Repairing NATO-Pakistan Relations Part II

NATO Supply truck burnt, guarded by Pakistani soldier

Last month, we considered how NATO and Pakistan could repair relations in the wake of Pakistan asserting its sovereignty in the aftermath of a border skirmish between NATO attack helicopters and a Pakistani border post. Fortunately, the Torkham Gate has been re-opened and Afghanistan-bound supply convoys from Karachi have resumed.  

The short-term crisis indicates that Pakistan is an essential partner for both NATO and Afghanistan. Pakistan can exert control over militants when it wants to, or at least it can withdraw security causing significant logistic challenges for NATO. The lesson is clear. Islamabad cannot be excluded from peace negotiations with the Taliban or bringing development to South and Central Asia. And long-term programs are necessary to convince Pakistan that it is a valued and important partner for the United States and NATO. 

NATO did not extend a membership invitation, but it has indicated that even after the projected 2014 transition from NATO to Afghan forces, NATO forces will continue to support and advise for many years. If previous NATO operations are any indication, we expect this to continue another 10-15 years. The United States did respond immediately by increasing security assistance to Pakistan making Islamabad one of the top recipient of U.S. military equipment and training. The United States is serious about exporting security to Pakistan. However, Huma Yusuf arguedThe perception will be that Washington takes away with one hand what it gives with another. Moreover, Pakistan will take note of the US’s repeated rejection of its request for a civilian nuclear technology deal akin to the one inked with India.”  

An important question remains how we can move thinking beyond the “AF-PAK” paradigm to a broader “AF-PAK-IND” construct. 

Of course, we need to avoid the perception that the United States (and NATO as a whole) is attempting to “shove” India back into the “South Asia box”. As former State Department counselor Philip Zelikow observed last year, New Delhi has worked vigorously “to break out of being in a hyphenated relationship with America (i.e., comprehended on a mental map called India-Pakistan)." This is why any sort of grand trilateral arrangement (India-NATO-Pakistan) is unlikely. 

What does need to happen, however, is the breaking out of the mindset that NATO cooperation with one is a zero-sum approach that inevitably occurs at the expense of the other. While this attitude is to be expected in both Islamabad and New Delhi, it also acts as a major constraint on the willingness of Washington and other allied capitals to propose new and innovative approaches to the region.

One way forward is to begin to target specific, defined areas where NATO can cooperate with both India and Pakistan, in ways that enhance and promote some of their pressing national security interests as well. When it comes to India, for instance, a promising region for increased, enhanced cooperation is maritime security, particularly ensuring that vital sea lanes of communication that link the Red Sea and the Persian/Arabian Gulf to the Pacific ocean—one of the world’s most important economic lifelines—remain open and secure. In other words, “the U.S. and India could conceivably reach an agreement about shared operations as defined in a specific geographic zone, just as the NATO treaty specified the area of the world where the alliance was operative”—which could reassure Pakistan that such cooperation would not be directed against their interests. At the same time, by setting up a formal basis for maritime cooperation, say by creating a new, more limited designation of India as a “naval non-NATO ally” could permit “greater technical cooperation in certain designated military fields.” 

In turn, similar arrangements could be created with Pakistan, spelling out both the operational and geographic areas in which a NATO-Pakistan partnership would be functioning. 

By starting small, it might be possible, over time, to build more expansive relationships—and even take the first steps, once greater confidence has been engendered, to help ratchet down existing tensions between India and Pakistan. 

Orienting Pakistan-NATO relations towards specific tasks is a promising idea. Also, facilitating trade and investment deals between India and Pakistan at the same time would be just as wise. 

 Although on the surface the politics behind the unpopularity of US and NATO involvement in Pakistan, as well as prospects for strengthening Indo-Pak economic relations in the absence of resolving the Kashmir conflict, may impede concrete progress in these endeavors, the political roadblocks are not insurmountable. 

In the Middle East, business and trade relations with Israel, even in countries with peace agreements (e.g., Egypt and Jordan), remain unpopular among the masses and in politics. However, that does not hinder them from quietly pursuing greater economic relations with Israel, even in the visible tourism industry. The Qualified Industrial Zones (QIZ) that were established in the mid-1990s between Israel and Jordan and Israel and Egypt, with the US as a third-party facilitator, are currently fully functional and silently producing a variety of products, from underwear to women’s jackets that hang on racks in Western fashion stores. 

The Israeli Ministry of Trade and Labor explains the process and advantages of the QIZ: 

"In order for a QIZ article to gain duty-free entry, QIZ factories must add at least 35 percent to the value of the article. This 35 percent minimum content figure can include value added in Israel, Egypt/Jordan, or the United States. QIZs must encompass portions of Egypt/Jordan and Israel, though the areas do not have to be contiguous. The immediate saving for an investor in the QIZ is the amount of the U.S. tariff on any specified good. Generally speaking, U.S. tariffs on clothing and textile goods are relatively high, which makes production of these goods in QIZs especially attractive." 

Can a similar QIZ between India and Pakistan work? The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) has initiated studies in promoting economic cooperation in the region, and specifically between India and Pakistan. In a recent opinion piece in Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper, a former energy policy fellow at Harvard University, Akhtar Ali, proposes, "One possible venue of collaboration is the Thar coalfield. Apart from its potential to meet Pakistan’s energy requirements, it can be a pivot for building and expanding regional economic cooperation. The possibilities include exporting coal to coal-deficient Indian states such as Rajasthan and Gujarat, Indian assistance in developing and exploiting the Thar coal resource and India’s installing coal-fired power plants in its border towns and then exporting electricity to Pakistan." 

Therefore, the potentials for Indo-Pak economic cooperation exist, and perhaps establishing a QIZ to strengthen it should be pursued. In particular, the economic advantages and prospects for improving economic health in each country can serve as the selling points. 

If we follow a similar path in Pakistan-NATO targeted-tasks cooperation, then we have to search for equally attractive selling points:  improving internal and regional security, contributing to a heightened sense of prestige and credibility from working with NATO, and having a military edge over the militant extremists and insurgents.

Derek S. Reveron, Nikolas K. Gvosdev and Hayat Alvi are professors of national security affairs at the US Naval War College. These views are their own. Photo credit: Getty Images.

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