Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Daily Times Editorial Aug 2, 2012

NATO supply deal, finally In a display of exquisite timing, Pakistan and the US signed the long delayed agreement on the restoration of NATO supplies for Afghanistan just one day before the new ISI chief, Lieutenant General Zaheerul Islam, began a maiden three-day visit to Washington for talks with the head of the CIA. The agreement, according to press reports, runs till 2015, one year after the US/NATO forces are scheduled to depart. It is renewable for one-year intervals beyond that date. The agreement will pave the way for the release by the US of the Coalition Support Funds owed to Pakistan and held up for two years, worth $ 1.18 billion. The agreement prohibits arms and ammunition being transported through Pakistan for NATO/ISAF, but permits shipments of lethal cargo for the Afghan armed forces. Although the containers will be scanned at the port of entry (Karachi) and the exit points at Chaman and Torkham, and also be tracked with special radio chips, it is not clear how the Pakistani authorities will distinguish between shipments of weapons for the Afghan armed forces and NATO/ISAF. There is a clause in the agreement that allows Pakistan to refuse any shipment that falls outside agreed parameters, and even a quit clause if relations hit a bump in the road again. After the interminably delayed apology by the US for the Salala incident, Pakistan dropped its demand for an increase in container fees. No taxes or duties will be imposed on the cargo but commercial carriers will have to pay a fee. New fees can be introduced for quick transfer of cargo. No warehousing or storage facilities will be provided by Pakistan, and no new NOCs will be required, but Pakistan will ensure security. Containers for Afghanistan will have to return via Pakistan, and could conceivably carry US/NATO weapons and equipment being withdrawn. The agreement as revealed is not very different from existing practice, but it does have the benefit of being written down to avoid ambiguity and differences. One important issue that had dogged the long drawn negotiations to arrive at the agreement seems either to have been missed or may be discussed separately: the issue of damage to Pakistan's highways under the enormous load of these convoys. In another development, US ambassador-designate to Pakistan Richard Olson, who brings to his new job considerable experience as the deputy head of mission in Kabul until his new assignment, in testimony to his confirmation hearings in the US Congress has expressed his intent to build on the opportunity provided by the restoration of NATO supplies and the better atmospherics between Washington and Islamabad. Of course, the contentious issues that have divided the two ostensible allies in recent years will remain, including the issues of the Haqqani network and the drone attacks. No doubt these will be on the table in the talks in Washington between the ISI and CIA chiefs. Recent reports suggest that the Pakistani military is less enthusiastic about the Haqqani network since it offered the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan safe havens across the border in its areas of influence in order to mount cross-border attacks on Pakistani security forces. Other reports, including Pakistani ambassador to the US Sherry Rehman’s remarks to a conference in Aspen, Colorado, suggest that the military is reassessing, if it has not abandoned, the notion of strategic depth in Afghanistan that provided so much of the underpinning for hedging Pakistan’s bets in post-withdrawal Afghanistan through its jihadi proxies. If this proves true, it not only reflects a recognition by the military that the dynamics of the situation have changed, not the least of which is perhaps a divergence between it and its erstwhile proxies, but that a Taliban push for exclusive power in Kabul after 2014 would only ignite fresh conflict from which Pakistan may not escape unscathed. That recognition could perhaps open the door for Pakistan to be part of the endgame in a positive way, rather than at odds with its ostensible western allies. This may prove the better outcome, both for Afghanistan as well as Pakistan, not to mention the region and the world.

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