NATO In South Asia: Shadow Of Subservience
May 24, 2012
Shadow of subservience
By Taj M Khattak
The writer is a retired vice admiral
Anyone who has seen the US battle management systems working in an operational area or even under simulated conditions will laugh at the suggestion that Salala was an accident. It was a pre-mediated, unprovoked and well-planned murder of our soldiers, spread over two hours where each one of them was picked out and targeted.
In a spirited show outside the venue, the anti-war crowd dubbed Nato as the militarised extension of the global 1% after it signed a multibillion-dollar drone contract with Northrop Grumman; a phrase resonating with slogans of the Occupy Wall Street movement where they chanted “We are the 99%!” A group of Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans came in to return their medals, a gesture signifying how deeply disenchanted Americans are with the war…
A two-day Nato summit kicked off in Chicago on the future of Afghanistan on 20 May, a day when a solar eclipse turned the sun into a ring of fire from Asia to the west coast of the US. In addition, it was the 210th anniversary of the day when Napoleon reinstituted slavery in some French colonies through the “Law of May 20.” Obama is expected to know a thing or two about slavery, but he looked unperturbed as the long shadow of subservience began to be cast on the proud people of Afghanistan for yet another decade.
It was the 25th Nato summit, the largest-ever, with participation from 61 countries, and the first hosted by the US since 1999. It was intended to discuss the minutiae of the strategy agreed upon in Lisbon in 2010 which called for: a) renewed commitment to fight in Afghanistan; b) a robust agreement on missile defence; and c) more integral cooperation in such emerging threats as cyber security. The next conference is planned in Tokyo to firm up financial commitments for the $4.1 billions annual tab of Nato’s presence in Afghanistan till 2024 and Afghan development projects.
The two issues which dominated the talks were the reopening of Nato’s supply route through Pakistan, and France’s new president’s upholding his election pledge of withdrawal from Afghanistan by the end of 2012, thus reneging on his predecessor’s commitment on a later timeline. Though the summit has downplayed the effect of a French withdrawal before the Isaf even starts going into a support role, the repercussions can be serious if this trend becomes a voice in other member and partner countries.
On Nato’s supply routes through Pakistan, the Americans were visibly irritated at not being successful in arm-twisting Pakistan after months of engagement when Colin Powell could do this, and much more, with just one long-distance call. For us Pakistanis, it was a sad realisation of how badly we were treated in the past by our selfish rulers and the Americans who profess to be our allies.
Everyone followed the host in Chicago in making Pakistan appear more like a spoiler for blocking supply route than a victim of repeated excesses by a professed ally, and this was distasteful. Anyone who has seen the US battle management systems working in an operational area or even under simulated conditions will laugh at the suggestion that Salala was an accident. It was a pre-mediated, unprovoked and well-planned murder of our soldiers, spread over two hours where each one of them was picked out and targeted. But if Secretary Clinton was on her way to offer an apology and it was Pakistan that wasn’t ready, then we might detach ourselves from domestic politics, show some grace and consider the apology a closed chapter. It is time to move on in life post-Salala after drawing the appropriate lessons.
In a spirited show outside the venue, the anti-war crowd dubbed Nato as the militarised extension of the global 1% after it signed a multibillion-dollar drone contract with Northrop Grumman; a phrase resonating with slogans of the Occupy Wall Street movement where they chanted “We are the 99%!” A group of Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans came in to return their medals, a gesture signifying how deeply disenchanted Americans are with the war – just as Obama had posthumously announced a Purple Heart for 30-year-old Lt Thompson who died in Afghanistan a few days ago.
Russia declined an invitation to attend, as its relations with Nato are bedevilled by US plans to deploy anti-missile missiles in Romania and Poland. Russia fears the system can be used against its intercontinental ballistic missiles aimed at the US, while Nato maintains, rather unconvincingly, that deployment is against an Iranian threat. Meanwhile, the US is planning to upgrade its estimated 180 tactical nuclear weapons in Belgium, Netherlands, Italy, Germany and Turkey with precision-guided missiles at a cost of $4 billions, a move critics have described as nuclear escalation by default.
Nato’s weakness as an integrated alliance was exposed during UN-backed operations in Libya: only eight out of 28 members participated in UN-backed operation, with the rest shying away for one reason or another. The continuing financial crisis in the euro zone has hit the alliance hard since the future induction of cutting-edge and expensive military hardware will become difficult. The US has its own plans to cut down defence expenditure by over $800 billions and reduce manpower over the next ten years.
The elections in France and Greece have rejected Germany’s austerity prescription as a solution to the financial crisis in Europe. The up-coming election in the Netherlands is unlikely to lead to any change in its national politics. The G-8 moot held just before Chicago summit supported Greece’s retention in the euro zone. Its exit and meltdown would have cost around $220 billion while retention means approximately $60 billion going down the drain. The hit is being taken mainly by German lending banks due to their greater exposure to risks in agreed MoUs with Greece in the bailout package; British and US banks have negligible exposure, if any. The most significant effect of these elections, however, is that they have blown the bottom out of any future initiatives for bailout packages in Europe.
US support for growth in this roaring debate in Europe at this critical juncture can push Germany towards isolation and possible leadership change, as there are already calls for Chancellor Angela Merkel to call it a day. If the chaos spreads to Spain, as it seems likely to, it can push Britain to seriously consider the ultimate “Yes” or “No” referendum. Accumulatively, it all adds up to Nato’s sapping of political, financial and military stamina for any Iraq-style “reintervention,” should the Taliban appear to recapture political power in Kabul. If Nato had any contingency plans for such an eventuality, they were not discussed in Chicago, at least not in public.
President Zardari rightly stated at the summit that there can be no military solution to the war in Afghanistan. Sadly, he was the only leader voicing this wisdom and it was a measure of the Nato leaders’ arrogance that no one else took up this theme. Zardari knows that Pakistan can’t take another wave of millions of refugees. Elimination of all sources of conflict for prolonged ethnic fratricide in Afghanistan is therefore not only in Afghanistan’s interest but also that of its neighbours. The Chicago summit would have brightened up prospects of peace in Afghanistan if there had been tangible progress in this direction or the Taliban had their address in Qatar for constructive engagement as was agreed previously in principle.
The US should know that there can be no stability, progress or peace in any country where over 40 percent of its population is sidelined and considered an enemy, and Afghanistan is no exception. The problem gets complicated as Pakhtuns in the past have been in power in Afghanistan for nearly as long as America has been independent. Admittedly, successive Pakhtuns rulers have been far from fair to the minorities, but it will serve no purpose if that situation is reversed perpetually for the sake of reversal. A Tajik-dominated army, a motley cabinet of non-Pakhtuns with a figurehead Pakhtun president whose time is up is hardly a solution model for long-term peace in Afghanistan.
Pakistan is genuinely worried at the stunning gap between conclusions drawn for the future of Afghanistan by an arrogant Nato through its set-piece operational methodologies and its medieval adversaries warped in another era in the inhospitable Afghanistan terrain. The continuing uncertainty in Afghanistan and an extended and undesirable Nato presence there only intensifies that worry.