Turkey, the US, and Pakistan bargain on Afghanistan

Turkey, the US, and Pakistan bargain on Afghanistan

As of May 15, Pakistan was not on the list of countries that would participate in the NATO Summit on May 20-21 in Chicago: As of May 16, it is.

Coincidentally the invitation was made just hours after Pakistan has reopened the NATO supply routes into Afghanistan through its Afghan border. Islamabad had been restricting the routes since November 2011, after U.S. drone attacks killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, and has been demanding an official apology before relations could return to normal. U.S. officials had expressed their regrets and said that it was a mistake, but that was not enough for the Pakistani government, which has been under serious pressure from the opposition. Finally, Pakistan stopped insisting on more from the U.S., and voila, they got the invitation, as Afghanistan’s most influential neighbor.

U.S. military activity in Pakistan related to the NATO operation in Afghanistan, not necessarily under the authorization or even with the knowledge of Pakistani authorities, has been a problem between the two countries for some time. Osama bin Laden, the former leader of al-Qaeda, was killed in a U.S. commando operation in Pakistan, in a house only 60 kilometers away from Islamabad, on May 1, 2011.

Pakistan’s mountainous border with Afghanistan is highly porous when it comes to the movements of the militants of al-Qaeda, the Taliban and other radical Islamist groups. Pakistan’s notorious intelligence service, the ISI, which is under the control of the country’s political power-focused army, has been accused widely of ignoring, if not supporting, such groups. Pakistan is a nuclear power with missile technology and it is a matter for concern among NATO circles that one day radical Islamist groups might somehow acquire such capabilities.

The possibility of non-state actors coming into possession of nuclear warheads or missiles or both is among the concerns behind NATO’s missile shield project, which is to be leveled-up at the Chicago Summit. Turkey, hosting the early warning radar portion of the shield, has been involved in the diplomacy behind including Pakistan in the picture, in order to help the country be a part of the centripetal forces, instead of the centrifugal ones. Turkey’s statement of its intention to remain in Afghanistan, if the Afghans want it to, even after NATO starts to leave the country, could also be seen as part of this effort. It is important to have a working political and economic system in Pakistan for the good of the Asian sub-continent, and actually for the good of an even greater area, including the Middle East.

Speaking of the Middle East, the Israeli defense minister’s visit to Washington, D.C. to see his American counterpart there at such a time can be isolated neither from the approaching NATO Summit nor from the Baghdad talks planned for May 23 (right after Chicago) to discuss the nuclear program of Iran, another important neighbor of Afghanistan. Russia is holding its appetite for a possible bilateral summit with the U.S. until after the presidential elections in November of this year.

The picture is getting complicated, and it is hard to simply call it realpolitik revisited, or just another act in the great play that has been on the stage since the nineteenth century.