Tuesday, July 07, 2009

NATO gets its supply route from Russia: What it means for Pakistan?

Editorial: NATO gets its supply route from Russia
Daily Times, July 8, 2009

The summit between Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitri Medvedev at the Kremlin on Monday has produced an agreement that will let the NATO-US forces fly their troops and weapons across Russian territory. The agreement allows 4,500 US military flights annually over Russia “at no extra charge”. A White House announcement stated: “This agreement will enable the United States to further diversify the crucial transportation routes used to move troops and critical equipment to re-supply international forces in Afghanistan”.

The joint statement issued after the summit had the following comment bearing on the situation in Afghanistan: “The two countries will work together to help stabilise Afghanistan, including increasing assistance to the Afghan army and police, and training counter-narcotics personnel. They will work together with the international community for the upcoming Afghan elections and they will help Afghanistan and Pakistan work together against the common threats of terrorism, extremism and drug trafficking.” President Obama’s own comment after the summit made it clear that the two countries had resolved “to reset US-Russian relations so that we can cooperate more effectively in areas of common interest”.

The highlight of the summit, of course, was the supply route for NATO which Russia had opposed in the recent past. The next highlight of the summit, not spelled out but certainly a subject of mutual understanding, was NATO policy towards Russia, especially its US-led move to include under its umbrella those states that Russia considers within the orbit of its own influence. The Americans may therefore have agreed to soft-pedal on the Ukraine front, and policy rollback in Georgia, also a former member republic of the USSR, which Russia had attacked last August to target the military installations the Georgians had built according to NATO standards.

The transit route issue has clearly forced the Obama administration to step back from the Russia policy of the Bush administration, signalled by the Monday summit’s new agreements on nuclear arms cuts and replacement of a key disarmament treaty, including figures for reduction in nuclear warheads to between 1,500 and 1,675 within seven years. This came under the unspoken rubric of undoing the Bush administration’s decision to renege on disarmament with Russia.

Before the summit Kyrgyzstan had already indicated that it would “renegotiate” the American bases on its soil and will not insist on their immediate removal. Russia had been mollified and this mollification must have embraced Russia’s complaints in relation to the expansion of NATO in particular and the general feeling in Russia that America was spreading its tentacles eastward after destroying a Slav state in the Balkans in 1999. The consequent thaw will have direct bearing on the situation in Afghanistan; and it will include a nod from China which fears the terrorists more than the expansion of American influence in the region.

Will this mean a reduction of Pakistan’s leverage in any way? Islamabad remains important because of the land route it provides for NATO supplies. If there is any reduction it will be bought by the US only at a big financial cost. But far more than that is the developing consensus in the neighbourhood of Pakistan behind the NATO presence in Afghanistan and the success of its mission against terrorism. This development will affect Pakistan’s policy of assistance to this mission conditional to rolling back the Indian encroachment in Afghanistan and resultant interference inside Pakistan. No one at the international level seems to worry about Governor NWFP Owais Ghani’s warning about “dangerous” American activities across the Durand Line.

The summit will disabuse a lot of Pakistani analysts who have been hoping that Russia would defeat America, now that it is stuck in Afghanistan, the same way America had defeated Russia when it was stuck in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The other jolt the development will deliver is to the strategists who think nothing of the regional consensus gelling against Pakistan’s lingering policy of “strategic depth” and its permanent posture of deterring and challenging India. The general feeling in Pakistan is that if the NATO-US forces leave Afghanistan, the power vacuum thus created would be filled by Pakistan. That may be an erroneous conclusion. *

Russia, U.S. may sign Afghan military cargo deal - Reuters
Russia lets U.S. fly troops, weapons to Afghanistan - Washington Post

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