NATO Supply Route Through Pakistan Remains Closed

Despite rumors ahead of last month’s NATO summit in Chicago that an agreement between Pakistan and the United States to reopen the supply route into Afghanistan was imminent, both sides are still very far apart on a deal.

On Monday, the American negotiating team withdrew from Pakistan. Officials insist that the talks have not collapsed but have come to the point where politics takes over. The team, made up of technical specialists, has been in Pakistan for 45 days.

A Pentagon spokesman, Commander William H. Speaks, said that the technical consultations have largely been completed, and the United States remain ready to send officials back to Islamabad when the Pakistanis are ready to conclude an agreement. The State Department’s Victoria Nuland made similar comments, that the United States have decided to “take a break” but are prepared to send the team of negotiators back to Pakistan.

A number of issues have stalled the reopening of NATO supply routes. Technical aspects, such as price, military aid and infrastructure improvements have been sticking points but it is the issue of an apology has stalled final agreement. Read more “NATO Supply Route Through Pakistan Remains Closed”

Panetta “Reaching the Limits of Patience” With Pakistan

American defense secretary Leon Panetta said on Thursday, “we are reaching the limits of our patience” with Pakistan as the country fails to root out the sanctuaries for Afghan insurgents that exist on its side of the border.

On a visit to Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, Panetta urged Pakistan to “take steps” to dismantle the insurgent camps. “It is difficult to achieve peace in Afghanistan as long as there is safe haven for terrorists in Pakistan,” he told reporters.

The United States have long pushed Pakistan to expand its war effort against Islamic radicals within its borders but Islamabad insists that it has to first consolidate gains in South Waziristan and Swat before opening another front against the insurgents in the western frontier area. Read more “Panetta “Reaching the Limits of Patience” With Pakistan”

Panetta Wants Greater Role for India in Afghanistan

Defense secretary Leon Panetta urged India to take a more active role in Afghanistan as international forces there draw down after more than a decade of war, American officials told the Reuters news agency on Tuesday when the Pentagon chief was due to arrive in New Delhi for two days of talks.

The Americans recognize that the longstanding rivalry between India and Pakistan will be an obstacle to peace in Afghanistan once their soldiers have pulled out in 2014 but, “This is not predestined,” said one official. “This does not have to be the case.”

Well. It may not be predestined but to suppose that India and Pakistan will suddenly work together for the first time in their independent histories because the United States would like them to is overly optimistic at best. Read more “Panetta Wants Greater Role for India in Afghanistan”

Erdoğan Woos Pakistanis and Teaches Them a Lesson

In Pakistan last week, Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan praised the strong relations between the two Muslim countries and vowed to stand by Pakistan’s side. “We understand your pain and will continue to stand by you in the days ahead,” he said.

Mere months after Pakistan’s government seemed on the brink of collapse and there was even talk of another military coup, the Turkish leader expressed confidence in the country’s ability to address the challenges that it faces.

Erdoğan added, “A strong democratic Pakistan has much to do with regional peace, prosperity and stability.”

Turkey notably backed Pakistan’s demand that the United States apologize for the death of civilians who perished in a drone strike in November before reopening NATO supply routes in Afghanistan, even if Turkey is a NATO member.

Military relations between the two countries have historically been strong. Turkey’s is more secular than Pakistan’s army but under Erdoğan premiership, the country has moved into a more Islamist direction. At the same time, he has reined in the generals who, like their Pakistani counterparts, like of think of themselves as the guardians of the secular tradition. Pakistan’s civilian leaders can only dream of such authority. The army and intelligence services, considered a “state within a state,” are enormously powerful in Pakistan.

Pakistan has had its fair share of military coups since independence. The army ran the country three times after 1947. Pervez Musharraf led the last military government between 1999 and 2007. His successor as army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, has promised to keep the armed forces out of politics but enjoys tremendous influence as the nation has been on a war footing since the Americans invaded Afghanistan more than ten years ago, rekindling a conflict with Islamist insurgents that has wrecked Pakistan.

