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Pakistan and NATO? Two responses

In addressing the question of how to grapple with the deteriorating relationship between Pakistan and the West, our colleague Derek Reveron took the proverbial "bull by the horns" and dispensed with the usual "incremental" recommendations in favor of this bold proposal: "To illustrate that NATO countries are committed to the long-term security and stability of Central and South Asia, NATO should invite Pakistan to join the Alliance."

My colleague Hayat Alvi and I offer our responses. (The initial responses appeared at the New Atlanticist blog of the Atlantic Council; updated and revised versions are offered here, particular Hayat's expansion of her thoughts in reaction to the latest round of attacks on NATO fuel convoys in Pakistan).

I noted: It is difficult to see how any NATO government will be enthusiastic about extending Article 5 security guarantees to a country that has territorial disputes with a nuclear-armed neighbor and which has in the past proven both unwilling and unable to prevent terror attacks launched against India (and other states) from being plotted and planned on its territory, sometimes with the support of elements within its own national security apparatus. Pakistan may be a bridge too far for an organization that cannot agree on the desirability of including Ukraine and Georgia. And Pakistan already holds the status of a major non-NATO ally in the U.S. book.

If this idea, bold as it may be in its imagination, is a non-starter for a long list of practical reasons, it should not preclude us from considering other out-of-the-box proposals. One might be to reactivate (or recreate) CENTO, the old NATO-style alliance that Pakistan did belong to during the Cold War. But even this idea is fraught with risks. Without significant progress on the Indo-Pakistani front, any formal U.S. alliance with Islamabad risks alienating the emerging rapprochement with India (a non-starter for Washington) or must otherwise guarantee Pakistan's security in all areas except a potential clash with India, making such a project worthless in Pakistan's view. And China and Russia are likely to argue that such a nascent regional security organization already exists--in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, to which both India and Pakistan sit as observers.

But perhaps a NATO-Pakistan agreement, that would spell out the two items of greatest concern to Islamabad? One guaranteeing no preemptory withdrawal, leaving Pakistan "in the lurch," the second, acknowledging a defined Pakistani "zone of privileged interests" in Afghanistan?

And even these proposals run up against a changing perception of Pakistan in America's national security establishment. The view that Islamabad is an embattled ally in the front line in the war against terror is eroding, being replaced by the belief that Pakistan is itself a major enabler of the problems faced by Washington in the region, particularly in Afghanistan. Certainly, Derek's original proposal, and my own more modest ideas, would have found a much more receptive audience in Washington circa 2005 than they would today.

My colleague Hayat Alvi offered this assessment:

"Over 50 NATO oil tankers were attacked and destroyed in Quetta and Nowshera on Wednesday Oct. 6, killing one driver. According to the Pakistani newspaper Dawn, 'The banned Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the attack. Talking to journalists by telephone, a spokesman threatened that the TTP would intensify the attacks to avenge US drone attacks.'

"Clearly, the NATO-Pakistan rift revolves around the drone strikes, or at least that is what Pakistan is using for political leverage. While drone strikes that kill civilians, and accidents that kill friendly forces, damage the NATO and U.S. image in Pakistan, even some Pakistani officials acknowledge that drone attacks succeed in killing hardened militants. Pakistani Ambassador to the U.S. Husain Haqqani confirmed that the recent rise in U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan have targeted al-Qaeda suspects plotting to attack Europe.

"While the utility of finger-pointing and criticizing NATO and the U.S. serves certain Pakistani political constituencies, in reality the military campaign against insurgents in Afghanistan and Pakistan has helped maintain stability, especially in Pakistan, at least for now. The pressing question in this scenario is: What can be done about the stalemate between Pakistan and NATO regarding the Khyber Pass supply route closure? The utility of this closure is far less obvious, although political game playing remains a potent variable. At a minimum, it has led NATO and the U.S. to "beg for forgiveness," as the Urdu language BBC news reports. No doubt, that in itself has exacted some satisfaction in Pakistan, but not enough to reopen the supply route.

"Since NATO is the kink in the relationship, why not approach Turkey - a Muslim NATO member country - to leverage the US-Pakistan relationship and calm the tensions between Pakistan and NATO? This would be a major political achievement for Turkey, and could potentially strengthen its argument for EU membership down the road.
"In a broader context, NATO's ability to increase pressure on the Taliban has to take into account two pressing questions: (1) can a purely military/kinetic strategy to pressure the Taliban be effective? And, (2) even in the event of NATO-Pakistan relations improving, why should we expect Pakistan's national interests to drastically change towards an anti-Taliban stance - especially since the Taliban directly and indirectly serve certain Pakistani interests in the region?

"For the first question, it is necessary to trace the source of Taliban empowerment in the early 1990s: It was not just military prowess, but it also included social justice - however distorted. Therefore, part of the solution involves strengthening and empowering a credible Afghan judicial system, in order to bring law and order into Afghan society with concrete results, and undermine the Taliban in the process.

"For the second question, there is no easy answer. There are religious constituencies within Pakistan, along with some ISI elements, who view the idea of supporting the Taliban as a sound one. How can these elements be divorced from influencing Pakistan's national interests and strategies? Pakistan is one of the 'founding members' of the Taliban. We fail to appreciate that fact.

"Undoubtedly this short discussion is limited, but Pakistan needs real incentives to cooperate with NATO. Humanitarian and development assistance are not re-aligning Pakistan's national interests. Perhaps Turkey can play a significant role in presenting those incentives and not be resented as a 'Western imperial power.'"

 
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