Chicago NATO Summit: Kissing The Mafia Don’s Hand
May 25, 2012
At the Chicago Summit
By M A Niazi
The Nato Summit ended in Chicago without its goals being achieved, but with Pakistan in particular left with a gnawing sense that it was not worth the restoration of Nato supplies solely so that President Asif Zardari could be invited to the summit, where he was unable to cut a dash because, as he was reminded constantly, the Nato supplies had not begun to move.
It almost appeared as if the summit was an occasion for the US president, much like a mafia don, to receive allies and let them kiss his hand. President Barack Obama may not belong to an ethnicity that has the mafia in the background, but since he belongs to Chicago, which has a Mafioso tradition personified in Al Capone, and since the summit was held there, the element was strong, particularly as he is up for re-election at the end of the current year. However, the summit did not deliver enough, except for symbolism that had not only Nato members, but also such non-members as were counted as US allies, present.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai was there, having signed a Status of Forces Agreement with the USA that would allow its troops to remain in the country beyond the withdrawal date already set, and reconfirmed by the Senate, of 2014. The US administration wants, probably because it is an election year, to withdraw by 2014. But it also wants to stay beyond then, which it has now got an agreement from the Afghan side to let it do. It wanted to use this as an example to the other Nato members of how they too can continue past the withdrawal date. However, the Nato countries have their individual elections and such important members as France are headed by presidents who have fought their election on a withdrawal platform.
The USA was also not successful in getting as many contributions from the members towards the upkeep of the Afghan army and police as would make it feel secure about its future. It is no longer able to pick up the bill singlehanded, but if the Obama administration is facing budgetary woes because of a financial crisis that same crisis is also putting pressure on other Nato governments, some of which find it difficult to stay afloat, let alone splurge on spending to further American goals. The USA is once again trying to have someone else pay the cost of peace, just as it tried to fight the war with someone else’s money.
The problem is that the USA set itself too many tasks in Afghanistan that were impossible, and the summit should have made it realise that this was so. First, the USA wants the country settled in a way that the best interests of its corporations, especially oil companies, are protected. That implies that if the Taliban are to make a comeback, they have to be part of an arrangement in which American paramountcy remains, as now, unquestioned. Towards this end, the army and police remain important tools. Thus, they are to be dominated by Hazaras, and while Pashtuns are not allowed to exert their majority anywhere, they are particularly stopped here. This is another area where American arrogance is on show. The USA does not want anyone to have a majority in Afghanistan, so it denies that the Pashtuns do. Therefore, any solution it constructs on this assumption is bound to be neither lasting nor stable.
This brings up another impossible goal that the USA set itself: finding an Afghan solution excluding Pakistan. This involved it in even more trouble, for it could have easily precluded the factor that is bound to create trouble for it: India. The USA, in its desire to pander to India’s posturing, gave it a role in a country where it had had none. India’s anxiety to please the USA, and to expand its footprint in the region, may be rooted in its desire to prove that it could be the regional counterweight against China the USA wants, but it was unwise. Wise or unwise, the US was left carrying the bag.
That all made Pakistan loom large at the conference, and the question of whether it would allow Nato supplies to pass through its territory also loomed large, not so much because the members were finding the Northern Distribution Network (NDN) expensive, as because Pakistan’s swallowing of the Salala massacre would show how completely it was in the American pocket. The US Defence Secretary, Leon Panetta, just before the summit, converted the whole debate into one about price, giving the impression that lasted the whole summit, that Pakistan was haggling about the new price the USA was supposed to pay per truckload.
One of the things this helped conceal was the American need to have Pakistan on board if it wanted to impose its solution. Its presence at the summit was thus evidence for other Nato members that the USA did have a solution for Afghanistan, and that it was in control of the situation there.
Pakistan, on the other hand, thought that the supplies issue was important. Though it is indeed important, it should not be allowed merely to use it, or its cause, the Salala massacre, merely as a bargaining chip. Its weakness lay in the very point on which the US pressure was brought to bear: the belief by its ruling elite that the USA can determine who rules Pakistan. Because of this, it has determined that it must obey American wishes, and there has been a litany of excuses explaining why the USA should have its wishes obeyed.
However, Washington should realise that unless it achieves closure over Salala, the relationship cannot move forward. Apart from anything else, an apology is necessary. The alternative is an outburst of outrage within a people already made edgy by seemingly never-ending violence, and in the throes of summer heat worsened by electricity shortages. The government simply cannot afford the risk inherent in any popular protest.
Before it is overtaken by events, the Pakistani government should be doing what governments do best: lead. It should be satisfied with having attended the Chicago Summit, and should now turn to making the USA realise that it cannot avoid an apology over Salala, where, after all, its helicopters shot up Pakistani troops so badly that it killed 24 of them, not the other way around.
More so, it should make the USA understand that its not apologising also worked to its benefit in the summit, by showing its other satrapies how firm the USA was, but it was over, and there was more than enough time before the November election for Obama to live down even the most abject apology.
The Chicago Summit made Nato resemble nothing so much as the Delian League, which Athens used to fight against Sparta 2400 years ago, and which consisted of those Greek city-states that were opposed to Sparta (which had its own Peloponnesian League), or allied to Athens. The Nato was originally supposed to fight the USSR (which had the Warsaw Pact), but after the end of the cold war, it needed a new role. It has apparently found that there was no reason for Pakistan to show up here, and certainly not at the price it paid. It should be trying to abandon the US alliance, not maintain it!
The writer is a veteran journalist and founding member as well as Executive Editor of The Nation.