Friday, January 26, 2007

US elevates Pakistan to regional kingpin

The US has dropped all criticism of Pakistan over perceived support of the Taliban in Afghanistan. President General Pervez Musharraf is being feted in pro-American Sunni Arab capitals, and Islamabad and NATO have finalized a landmark cooperation agreement. With these rapid developments, Pakistan has been made "part of the solution" and is assured a pivotal role in US regional policy that extends far beyond Afghanistan and includes, crucially, Iran

By M K Bhadrakumar
Asia Times

"..........But there are other nuances, too. It appears that the US has broached with Pakistan the issue of "help and assistance" in respect of its standoff with Iran. At any rate, the timing of Musharraf's tour of the pro-American Sunni Arab capitals Riyadh, Cairo and Amman last weekend was important. The hurriedly arranged tour followed consultations of the US secretaries of state and defense in Riyadh.

In a rare gesture, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia personally received Musharraf at the airport at Riyadh. Also, a grateful Saudi king conferred on Musharraf the "King Abdul Aziz Prize", Saudi Arabia's highest award. For some obscure reason, Musharraf has become the first-ever Pakistani leader to receive such an honor.

The emphasis during Musharraf's discussions in the pro-American Sunni Arab capitals has been on joint "Islamic action" in tackling the crisis in the Middle East. Curiously, fleshing out Bush's new Iraq strategy, former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger recently explained at some length from another angle what such an "Islamic action" could amount to.

Kissinger wrote that Bush's Iraq strategy will require in the downstream "an international concept involving both Iraq's neighbors and countries further away that have a significant interest in the outcome". Kissinger underlined that the US will expect that "other countries must be prepared to share responsibilities for regional peace ... [since] it is impossible for America to deal with these trends unilaterally".

Equally, Pakistan and NATO seem to have finalized their agreement establishing an institutionalized framework of cooperation. NATO and the US have been pressing Musharraf for early conclusion of such an agreement. But Pakistan has been dragging its feet. Without doubt, Washington will appreciate that Musharraf has once again braved potentially vehement domestic opposition to deliver on a key US demand.

Musharraf is sending Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz to NATO headquarters in Brussels on Tuesday. A NATO spokesman hailed the visit as "vitally important", and underlined that the visit will "deepen the political relationship between NATO and Pakistan". Formal NATO-Pakistan cooperation is bound to impact on the "war on terror" in Afghanistan. As the NATO spokesman succinctly put it, Pakistan will henceforth become "part of the solution".......

At the same time, emerging ties with Pakistan will enable NATO to begin to reduce its dependence on Russian airspace (and Russian goodwill) for ferrying supplies for troops in Afghanistan. Not only that: at a time when Israel's formal admission to NATO is under active discussion, NATO will have already established a foothold on the Persian Gulf region's eastern periphery.

Most important, the configuration works to the great advantage of the US in the event of an outbreak of military hostilities against Iran, which borders Pakistan. The rapid sequencing of these developments is interesting, to say the least. It is hardly a week since the new chairman of the US Senate Intelligence Committee, Jay Rockefeller, told the New York Times that the Bush administration's statements about Iran were uncomfortably reminiscent of the rhetoric in the run-up to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. Being a lawmaker with access to highly classified intelligence, Rockefeller's views carry particular weight. So indeed do Negroponte's. "

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