NATO Chief's Aide Discusses What 'Greater Engagement' With Pakistan Means
March 13, 2009
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has called for NATO to increase its engagement with Pakistan as the alliance battles militants near the border in neighboring Afghanistan. RFE/RL correspondent Ron Synovitz spoke with Jamie Shea, director of policy planning in the secretary-general's private office, about what greater engagement would mean.
RFE/RL: The NATO secretary-general has called for greater NATO engagement with Pakistan. Could you explain what “greater engagement” means from the perspective of the alliance?
Jamie Shea: We realize fully well that we cannot solve the situation in Afghanistan without the active cooperation of Pakistan, particularly -- obviously -- because the Taliban operate on both sides of the border. We believe that it is in the interests of Pakistan to assist us because a Taliban [and] Al-Qaeda threat would not only apply to Afghanistan. It would apply equally to Pakistan. We've seen evidence of that over the last few months. And therefore, we want to step up our cooperation. And the good news is that Pakistan also wants to engage more with NATO.
RFE/RL: What are some specific examples of cooperation on the ground that would be the kind of increased engagement NATO wants to see with Pakistan?
Shea: For instance, improving the lines of communication. Eighty percent of our supplies for ISAF [NATO-led International Security Assistance Force] go through Pakistan. Setting up a NATO liaison office in Islamabad. Stepping up the cooperation on the [Afghan-Pakistan] border. We are in the process of setting up six border cooperation centers. Sharing intelligence. These kinds of things. We've got to bring Pakistan as closely as we can into a regional approach in order to be successful in Afghanistan.
For the last two years, we've had something called the Tripartite Commission, which meets regularly -- and now far more regularly -- with the Pakistani Army command, with the Afghans, and with NATO-ISAF. This looks at sharing intelligence. It looks at joint operations along the border. And it has been instrumental in setting up these six border cooperation centers, which monitor people moving in both directions across the [Afghan-Pakistan] border. What we've done is make this a more regular process with set agendas. And we now also have a Pakistani intelligence cell cooperating with us in Kabul.
RFE/RL: You've mentioned that 80 percent of NATO supplies for ISAF troops in Afghanistan now pass through Pakistan. We've also seen a series of attacks in Pakistan targeting those convoys before they reach Afghanistan. Now that Kyrgyzstan has issued an eviction notice to U.S. troops at a key logistics base in Kyrgyzstan, what can you say about attempts to open an alternative northern supply route?
Shea: Certainly, as the United States moves to increase its troop presence in Afghanistan -- and you've seen [U.S. President Barack] Obama decide in recent days to send an additional 17,000 -- more troops means more supplies. More logistics. So we have to be able to guarantee that those supplies will arrive in a timely fashion. And at the moment, about 80 percent of those supplies are coming in through Pakistan.
But we obviously would like not to put all of our eggs in one basket, and to diversify by having a northern route. We've got many of the elements of that in place. For example, Ukraine. A rail-transit agreement with Russia. We've been working actively with our partners in Central Asia to join up the connection. And I have high hopes, given all of the diplomatic moves that have been ongoing in recent days, that we can have that northern route going rather quickly.
RFE/RL: When you say “rather quickly,” are you speaking about a matter of weeks or months?
Shea: "I don't know" is the answer to that. But this is a top priority. You've seen many U.S. generals -- like General [David] Petraeus -- who have been in the area recently. Now that NATO is resuming business with Russia in the NATO-Russia Council, this will be an issue that we will also be addressing. The Russians have also shown an interest in working with us because they also have an interest in stability in Pakistan. The Taliban or radical terrorism could be as threatening to Russia as it could be to the NATO countries. So I'm quite hopeful, without obviously being able to put a time on it, that in the very near future the northern transit route will be up and running.
RFE/RL: How would you describe the current situation on the ground in Pakistan in terms of the series of recent attacks on NATO's transport of supplies to ISAF troops in Afghanistan?
