US ambassador to Kabul was negotiating with Pakistan as part of the Afghan delegation
- Hillary Clinton played the role of India’s advocate, refused to mediate on Kashmir or condemn Indian rights violations
- A sentence in the statement denying India land routes is a clever smokescreen for other Pakistani concessions
- Pakistan has done a favor to US interests in the region
- Afghanistan and India will consolidate trade using Pakistani land routes
- In return, none of Pakistan’s core security interests in the region were conceded by Washington, Kabul or New Delhi
- Pakistani military’s role in this arrangement is not clear
By AHMED QURAISHI
ISLAMABAD, Pakistanis received a humiliating reminder today of how weak their nuclear-armed nation has become after eight years of a debilitating and unfair partnership with the United States in Afghanistan.
Most Pakistanis cringed at the sight of Mrs. Hillary Clinton standing watch over the Pakistani prime minister as another Pakistani minister signed a memorandum granting Kabul generous trade and logistical facilities for little or no reciprocal benefit to Pakistan.
Pakistan’s pro-US ruling elite has once again done a favor to US strategic interests at the expense of Pakistan’s own.
The deal also enhances trade between Afghanistan and India without letting Pakistan extract any concessions in return. The US role was basically to put pressure on Pakistan on behalf of its puppet regime in Kabul and on behalf of New Delhi, Washington’s strategic partner in the region.
Senior US diplomats from the US Embassy in Kabul were part of the official Afghan delegation. According to The News, Afghan delegates repeatedly left the meeting room with the Pakistani foreign and trade ministers to consult with US diplomats seated in an adjacent room during talks. And according to The Nation, US ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry personally traveled to Islamabad to oversee this deal. And he did so as part of the Afghan delegation. Strangely, no Pakistani official questioned this direct meddling in what is supposed to be a bilateral Pak-Afghan deal. Ambassador Eikenberry is no stranger to meddling in other people’s business. Earlier this month, the Attorney General of Afghanistan complained that Eikenberry ‘threatened to remove him from office’ if he didn’t follow US ambassador’s orders.
WHY IT STINKS?
The actual deal is about Pakistan granting Afghanistan the right to export goods to India using Pakistani land routes.
Some clauses have been added to ensure that Afghan trucks won’t smuggle goods to Afghanistan or dump duty-free goods in Pakistan.
The supposed attraction for Pakistan is that Kabul has allowed Pakistani trucks to take Pakistani goods to Central Asian republics through Afghanistan.
The most interesting part is that Pakistani, Afghan and American officials hammering out the new deal made sure to include a line that says India won’t be allowed the export of goods using Pakistan land routes.
There is little doubt this line is meant for domestic consumption in Pakistan and is possibly meant to offset potential opposition from the Pakistani public opinion and some quarters within the Pakistani foreign office and the military.
This is the official line on the deal. The reality, however, is different:
Pakistani trucks already take Pakistani goods to Central Asia. The official cover provided by the new deal is of little consequence. Much of the Afghan territory is already under the control of warlords who tax trucks passing through their lands. The pro-US Pakistani government claims Pakistani trucks will get formal Afghan and western protection. But US and NATO forces in Afghanistan are incapable of providing such guarantees.
Already some Indian goods are smuggled through Pakistan to Afghanistan despite an official Pakistani ban. Now with Afghan trucks allowed to reach the Pak-Indian border, smuggling back Indian ‘exports’ will be even easier, further helped by endemic corruption in Pakistan’s state machinery.
Afghanistan’s puppet government, intelligence and security, all working under tight US supervision, are involved in exporting terrorism to Pakistan under the guise of religious and sectarian extremism. Kabul has been doing this with help from elements in CIA and the Indian intelligence. Pakistan has no guarantee from Washington, Kabul or New Delhi that such activities would stop.
India is providing money, logistics, weapons, training and Indian passports to terrorists claiming to represent Pakistani Baloch in the hope of scuttling Sino-Pakistani mega projects in southwestern Pakistan. The Americans are involved in stirring trouble in both Pakistani and Iranian Baloch areas. But Pakistani officials are unable to extract any commitments from the Americans to stop these activities.
US and NATO containers plying through Pakistan have inflict losses of billions of dollars in revenue for Pakistan over the past eight years. These containers have been used to smuggle goods to Pakistan, Afghanistan and beyond, enriching the pockets of corrupt Pakistani, Afghan and American officials. In such a corrupt environment, there is little doubt that India will soon be illegally exporting goods to Afghanistan using Pakistani air, sea and land routes.
INDIAN TRADE ALLOWED
It is correct that the government of President Asif Zardari has not openly granted India the right to use Pakistani land routes for trade with Afghanistan, but there are strong indications that it has done so through indirect means:
The deliberate and unusual line in the new agreement denying India land routes is a smokescreen that cleverly hides access for India through other options.