The country is home to different ethnic groups that had never formed a nation before 1947 — and, in a sense, still haven’t. The majority Punjabi army is reluctant to expand operations in the western tribal region where the people are of Pasthun descent and insurgents battling NATO forces in Afghanistan are known to shelter. The army’s offenses in the region are estimated to have displaced up to half a million people. Terror has spilled into Pakistan proper with assassinations and bombings taking place in major cities including Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore.

Another outright military takeover is unlikely as it would associate the generals with the unpopular American raids and overall sense of decline, the blame for which is currently put on the civilian government.

Still, the present situation, where the civilian government lacks the authority to set foreign and security policy independent of the army, is far from satisfying for either party. Erdoğan’s moderate Islamism could be a model for Pakistan’s leaders to simultaneously keep the generals at bay and appease the masses but as with all things in Pakistan, it hinges more on the army’s willingness to let it happen than the civilian leadership’s ability to copy it.

Turkmenistan Finally Puts the “T” in TAPI

On Wednesday Turkmenistan finally signed agreements with India and Pakistan’s state energy companies to clear the way for the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline.

TAPI was conceptualized in the 1990s and has been beset with a multitude of problems since. Wednesday’s announcement removes a major obstacle for the TAPI project but many more remain.

The pipeline would begin in Turkmenistan’s vast gasfields. Initial TAPI plans called for the source to be the Dauletabad field in southern Turkmenistan. More recent plans indicate that a portion of TAPI would come from the yet to be developed South Yolotan field near the Afghan border. Read more “Turkmenistan Finally Puts the “T” in TAPI”

Nuclear Weapons Still Shape India-Pakistan Relations

Fourteen years ago this May, India and Pakistan overtly conducted nuclear tests and declared themselves nuclear powers.

India conducted its first test in 1974 and termed it a “peaceful nuclear explosion” while by the late 1980s, Pakistan had acquired the technological capacity to produce a bomb as well. Although many opposed and still oppose the tests due to various reasons and on many grounds, at least the two countries let the world and each other know that they had the bomb.

Nuclear weapons played the role of deterrent and helped in the deescalation of tensions which could otherwise have resulted in war.

For the first time in a war against Pakistan, in 1999 at Kargil, the Indian army did not cross the Line of Control. Even after the attack on the Indian parliament in 2002 and the Mumbai massacre that was carried out by militants based in Pakistan, war was averted. The regular exchange of fire along the Indo-Pakistani border has not resulted in an escalation of hostilities.

As it is, India and Pakistan are nuclear powers and this cannot be reversed or changed despite anti-nuclear protests and a global push for denuclearization. Hence, it’s better to adapt to the situation.

The two countries have taken many measures to prevent accidental use of their atomic weapons. Chief among them is that India and Pakistan since 1988 are regularly exchanging information about their weapons. They also inform the other side before carrying out military exercises near the border areas or testing their missiles.

The real challenge is to prevent nuclear weapons from falling into the hands of terrorists. Whereas states behave in a rational and responsible way, this cannot be expected from nonstate actors.

The weapons in both countries are kept in disassembled form and physically apart. They have each set up commanding hierarchies to take decisions about its assemblage and use. Any effort to steal or capture even a single part cannot go unnoticed by the security agencies nor the political leadership. To take possession of a nuclear weapon, a terrorist group would help from the inside, as Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, had.

The presence of Taliban and other Islamic extremists in Pakistan complicates the challenge of securing the nation’s nuclear weapons. To check this, the credentials of defense staff and scientists responsible for providing security and maintenance of nuclear technologies must be properly scanned.

The bomb has acted as deterrence but that does not mean it will always be that way. High escalation of bilateral tension may become a reason to trigger nuclear war. Hence, as responsible nuclear powers, India and Pakistan must continue to build confidence between them, if only to avert the accidental use of a nuclear weapon.

No Good Ways Out of Afghanistan

Western forces looking to exit Afghanistan over the next two years are playing a game of roulette, looking for the luckiest and cheapest way out of the warzone. Central Asian countries are scrambling to be the most attractive bet. Difficult and still closed, the road through Pakistan remains the preferred route.

