Two Perspectives on NATO Supply Line Blockade

This article by Nasim Zehra was sent directly to the Moderator today.

                                                                                   Demonstrators Protest The NATO Summit In Chicago

At Chicago Pakistan Retrieves Some Lost Diplomatic Space


Nasim Zehra


Chicago: The Chicago summit that fell in the middle of hard negotiations between two troubled allies generated both tensions and an opportunity for both Pakistan and the United States to steer forward the negotiations.


Day one at the summit was dominated with the straight forward story, put out in leading US newspapers quoting US officials, that the US administration


for not opening of NATO supply lines Pakistan’s President Zardari gets no bilateral meeting with President Obama. Similarly the stories that were circulated in the NATO media center by “sources” immediately after President Zardari’s meeting with the Secretary Clinton, were that the Secretary essentially presented Washington’s demand list ranging from opening of the NATO supply routes to ending support for the militants and that US had taken the issue of apology off its check list of issues that needed to be addressed. The bottom-line was that that there was no meeting ground between the two as Pakistan presented its demands.


(NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen talking to the President of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari)

By contrast day two was dominated by Pakistan clearly presenting its position on Afghanistan ranging from Pakistan’s commitment to regional peace, stability and trade, to the setback from the Salala attack to the sacrifices made by Pakistan and the parameters set by Pakistan’s parliament for negotiating the reopening of NATO supply routes. He emphasized that the DCC decision on the NATO supply routes were now being implemented by a negotiating team mandated to do so. President Zardari also announced a 20 million dollar contribution towards the Afghan National Forces.


Before the NATO meeting on Afghanistan began a very brief exchange of pleasantries between the Pakistan and US Presidents also took place. The US president again spoke of the need for Pakistan to “play its very imortant role in Afghanistan.”


Significantly soon after the President’s address, the NATO Secretary General said NATO invited Pakistan to the summit because it sought “positive engagement with Pakistan,” appreciated Pakistan’s commitment to Afghan peace and was hopeful about Pakistan reopening the NATO supply lines.


Meanwhile on the Zardari-Clinton meeting as details emerge there was agreement between the two to take specific steps on the two of the four issues on which the negotiations have yet to result in a settlement. One, on the NATO supply routes a decision was taken that a very senior Pakistani and US official will step in to resolve the outstanding issue of the container fee. Two, the issue of apology could be addressed within a package agreement that could simultaneously address all the four issues.


On the two other issues, including no repeat of Salala and no unilateral drone attacks, the two militaries and intelligence agencies have been engaged in dialogue. While border control mechanisms to avoid another Salala like attack are almost in place, discussions between ISI and CIA to agree on specific parameters within which drone attacks would take place, are almost near finalization. Clearly the parliament’s no drones recommendation has been translated into no unilateral drone attacks. This will continue to weigh heavy


On the government politically while the army concedes , the best possible way out is to ensure that these attacks take place with prior notice to Pakistan based on shared intel and also within certain geographical areas.


Pakistan’s participation in the Chicago summit has helped the troubled Pakistan-US relations move a step forward towards some resolution. No quick break through was expected but more hospitality and diplomacy by the US was.


However in the middle of hard negotiations on the NATO supply routes, the US decided to use a ‘no meeting with Obama’ pressure to force Pakistan to re-open the routes. While remaining committed to facilitating NATO’s role of ensuring security and stability in Afghanistan, Pakistan made its case of having the right to pursue its own national interest too. This includes a demand for US apology, no unilateral drone strikes and no repeat of Salala.


Meanwhile by indicating before the summit that Pakistan was willing to open the NATO supply routes and then by subsequently attending the Chicago summit, Pakistan has retrieved some of the negotiating space that it lost by unnecessarily prolonging the parliamentary process and unwisely asking for a US delay in publicly apologizing over Salala.

Nasim Zehra is a known political columnist & TV Anchor.She was personally present in Chicago to cover the Summit.


US-Pak  Relations  – The Salala Hangover!

By Imran Malik

A good strategist is one who is never caught without options. He continually monitors the implementation of his strategy, makes adjustments and course corrections if needed while always maintaining strategic direction and keeping the desired ends in sight. The national interests however always remain “supreme”!

Did our strategists manage to do so post Salala?

Pakistan’s response to Salala was essentially the correct one. Instead of going headlong into a confrontation with the US and other NATO/ISAF countries she chose to follow the strategy of indirect approach. Her reactions were generally asymmetric in nature. She decided to apply subtle pressures on all such US/NATO/ISAF vulnerabilities which would yield disproportionately large and strong strategic dividends without going to war. Thus the Pakistani reaction of closing the NATO supply routes, taking back control of the Shamsi Airbase, boycotting the Bonn Conference and stopping/limiting operational, intelligence, administrative, logistic and technical cooperation with the US/NATO/ISAF amongst a host of other measures was justified and correct.

The strategy should have worked. It almost did. Almost.

The Errors :

Strategic Direction: As said earlier Pakistan should have kept her policy/strategy under constant review and made prompt course corrections whenever required. The overall strategic environment in the Afghan theater of war and US-Pak relations underwent a massive change in the past six months or so. We should have made compatible adjustments to our strategy to maintain strategic direction and keep our desired end state in sight. But we were static and pedantic in our thinking and approach. And as a result events overtook us. Now we are moving at tangents to our so called allies if not on parallel axis.