There are reports that a tacit agreement has been reached allowing Indian exports to reach the Karachi seaport and transported to Afghanistan from that point onwards by air and land using Afghan trucks.
There is every likelihood that Afghan trucks dropping Afghan exports at India’s border would smuggle back Indian ‘exports’ and Pakistani customs officials would turn a blind eye.
There are two indications that the incumbent Pakistani government has allowed Indian trade into Afghanistan:
Afghanistan has little to export to India. Afghan trucks will be bringing very little to the Indian border. It is feasible that the Americans and their Pakistani proxies in government devised this method to allow Afghan trucks to reach the Pak-Indian border and then let the usual smuggling techniques come into play, allowing those trucks to return to Afghanistan carrying Indian goods.
The key to the new agreement is exploiting loopholes to circumvent Pakistan’s ban on Indian trade to Afghanistan. Here is a statement made by Zardari government’s spokesman, information minister Qamar Kaira, as broadcast by the state-run APP wire news service:
“It is a misrepresentation of facts to say that trade of Indian goods will be allowed through the agreement. Only the Afghan trade goods will be allowed from India and these would be taken over at Wagah border if coming via India.”-Qamar Zaman Kaira, Pakistani information minister, quoted by state-run APP
And if any doubt was left that Pakistan has succumbed to US pressure on granting India one-sided favorable treatment, a news report in a Pakistani newspaper quoting the actual US-brokered agreement has revealed that the text provides the Zardari government for an opening to allow India full export rights to Afghanistan using Pakistani routes any time.
WHAT IS PAKISTANI MILITARY’S TAKE?
It is unclear if the Pakistani military was consulted by the Zardari government before giving such generous concessions to US, Afghanistan and India. Some critics say that the signing ceremony with Mrs. Clinton in attendance was unnecessary and that the Zardari government hurriedly put it in place to preempt objections from Pakistani public opinion and the military, drawing strength from the presence of Mrs. Clinton.
But this line of reasoning is unlikely. What’s more likely is that the Pakistani military was consulted before granting this concession to US, Afghanistan and, indirectly, India.
One sign of this is that Husain Haqqani, Mr. Zardari’s point man in Washington, has admitted he granted US officials 450 visas, some 140 of them to US military personnel. This is a personal victory for Mr. Haqqani who last year went as far as warning the Pakistani military that supply of US military hardware could cease if US visa requests were not obliged. With the visas granted, this basically means an increase in the number of US boots on the ground in Pakistan, and this would not be possible without a nod from the Pakistani military. That’s a change from last year, when Pakistani security officials felt the entry requests of 450 US government officials to be stationed in Pakistan was a sign of growing US meddling inside Pakistan. It is possible that the number of US soldiers in Pakistan has increased now to more than 300 to 350, considering that around 180 ‘trainers’ were already stationed here [Haqqani didn't say if the 450 figure includes visa renewals for US personnel already stationed on Pakistani soil]. Also, this figure does not account for private security contractors working for DynCorp, which apparently has been allowed operations inside Pakistan after initial hurdles.
In all of these cases, Washington got its way. These developments indicate that the Pakistani military is on board with Mr. Zardari’s government on the new unilateral concessions to US and its regional allies.
The only way the Pakistani military would have swallowed these humiliating concessions is if it believed the concessions would help nudge President Karzai into a deal with pro-Pakistan elements in the Afghan resistance movement. It would be a surprise if the Pakistani military did actually pin hopes on this option because the Pakistani concessions are disproportionate to the questionable gain.
There is also the possibility that the Pakistani military has simply been cornered on this issue by Washington and its proxies in Islamabad.
But whatever the thinking of the Pakistani government and military, there is little question that the Pakistani public opinion is stunned at Pakistan’s unusual and unexpected compromises. The pro-US government in Islamabad accepted US pressure and signed a deal without consulting Parliament or gauging the mood of the Pakistani people.
In exchange for these compromises, Pakistan should have asked for:
Dismantling of terror training camps in Afghanistan targeting southwestern Pakistan
End to Indian military and intelligence presence in Afghanistan aimed at Pakistan
US and NATO forces ending the flow of weapons, money and fuel supplies to terrorists inside Pakistan
Compensation for more than US$ 40 billion in losses to Pakistan’s economy due to America’s war
End to the incessant demonization of Pakistan by the US media and the US role in the spread of global panic over Pakistan’s nuclear program
End to US opposition to a Pak-China civil nuclear deal
Far from achieving any of the above, Pakistan’s self-defeating compromises in America’s war on terror continue unabated. Pakistan’s politicians and the military appear incapable of extracting any benefits in a regional situation where almost every country – US, India, Iran, Afghanistan, Russia, NATO – appear to have made strategic gains. Islamabad is left with internal insurgencies and militaries and spy agencies from several countries wreaking havoc in and around Pakistan.