Afghanistan’s neighbors stand to make huge profits as NATO countries move to withdraw their troops and equipment. Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan will remain under American control until the war is over but the base cannot handle all of the equipment which NATO forces must remove from the region. Land routes are numerous but difficult for a variety of reasons and Central Asia is poised to cash in on the scramble to depart.

Additionally, Central Asian states are more submissive to Russia than America. Russia and the United States have recently begun to negotiate a “retrograde transit” agreement to use the Northern Distribution Network but the Kremlin may well seek to exploit the deal in order to achieve its aims elsewhere.

There are numerous options for getting into and alternatively out of Afghanistan but none are perfect bets.

The Pakistan route is the easiest and the cheapest but unreliable. In late November 2011, Pakistan closed the border to NATO traffic in protest after an American airstrike killed nearly thirty Pakistani soldiers by accident. The border is still closed and Pakistan obstinate about reopening it without an American apology.

The Northern Distribution Network was developed by the Americans as an alternative to the Pakistan route but there are signs that its gatekeeper Uzbekistan will seek to raise transit fees. While Uzbekistan has by far the best road and railroad network among Afghanistan’s neighbors, its price gouging will prompt NATO powers to seek additional alternate routes.

The trouble is that difficult and pernicious as Pakistan and Uzbekistan can be, alternative land routes through Tajikistan and Turkmenistan are even more troublesome. Bad roads and bad winters are only where the problems begin.

There is discussion of selling some equipment to the Central Asian republics and thus removing the need to transport such equipment out of the region on NATO’s dime. In February, British armed forces minister Nick Harvey suggested trading military equipment for favorable transit fees. He alluded to the unspecified equipment as being potentially useful in Central Asia’s battle with narcotics and terrorism.

The United States have been more circumspect about leaving military equipment in the hands of Central Asian autocrats. Robert Blake, the American assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs said that arms transfers to countries along the Northern Distribution Network would be subject to the same restrictions that apply to regular arms transfers. Thus far, the Americans have been unwilling to sell any weapons to Uzbekistan, which has a less than pristine human rights record.

The bottom line is that Pakistan holds the lucky numbers. The average shipping cost of a container, as reported by Radio Free Europe, from Afghanistan to Karachi is $7,200. By northern routes shipping the same container would cost $17,500. When Pakistan decides to reopen the road to NATO convoys, it is likely to be at a higher price but still able to undercut the Central Asian route.

Money, power and politics all play a part in this game of supply route roulette. Money is on Pakistan and it is doubtful that by 2014 NATO powers will be interested in taking the longer, more expensive road through authoritarian Central Asia and into Russia’s arms. Islamabad will eventually reopen the border and happily usher the West out of its backyard.

Singh, Zardari Discuss Kashmir, Terrorist Dispute

“In 1947, India and Pakistan were born to conflict.” This is the first line on the flap and gist of Stanley Wolpert’s most recent book, India-Pakistan: Continued Conflict or Cooperation (2010). His assessment is correct because these two countries have a jeremiad of problems.

They have failed to resolve even a single contentious issue between them since independence. It’s not that they haven’t tried to sort out their problems but their structured diplomacy has failed to achieve any breakthroughs.

To improve the relationship, there needs to be a significant change in attitude. There appears to be the will on the part of both civilian governments to see this change through.

Whereas diplomacy used to be conducted behind closed doors, there is an effort today to engage the peoples of both nations. This form of engagement is visible at the highest levels of policy making where the leaders of India and Pakistan have met on the sidelines of multilateral summits and cricket matches.

Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari’s visit to India this weekend was of such an informal nature but he did have lunch with India’s prime minister, Manmohan Singh. Last month, Singh met with Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani during the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, South Korea.

During their luncheon, Singh offered technical assistance to retrieve the remains of the Pakistani soldiers who, on the morning of Zardari’s visit to India, perished in an avalanche on the Siachen Glacier, east of the Line of Control in Kashmir.

India and Pakistan have held many talks about the demilitarization of Siachen but nothing has yet come of this dialogue.

Singh also raised the issue of Hafiz Muhammad Saeed whom India considers to be the brain behind the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. He earlier declared a “water jihad” against India and has terrorized his own people for seeking rapprochement with their neighboring state.