Shea: The attacks look very spectacular on television. And they give you the impression that NATO supplies have totally halted. That's not the case. Every day, hundreds and hundreds of trucks, hundreds of flights, hundreds of train journeys, hundreds of ships are calling in Karachi. So although a single attack in which 30 trucks are blown up is, of course, spectacular, you must not get the impression that that means we are suddenly cut off and we don't have any fuel for our planes or the soldiers don't have drinking water. That's not at all the case.
We have well and true adequate stocks. And the Pakistani military and the Pakistani Frontier Crops have stepped up to the plate in terms of providing additional security. Incidentally, not all of these attacks are carried out by the insurgents or the Taliban. There's also the involvement of organized crime and the rest.
RFE/RL: Some critics suggest that the armed forces and security services in Pakistan haven't been cooperating as much as they could with Afghanistan and NATO in order to rein in militants -- and that U.S. or NATO forces should be deployed on Pakistan's side of the border as part of enhanced cooperation. How do you respond to those calls?
Shea: The Pakistani armed forces are aware of the issue. They have increased their presence recently in the frontier provinces along the supply line. I will not say, I couldn't, that there will not be any further attacks. But at least the volume has gone done in recent days. And I think that is largely due to the benefit of the extra security provided by the Pakistanis.
But obviously, we can only operate in their country to the extent that they want that to happen. And the key thing for us is to maintain the very active cooperation that we currently have with them. We want the closest possible relationship with [Pakistan] on the basis that the threat we face is also the threat they face -- and that they can't face it without us and we can't face it without them. So there is this logic of working more closely together.
And the fact that [Richard] Holbrooke, the American emissary, was appointed for both Afghanistan and Pakistan, I think is a symbol of the desire to bring the two theaters more closely together. You've seen now that the United States has called for a new conference on Afghanistan in The Hague on March 31, where Pakistan will also be a major player. All parties -- not just NATO, but all parties -- including the United Nations will continue to do our best to make the two sides work more closely together. It certainly helps that the new civilian government in Pakistan under President [Asif Ali] Zardari has a closer relationship with President [Hamid] Karzai and Afghanistan -- that they are meeting, including at the ministerial level, more frequently.
RFE/RL: When NATO's secretary-general speaks about enhanced engagement with Pakistan, is he making reference to any institutional links between the alliance and Islamabad -- perhaps something similar to the Partnership For Peace program or other formal structures?
Shea: That's a good question. We have with Afghanistan at the moment a long-term bilateral security cooperation program. We don't yet have a similar arrangement with Pakistan. But we obviously want to make it clear that we see Pakistan as part of the solution, not part of the problem.
There have been some ideas that have been around about assistance the allies could provide to the Pakistani armed forces -- particularly, to a system like we have been transforming, to do counterinsurgency type of tasks. So I don't rule it out. But we are going step by step. And at the moment, the key priority is to establish effective liaison-intelligence sharing when it comes to the border monitoring activities.
RFE/RL: U.S. military officers in Afghanistan have told RFE/RL in the past that they distrust Pakistan, and that there may be elements within Pakistan's security and intelligence services that are sympathetic to militants -- even giving intelligence about U.S. or NATO operations to militants in the border areas. How does this issue look from your vantage point in the alliance?
Shea: I think what we have seen in the last couple of weeks is that the Pakistani armed forces have really engaged in a major way, including taking losses obviously, against insurgent forces -- for example in [the] Bajur [tribal area] over the last few days. And with some success. So I think it would be very unfair to claim that they are not putting their shoulder to the wheel, as we say, in terms of making an effort.
They could perhaps benefit from assistance and training, or whatever, that could be given by allies. That's something that we may discuss with them in the future. But, of course, we cannot impose that upon Pakistan. I do feel that we are seeing an increased momentum of Pakistani military activity up in the north and on the border, which does suggest to me that they are taking it very seriously.
Copyright (c) 2009. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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