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Security Trends South Asia » Afghanistan » Chicago Summit, NATO & India: Lost Opportunity
Rahul Bhonsle

May 28, 2012

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Chicago Summit, NATO & India: Lost Opportunity

North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) held its 25th Summit at Chicago. The main issue was commitment of members of the alliance and partner countries to Afghanistan in the long term. The results were on expected lines as the post Summit joint declaration reaffirmed operational employment till 2013 and physical presence up to 2014. Sustained engagement in the training and support format was envisaged beyond 2014.

Leaders from NATO's 28 nations and 22 partners in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) coalition participated in the Chicago Summit. NATO held a separate meeting with a group of 13 partner nations. This meeting was attended by wide spectrum of leaders from Australia to Austria, Finland, Georgia, Japan, Jordan, Republic of Korea, Morocco, New Zealand, Qatar, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates. Apart from Afghanistan regional players as Russia, Pakistan and Central Asian states also participated in the Summit.

In Afghanistan leading the ISAF under a UNSC mandate, NATO has been the core security provider. While there are differences over ultimate success of NATO mission in Afghanistan that this has brought about a semblance of order in the country ravaged by decades of instability needs to be acknowledged. Lack of sustained commitment of the grouping is however a dangerous portend for Afghanistan, thus to an extent the Chicago Summit provided a degree of assurance which under the circumstances with political difficulties of sustaining presence in the country for many NATO  members should seem a positive development for the alliance.

While NATO has acknowledged Indian role in Afghanistan from time to time, India was purportedly not an invitee for the NATO summit in Chicago held on 20 and 21 May 2012 despite the all important subject even from the Indian perspective covered in the deliberations. India’s relations with NATO have been tentative at best. India is wary of partnering with alliances where there is likelihood of its role being undermined. More over India has not been comfortable with military alliances. Thus most engagements with NATO have been at the Track II level. Chicago Summit was possibly an opportunity for both India and NATO to engage but apparently the opportunity is now lost.

Prior to the Chicago Summit, a couple of officials from US Departments of Defence, State and National Security Council, led by Peter Lavoy, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defence for Asia and Pacific Security Affairs were in India. Lavoy is an old South Asia hand and has good contacts in New Delhi. The team is reported to have extensive interaction with Indian officials and Track 2 experts and may have taken a flavor of the Indian view to the Chicago summit. Though this visit was perhaps too late in the day, for any appreciable policy impression in the Summit deliberations.

Lack of Indian presence in Chicago was not unexpected given that focus was on NATO, ISAF and partners including Pakistan. NATO intention of pulling out of Afghanistan is well established by now. India is however concerned about the advancement of schedule of security take over by the Afghan security forces by one year and early pull out announced by countries as France which New Delhi feels may also be followed by other countries in Europe who may face domestic pressure.  This trend has been confirmed at Chicago Summit which from the Indian perspective is worrisome given that the situation on the ground in the South and the East remains precarious and there have been no success in political negotiations with the Taliban. In counter insurgency parlance, at best it would seem to be a roll back of militancy from the North and West and containment in other areas.

More over Indian concerns also are the likelihood of the overall process of peace and stability in Afghanistan being held hostage to the commitment of Pakistan to support the same. In case Pakistan remains a bystander without attempting to contain militancy in tribal areas of Waziristan and supports the Taliban to operate across the border, the gains of Chicago summit may not fructify on the ground.

NATO members are acutely aware of this fact and thus have made all out efforts to get Pakistan on the table in Chicago with a compromise of sorts by announcing opening of the NATO supply line even though no tangible progress has been made. This dichotomy has portends of continued stasis in divergent relations in the region which does not augur well for peace and stability in Afghanistan.

More over Pakistan is seen to have fallen into the familiar ploy of seeking funds firstly for conduct of operations on its side of the Durand Line and secondly for transit to the tune of $ 5000 per vehicle. This is a 20 fold increase from the $ 250 charged earlier. This indicates that the Pakistan leadership sees this as an extractive exercise rather than a substantial one of engagement between partners. In fact the Chicago summit reinforced this contradiction between the interests of the international community and Pakistan in Afghanistan.

All this indicates that the Pakistan Army and ISI’s support for the Taliban, Haqqani network, and continuance of bases of al-Qaeda in the tribal areas does not depict a change in its strategic intent in Afghanistan. Thus despite deliberations held by NATO which underlined the commitment of various stake holders to support Afghanistan Indian view remains skeptical on how the situation will develop in the country in the years ahead. Indian military commanders have declared most openly of a possible deteriorating situation in Afghanistan post 2014 with a spill over in Jammu and Kashmir. The Defence Minister Mr A K Antony had also made remarks to the effect at a Combined Commander’s Conference in April 2012 in New Delhi.

India is thus supportive of Afghan-US strategic cooperation agreement and also seems to be favourable to the presence of US troops in the country beyond 2014. India in fact is the only country in the region which is in favour of this arrangement even as Iran and Pakistan are stiffly opposing the same.

On the whole thus India views the Chicago Summit as unable to sustain peace and stability in the country unless there is substantial progress in bringing Pakistan on board in terms of commonality of goals and objectives in tune with the international community in Afghanistan. Fruitful engagement with the Taliban is another factor with both these having considerable inter-linkages and synergy. The road ahead from Chicago therefore may depend on an intense interplay of these complex regional vectors.

Against this backdrop Chicago Summit was an ideal opportunity for India and NATO to commence institutional engagement. While NATO is a legacy of the Cold War, it is seen as the most successful regional collective security architecture in the world today. It has brought about tranquility in Europe where past rivals have left behind centuries of animosity to become partners of today and tomorrow, the grouping is seeking fresh pastures and has assumed expeditionary character. Operating under the garb of contested concepts as, “responsibility to protect,” NATO has assumed an expeditionary and interventionist characteristic as was evident in Libya. These are some of the apprehensions that India may have towards full scale engagement with NATO.

The time has however come for India to shed these inhibitions given the congruence of goals and objectives with NATO with particular reference to Afghanistan. India has just signed the GSPA for Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistani, India (TAPI) pipeline to carry gas from Central to South Asia. Skeptics have raised concerns over security, with NATO actively and later in support role in Afghanistan, engagement may prove beneficial.

More over in the Non-Polar world of today nations have to engage each other as well as with multilateral institutions based on issues as past dogmas are passé. Russia has accepted the necessity so has China and both countries have mechanisms of interaction with NATO. By staying aloof India is losing out on valuable opportunities to enlarge its own interests, for summits and other interactions will provide platforms for interaction bilaterally as well.

 India has to review its overall policy and expand engagement with alliances as NATO in a form which is mutually acceptable rather than attempting to isolate itself in an, “Ivory Tower,” of its own making. NATO has much to offer India and India to NATO in a world where security challenges posed by non-state actors are unlikely to go away. Thus pathways for interaction need to be worked out for Brussels and New Delhi to engage in the future.

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