India and the United States have both asked for Hafiz Saeed’s extradition. Many in Pakistan consider this an affront to their sovereignty. The issue is not whether or not he should be handed over to another country however; the concern is the militant system which he runs.

No progress was made on either of these issues on Sunday but at least the leaders talked. Such a continued dialogue is needed to contain minor incidents and keep the border calm.

American Lawmaker Ventures Into Balochistan Quagmire

American lawmakers last month expressed their concern over the situation in the Pakistani province of Balochistan. California congressman Dana Rohrabacher specifically called upon the Islamabad government to recognize the Balochi’s right of self-determination and condemned Pakistan’s use of “brute force” in suppressing Baloch nationalism.

This is not the official position of the United States and Rohrabacher’s statements were quickly criticized by the Pakistani government.

The Balochi welcomed the attention. They have battled for autonomy since Pakistan was founded in 1947. Five wars were waged with the Pakistani army and separatist leaders never miss a chance to express their grievances against the federal government.

The Baloch question is not unique. Many former colonial states struggle with separatist threats as they were often carved out of territories that did not at all reflect ethnic and religious boundaries. An imagined nationality was forced upon the people of these states and the responsibility of nation building fell on the shoulders of the “constructed” majority which took little interest in minorities.

In the case of Pakistan, the secession of East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, in 1971 was early proof that a multiethnic state, divided geographically no less, is fragile at best.

With regard to Balochistan, the federal government must take serious steps it wants to address the root of the problem. The present administration has expanded provincial autonomy and boosted financing of Balochistan but these measures have failed to address the more fundamental grievances of the Balochis against their ruling elite.

It would require a psychological massage to eradicate old and persisting anti-government sentiments from the hearts and minds of the Balochi people. In particular, the government should take seriously abuses of power and injustices that are committed in the region. The Balochi’s concerns are not always properly addressed.

In another area, policy should be reversed. Flooding Balochistan with migrants from other parts of Pakistan will not make the problem go away. The people there should be able to maintain their uniqueness and enjoy a sense of cultural independence. Balochi nationalism will only grow stronger if there is a concentrated effort to repress it.

The presence of armed forces in the streets of Balochistan also does little to quell separatist sentiments. It is the responsibility of the federal government to provide security but not to intimidate.

Balochi separatist leaders must also be more accomodative if there is to be a peaceful resolution to the unrest. Instead of advocating independence and accepting nothing less, they could demand autonomy and a fairer distribution of revenue. Six decades of fighting has given them nothing but hardship.

Whatever sympathy may exist for Balochi’s right of self-determination abroad, it is unlikely to be translated into pressure on the Pakistani government. The United States will not want to strain relations with Islamabad further over an issue in which they have very little at stake.

The diplomatic row over Rohrabacher’s provocation notwithstanding, the Balochi issue can only be resolved if government and separatist leaders sit together. The people’s hues and cries need soothing balm, not bullets.

Beneath the Radar, Russia-Pakistan Entente Takes Shape

Pakistan and Russia have begun cooperating on energy and military matters.

Pakistani prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani called Vladimir Putin to congratulate him after his electoral victory and invited him to visit Islamabad later this year, which Putin agreed to. It would be the first visit to Pakistan, a Cold War rival, by a Russian leader.

This comes on the heel of a growing rift between Pakistan and its longtime patron, the United States, which has seen it diversify its allies in the region, most notably China as of late. In the last year, there have been growing contacts (high level visits) between the two nuclear powers, concentrating on regional security and economic investment.

Most notably is Pakistan’s purchase of fifty JF-17 Thunder fighter planes from China, which use a Russian engine (thus requiring Russia’s approval), the proposed construction of the Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline that will bring natural gas from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to the subcontinent and a state of the art coal and natural gas complex in the Sindh.

In response to growing American ties with India (Russia has maintained its close ties with India as well), including joint military exercises in the Rajasthan desert, there is a ongoing discussion between the military brass of both powers to begin greater military cooperation. Pakistan, desperate for energy, has also begun negotiations with Iran over a proposed natural gas pipeline, which would bring sanctions against it from the United States. Read more “Beneath the Radar, Russia-Pakistan Entente Takes Shape”