The Timing: Salala occurred in November 2011 and by February 2012 the strategic and diplomatic environment had been so deftly managed by Pakistan that the US was ready to apologize at the appropriate level. We should have grabbed the opportunity with both hands. That would have met  Pakistan’s major condition and would have smoothly brought the US-Pak relationship back to an even keel within the relevant time frame. The GWOT could have carried on as usual. However, our political government erred by asking for a deferment of the apology to garner political mileage out of the evolving situation.

The Leverage: The closure of the NATO supply routes and the stopping of all operational, intelligence, logistic, administrative and technical cooperation with the US actually hurt them the most. US/NATO/ISAF/ had about three to six months reserves and stocks in Afghanistan at the start of this issue. They successfully opened up the Northern Distribution Network (NDN) to relieve pressure on their supplies. However the NDN was a far more expensive enterprise both in cost and time. The US could bear the cost but could not overcome the time factor. Thus Pakistan had by default moved into a great position to exercise its leverage over the US. And at just about the most critical time, Pakistan let go and missed the opportunity. Pakistan was ill-served by its strategists.

The Political Dimension:  The PPP Government miscalculated grossly when it decided to exploit the strategic environment for domestic political advantage. Unable to take a firm decision on the issue they palmed it off to a Parliamentary Committee on National Security  (PCNS) to gain time and space to find a way out of the imbroglio. And when the stage was set for the US to apologize and all details had been worked out they deferred it to a later time to garner political mileage out of it. The shenanigans of the Haqqani NW in Kabul in mid-April 2012 put paid to all these domestic political maneouverings and desires. A costly error of judgement and poor understanding of the international strategic environment, indeed.

The Financial Dimension: Pakistan’s sordid climb down from a high position of moral strength vis a vis US to one of a beggar has been precipitated by the Government’s terrible governance, unmatchable corruption, destruction of the country’s economy and the pending budget requirements. Its greed to milk the situation for political gains backfired horribly and in its wake relegated Pakistan into an extremely weak negotiating and bargaining position. Our impending elections too were a very major factor in the PPP Governments gross miscalculations.

The US Posturing: The posturing of the US Administration and some of its Congressmen like Rep Dana Rohrabacher vitiated the environment making crisis management and resolution of the issues extremely difficult if not impossible. Post April terrorist attacks in Kabul they started blaming Pakistan and further dithering on the apology and other matters. Slowly and gradually Pakistan’s leverage lost its clout. Now it has been reduced to the inconsequential.

The Chicago Summit: Thus by frittering away our political, diplomatic and strategic advantage our President has literally managed an invitation to Chicago where, as announced by the US spokesman, there is no scheduled meeting between the US and Pakistan Presidents! What we may expect from the Chicago Summit is perhaps a part-release of the CSF and may be some restoration of economic and military aid. Period. There is no likelihood of a worthwhile and significant apology coming from any acceptable level. There is also no question of the drone attacks coming to a halt!

Then what was all this commotion about? If after the manifestation of our policy post-Salala this is the outcome then what have we actually achieved? Were we better off vis a vis US before Salala or post-Salala? Where is our leverage now? We have no worthwhile apology forthcoming and the drones will not stop raining death and destruction. Economic and military aid will continue to come with strings. The Government’s befuddled handling of the entire situation has allowed the fleeting opportunities to slip by unexploited. Our national interests have not been secured either. The loss of face, dignity, self-respect and pride is additional.

Was Pakistan better off pre-Chicago or will there be any improvement post Chicago?


The author is a retired Brigadier and an ex Defence Attache to Australia and New Zealand.

This is a cross post from The Nation Newspaper.

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  • khan saheb  On May 22, 2012 at 5:03 pm


    Of the two, Imran Malik’s perspective is more aligned with ground realities. Nasim seems to have done a lot of sugar-coating to a bitter tablet, probably because she was present there to cover the Summit and had to crank out something which was at least palatable, if not not awe-inspiring.

    My 2 cents would make it 2 1/4th perspectives, but here goes:

    * There will be no worthwhile apology coming from US (unless even a forced tongue-in-cheek one can make us smile)
    * Drone attacks are not coming to a halt anytime soon, at least not until until US starts sleeping with the Taliban again.
    * The NATO Summit is more of a face-saving for the awaam back home, rather than to secure any political mileage.
    * PK continues its act that it specializes in – the leaders negotiate/grab as much dosh as they can and lose all leverage.
    * This is close and NATO supply lines are to be opened soon, the dog’s life continues to deteriorate for the awaam.
    * What little political leverage PK had built up early this year, has been lost due to behind-the-scene financial haggling.
    * PK has retrieved no negotiating space or saving grace by attending the Summit. However, it will help in doing the spade-work required for minimizing the reaction expected from Imran Khan and the general population when the supply lines are opened soon. Some say that the “soft opening” of supplies have already started, before the Summit was over.


  • Admiral Sirohey  On May 23, 2012 at 10:23 am

    Decision are made after due care and consultations. Having taken the decision it should be defended firmly and enforced by all means. There should be no weakness shown at any level.

    It could have been handled with greater tact and more advantage.


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