Impractical objectives of Chicago Conference
By Sajjad Shaukat
In recently held two-day summit in Chicago on May 21, this year, NATO leaders agreed to hand over Afghan security to the Afghan forces by mid-2013, and vowed to withdraw troops by 2014.
The declaration of the Chicago conference said, “The countries in the region, particularly Pakistan, have important roles in ensuring enduring peace, stability and security in Afghanistan and in facilitating the completion of the transition process.”
While focusing on training, advising and assisting Afghan troops, NATO leaders backed a permanent US-led military presence in Afghanistan after 2014. In this respect, question arises that if well-trained NATO forces, equipped with sophisticated weaponry failed in coping with the Afghan Taliban in the last ten years as to how US small contingency and newly-trained Afghan forces will succeed in fighting them.
Notably, America is playing a double game with other Western countries and NATO allies. However, American military presence in Afghanistan, a country of geo-strategical importance, will further deepen the intractable issues of the country. Both China and Russia know that the US intends to control oil and energy resources of Central Asia. Iran fears that US bases in Afghanistan will enhance its ability to gather intelligence on Iran which could give the US and Israel a major strategic advantage, if they attack Tehran in relation to its nuclear programme, though immediate invasion has stopped temporarily.
By keeping its military presence, America wants to protect Karzai regime and Indian influence in Afghanistan. It has already been supporting cross-border infiltration in Pakistan with the assistance of American CIA, Indian, RAW and Israeli Mossad so as to ‘destabilise’ and ‘denuclearise’ Pakistan. For this purpose, highly trained militants, equipped with sophisticated weapons are being sent to Pakistan from Afghanistan, who are regularly conducting suicide attacks, targeted killings, ethnic and sectarian violence in various cities of Pakistan, and Balochistan by assisting Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) including another separatist group, Jundollah (God’s soldiers) which have kidnapped and murdered a number of Chinese and Iranian nationals in the country. Jundollah is also involved in subversive acts in the Iranian Sistan-Baluchistan. It is due to secret strategic designs that the US which signed a nuclear deal with India in 2008, intends to control Balochistan, contain China and subdue Iran.
Despite US military presence, after the NATO forces quit Afghanistan, the Karzai regime will fall like a house of cards due to stiff resistance of Afghan Taliban. Even India which has already invested billion of dollars in Afghanistan, and signed a strategic partnership agreement with that country to further fortify its grip there to get strategic depth against Islamabad, will not be in a position to maintain its network in wake of the successful guerrilla warfare of the Taliban.
In the recent months, severe attacks by the Afghan militants on NATO convoys, military bases and other installations indicate that the Taliban are now a battle-hardened guerrilla group, whom many believe have little incentive to accept American conditions. They have also suspended the Qatar-based talks with the US, saying that all the NATO troops must leave Afghanistan.
Nevertheless in the declaration, the alliance expressed appreciation to Russia and Central Asian governments for allowing supply convoys through their territory and said “NATO continues to work with Pakistan to reopen the lines of communication as soon as possible.” Even in his opening remarks at the Chicago summit, US President Obama expressed similar thoughts, but did not mention Pakistan.
On May 21, US President Barack Obama also met Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari on the sidelines of NATO summit, amid widespread reports that the US deliberately pressurised Pakistani president to meet US-NATO demands for reopening the supply route. But President Zardari told Obama that drone attacks must be stopped, while pointing out Pakistan’s demand for US apology over the November 26, 2011 unprovoked Salala check post incident which killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
Even in his speech at the Chicago conference, while expressing similar thoughts, President Zardari emphasised that the Defense Committee of the Cabinet directed the relevant officials to conclude negotiations for resumption of the NATO ground supply. President Zardari also raised the issues of non-payment of Coalition Support Fund. While mentioning the sacrifices of Pakistan, its security forces and civilians including collateral damage, he indicated that the country’s economy was paying the price for war on terror.
It is notable that some US officials, Pakistan’s political analysts and media of both the countries had predicted that an agreement would be reached during the NATO meeting, but the negotiations became deadlocked over Islamabad’s demands (as already mentioned) which also include to charge ‘steep fees’ for NATO trucks heading to Afghanistan. US officials rejected Pakistan’s proposal to charge thousands of dollars per truck and have also refused so far to issue an explicit apology for the death of the Pakistani soldiers in the November air strikes.
Meanwhile, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters that negotiations were going on with Pakistani leadership for reopening of NATO supply routes, and he expected Pakistan to reopen the border crossing to allied convoys, despite failing to reach a deal at summit in Chicago.
These are delicate hours in Pak-US ties as Pakistan’s diplomats are negotiating a complex issue of resumption of NATO supply routes in wake of the heightening political noise inside the country on one hand and badly needed financial support on the other hand. Besides US pressure is growing on Islamabad for restoration of these transport routes. In this connection, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Rabbani Khar admitted on May 22 that the government was facing pressure for resumption of the NATO supply.
Despite the duress of the US-led NATO countries, both the civil and military leaders of Pakistan have already refused American demands, saying that the issue of NATO supply lines would be decided in light of recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee on National Security and the Defence Committee of the Cabinet after negotiating new relationship with the US as approved by the parliament.
On the one side US-led NATO seeks to adopt Pakistani routes for withdrawal of their troops and vehicles, while on the other, they are using pressure tactics on Islamabad. Similarly, especially US high officials and NATO leaders recognise that they cannot obtain stability in Afghanistan without the help of Pakistan. But at the same time, US is making the ongoing talks with Islamabad more complicated through its coercive diplomacy. And CIA, RAW and Mossad have been weakening Pakistan through subversive acts.
Other NATO countries should realise that unlike India, Pakistan shares common geographical, historical, religious and cultural bonds with Afghanistan. There is a co-relationship of stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which is essential for their global and regional interests. Particularly, participants of the Chicago meeting must not only incline towards Afghanistan in relation to peace, stability and aid, but also pay equal attention to Islamabad.
As regards Afghanistan, some political experts opine that the Afghan Taliban are irreconcilable because “stocked hatred, opening old wounds and deepening ethnic tensions in an already volatile country where fear of civil war is growing after the withdrawal of foreign forces. So, after the withdrawal of occupying forces, US covert strategy will throw Afghanistan in an era of further uncertainty and chaos.
In these adverse circumstances, when America is increasingly tilting towards defence challenges in Asia, while NATO’s other states, preoccupied by economic problems, have little appetite for foreign adventures. It will be much difficult for other NATO members to support funding of US permanent military presence in Afghanistan in the post-2014 scenario. Here question also arises whether the US which accounts for three-quarters of NATO defence spending, will remain committed to the organisation, despite its frustrations at European allies’ reluctance to contribute more, while US cost of war against terrorism which is more than 7 trillion is rapidly growing, causing other related problems inside America in wake of debt crisis.
Nonetheless, US secret interests will thwart the goals of the other NATO countries, making the same unattainable as mentioned in the declaration of the Chicago summit.
Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations