating based on an insistence that taught the Americans that Pakistan was not going to roll over on our own interests, we are beginning to see signs of success. The US knows that it cannot abandon Pakistan to its fate, and it seems that the Americans recognise their past mistakes and do not intend to repeat them. We, too, know that we cannot take a path that isolates us from the rest of the world, and that we must make sure we are present at international forums where issues that affect our interests will be decided.

Those who make their living by promoting isolationism and other failed policies of the past will squawk about the possibility of re-opening NATO supply routes, but these complaints are based on hypernationalist emotions and not a rational plan for what is in the best interest of Pakistan.

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