Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Presence of NATO troops in sensitive area

Presence of NATO troops in sensitive area
Dr Shabir Choudhry 10 December 2005

There are more than one ways of looking at this very important question. Simple way of looking at it is that Pakistan is a close friend of America and is ‘fighting America’s war’, and America being a good and sincere friend wants to help Pakistan in this time of need. But we know politics and international relations is not that simple.

Policies of countries are decided with national interest in mind, and there is generally more than one motive behind these policies, especially policies of big powers that have history of colonialism.

Small and weak countries are often let down by big powers after they have used them to achieve certain aims; and Pakistan has also tasted this medicine in the past, and is likely to do it again.

No doubt a major earthquake with unimaginable devastation has hit Pakistani Administered Kashmir and Pakistan, and Pakistan desperately needs help to cope with this disaster. But there are some issues that are of concern to me and to many other thinking people.

One has to see why Pakistan did not seek China’s help to meet these crises when Pakistan calls China as ‘all weather friend’ - a friend which is tried and tested more than once? China also has a large fleet of helicopters and vast experience to deal with natural disasters, and in view of this one wonders why they preferred to wait for heavy equipment, helicopters and other help from Britain and USA, at a time when innocent people were dying and crying for help.

Apart from this, Pakistani authorities refused to accept Indian helicopters, which could have saved thousands of lives because they could have reached there in no time, just across the LOC. We have to see things in perspective, there was a peace process going on between India and Pakistan, certain CBMs were in place and trade between them is booming since the peace process. There was no threat of war, and there was a cease- fire on the borders, and yet Indian help with helicopters was refused, yet Israeli help was accepted, and Pakistan has no diplomatic or trade contacts with that country.

Apart from the men in uniform, men in militia uniform (members of Jihad outfits) were also seen very actively helping the victims. It is good to note that they have heart and desire to help people in need; but this also worried many as it clearly indicated their manpower, resources and command and control system.

Many people, especially Westerners, thought help of Jihadi organisations will surely create a soft corner in the hearts of these victims, and they could be persuaded to join ranks of these groups, which could seriously damage their war on terrorism. As far as victims of the earthquake are concerned they need help and need it desperately, no matter where it is coming from.

It appears that there are four advantages of inviting NATO and American forces.

Most obvious one is ‘help’ to the earthquake victims, some of whom still have not received any help, and they are lying under the sky in extremely cold weather without proper food and shelter.
Other main advantage was to counter presumed Indian attack in wake of a serious blow to Pakistani defences in the area. Pakistani military officials thought that despite the peace process India could take advantage of the situation; and they might return ‘Kargil’ adventure with interest.
Third advantage is that these forces could ‘find’ Osama Bin Laden, or his remains, as he is presumed dead in this earthquake. Also their presence here will help them to keep track of the Alqaeeda operatives, if there are any, in the Pakistani Administered Kashmir, North Pakistan and Gilgit and Baltistan.
Their help and support and mere presence will keep jihadi groups on guard, and will deter them to do anything else than the relief work.

Some commentators feel that even Pakistan is less visible with the relief work when compared to activities of NATO and America, never mind ‘Azad government’ of Pakistani Administered Kashmir; which is taken as a puppet or mere shadow of Ministry Of Kashmir Affairs, Islamabad.

It looks that NATO’s role is fast changing, and from being a military alliance it is becoming an extended tool of UN Commission on Human Rights. When we analyse the role of NATO and American troops in our region, we got to see what role NATO played in other natural disasters. For example, not long ago the tsunami devastated many countries, but we did not see NATO or American troops in action to help victims of that disaster. And moreover NATO, as an organisation, showed no interest and concern for the Katrina-devastated population of New Orleans.

At one time Pakistan was even reluctant to let an aircraft fly over certain areas of Pakistani Administered Kashmir, Northern Pakistan and Gilgit and Baltistan; and now thousands of NATO and American troops with highly sophisticated technology are wandering up and down as they please. How do this affect Pakistan’s military installations, intelligence gathering installations and other sensitive matters in these areas?

Above all how do our neighbours, especially China and Iran; view this and what impact this is going to have on future relations with these countries because of obvious concerns these countries have about America’s military presence at their door steps.

One reason given for their presence here is that they have sophisticated technology, which is needed here. This advanced technology was more useful to locate and rescue victims under the rubble, and surely that stage has passed; and if we still require this technology then why didn’t Pakistani government asked to borrow this, as it was the case with the Indian helicopters. I am sure a large Pakistani army with high level of technical know how, and a nation that successfully manufactured and exploded an atomic bomb had sufficient skilled manpower to use this technology.

Another point that worries many people is the role of Pakistani government in all this? Civilian government is no -where visible. What role has parliament and Cabinet played in all this?

I am among those who believe that presence of NATO and American troops are here to stay for some time. I understand some statements suggest that they will stay here for 80 days, and purpose is relief work; but I have my doubts about this because I don’t know whether this 90 days promise is a military promise or a civilian one. If it is a military promise then it reminds me of 90 days of Zia Sahib; and these troops could be here for many years.

In any case my feeling is that they are not only here for relief work, the kind of relief work they are doing, delivering food items and building walls etc, could very easily be done by Pakistan army. As has been noted above these troops have multiple roles in this area, which includes a political and military agenda.

Writer is a Chairman of Diplomatic Committee of JKLF and author of many books and booklets. Also he is Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs. Email: drshabirchoudhry@hotmail.com

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