A summit to watch

While Pakistan remained preoccupied with the latest battles in the War on Terror taking place on its soil, Russia and the USA, at the level of their presidents, no less, made agreements which made Pakistan not so crucial in the War, while the USA continued its attempt to do (through combat) what NATO had been unable to, and which Pakistan had not managed in its equivalent tribal areas, to root out militancy and make sure that foreign militants were made inactive and handed over to the Americans for onwards dispatch to Guantanamo Bay or an intelligence safe house where they would be duly interrogated. While the need for an alternate supply route, which led to the deal with Russia, was felt by the Americans because the route through Pakistan was not very secure, the coming of a new US administration was the ultimate reason behind the US offensive in an area which had been originally handed over to NATO troops, but the area also ended up expressing more lack of confidence in Pakistan, or rather its army. The Pakistan Army, which had claimed a successful operation in Swat, and had followed up with an attack on Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan chief Baitullah Mehsud's Waziristan strongholds, also seemed to be facing difficulties, enough to replace its commander in the tribal areas. Despite the optimistic stance, therefore, the picture emerging was not a very optimistic one. The parade of high-profile American visitors filing through Islamabad was only to be expected for two reasons. Not only was Pakistan engaged in an operation in its tribal areas, but the Americans had launched an operation in Helmand Province of Afghanistan, against Pakhtuns, who constitute Pakistan's prime interest in Afghanistan, where Pakhtuns have always ruled. The American operation means a number of things. First, it must be assumed that the operation is linked to the coming presidential election this summer, and it is designed to help Hamid Karzai win. Helmand Province abuts Balochistan, or specifically the areas which the British took from Afghanistan, and which are now the Pushtun areas of Balochistan. More recently, those are the areas which have been restive. The operation also marks the formal entry of the USA into another phase of the Great Game it has been engaged in ever since the USSR continued its thrust to warm waters by invading Afghanistan at the end of 1979. The USA invaded Afghanistan to topple the Afghan government, then composed of Taliban, but it is only now that it has entered Helmand Province, probably the site of Kipling's line "grey-coat guard on the Helmand ford." The operation is also a sign that the Regimental Construction Team experiment has not been very successful. Along with Pakistan's tribal areas, where the proposed Reconstruction Opportunity Zones have not got off the ground, the Afghan tribal belt, which is a much larger proportion of the country, remains as shattered by the aftermath of the Soviet invasion as by the US invasion. Yet the US occupation of Afghanistan continues to serve the Great Game ends (a little modernised) of energy access to Central Asia. The giving of a share of the pie to Russia must be seen in terms of the USA co-opting the 'grey-coat guard'. It is perhaps ironic that the USA poured money and diplomatic resources into defeating the USSR in Afghanistan, but now it is turning to the successor-state of the USSR, Russia, which has the same ambitions and goals, to provide it the passage that it must have to maintain its occupation. The corollary of its use of Russian territory for this would be the reduction of its dependence on Pakistan, on which it had been relying so far. After Russia, it will have to rely on the Central Asian republics, which are ready enough to provide the USA help, provided Russia, into whose sphere of influence they fall, approves. How jealously Russia guards its sphere of influence can be seen from the second major development of the USA-Russia Summit, the American agreement to overlook the Soviet invasion, which took place only last year, of Georgia. One of the major disputes between the USA and Russia has been over NATO expansion. The USA is supposed to the goal of making NATO membership coterminous with Europe, though it will exclude Russia. Russia does not look very kindly upon this, especially after one NATO expansion not only included former Warsaw Pact members like Bulgaria and Romania, but also the ex-Soviet Baltic republics of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. NATO was set to expand again, this time including Ukraine and Georgia, which were not only ex-Soviet republics, but were also on the strategic Black Sea. Though the two will probably ultimately join NATO, the invasion of the latter, and the example made of it thereby, will almost surely delay the process. The USA had initially been stridently condemnatory of the invasion, but now it seems it is willing to shut up in exchange for a place in the Great Game. Russia has long played this Game, for about a century before it became Soviet in 1917, so its anxiety to get back in will be understandable, if not appreciable. So far, the Game was beyond Pakistan, but the introduction of the Russian factor needs study. First of all, while intrinsically Pakistan should not really have any objection (after all, it has no objection to the USA's involvement in the region), it should make sure that Russia does not make India her proxy. The USA has already made India her proxy in the region, and is presently trying to make Pakistan accept its hegemony. India has already wrested a role for herself in Afghanistan, even though she really has no concern there, and is only using this gratuitous presence this gives it on the Pak-Afghan frontier to stir up trouble for Pakistan. The main hurdle Pakistan would face is Russian enthusiasm. Russia would like to wean India back to its old loyalty. Before the collapse of the USSR, India had been a very close ally, and the USA has had to engage on unprecedented steps, like the nuclear deal, to win her over to play her US-appointed role against China. While Pakistani diplomacy at present does not seem up to the task, it should not be impossible to put across the position that while Pakistan may well lose its centrality to the War on Terror (which the government values not only for its geopolitical reasons, but because of the money it brings in from the USA), it will not brook India benefiting from it. E-mail: maniazi@nation.com.pk

The writer is a veteran journalist and founding member as well as Executive Editor of The Nation.

ePaper - Nawaiwaqt