Originally Published 2004-03-31 05:04:17 Published on Mar 31, 2004
After a groundbreaking visit to India, which focused on strengthening the Indo-US ¿strategic partnership¿, US Secretary of State Colin Powell was supposed to take a tough message to Pakistan¿s Gen. Musharraf. Nuclear proliferation and Pakkistan¿s reluctance to clean up its tribal areas were slated to be on the cards in
Major Sop for a Non-ally
strengthening the Indo-US "strategic partnership", US Secretary ofState Colin Powell was supposed to take a tough message toPakistan's Gen. Musharraf. Nuclear proliferation and Pakkistan'sreluctance to clean up its tribal areas were slated to be on thecards in a "come to Jesus" meeting in Islamabad. Instead, Powellemerged from a meeting with Pakistani Foreign Minister Kasuri andannounced that the Bush administration was going to recommend to USCongress that Pakistan be named a US Major Non-NATO Ally (MNNA).The immediate press focus in the Subcontinent was on the apparentAmerican snub of India, given that Powell did not care to informhis counterparts of this decision when he was in New Delhi justhours before his visit to Islamabad. There have been some damagecontrol efforts from American diplomats since then, with AmbassadorMulford reiterating the merits of US-India strategic partnershipand Foggy Bottom playing down the significance of the MNNA status.Powell himself asserted that the MNNA status was more symbolic thansubstantive.

Despite these assertions, the fact remains that the MNNA status isa big carrot that the US has dangled in front of Pakistan. Forcountries that are named MNNAs after March 31, 1995, the legalbasis falls under Section 517 of the Foreign Assistance Act of1961. Under this act, MNNA status places Pakistan to the front ofthe line to receive surplus, state of the art American militaryequipment at throwaway prices, possibly funded by the US ForeignMilitary Financing program. It also allows for Pakistan tostockpile US Defense supplies, though it is not clear if US assetsalready in place in Pakistan can be transferred. In addition,Pakistan can purchase depleted uranium anti-tank rounds andparticipate in cooperative military training as well as researchand development programs. While Pakistan's access to all the aboveis not guaranteed, it does make it easier for this or a futureadministration to, in essence, bribe Pakistan with the aim ofinducing specific actions without worrying about Congressionalappropriation or oversight.

Some of the commentary is focused on the possible expedient natureof this American move. There may be some truth to that. The Bushadministration is under pressure on the War on Terror with thesituation in Iraq being far from stable. There is a palpable needfelt in US Government circles to show some results in the hunt forAl Qaeda leadership. Given this, the US could not affordAfghanistan to deteriorate too much.

But Gen.Musharraf has long been unwilling or unable to send inPakistani troops to the lawless tribal areas near the Afghan borderwhere many reports indicate that some Al Qaeda leaders may be holedin. With the US policy circles wedded to a belief that pressingGen.Musharraf "too hard" might cause the embattled General's regimeto collapse, it seems natural that dangling a big enough carrot infront of the Pakistani strongman could encourage him to "dosomething" about the tribal areas. The recent Pakistani action inWana might be a pointer to that possibility. Indeed, Gen.Musharrafcan now display the MNNA status as something he worked hard to"win" from the US and that might bring more Pakistan army officersto his camp.

But if all the US needed was a big carrot, the MNNA status does notseem like a logical choice. The US could have offered a majorweapons system, like F-16 fighters or E-2 AWACS aircraft toPakistan as an even more promising package of inducement. Neithersystem requires the recipient to be a Major Non-NATO Ally of theUS. Could there be other reasons than expediency for the USgranting of MNNA status to Pakistan?

One possible hint of the drivers behind the US policy towardsPakistan can be gleaned from the ongoing hearings in Washington bythe independent commission investigating the causes behind thebrutal terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Two top Clintonadministration officials, former Secretary of State MadelineAlbright and former National Security Advisor Sandy Berger bothtestified that one of the main reasons that the Clintonadministration could not seriously consider military action againstthe Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, was the lack of co-operation fromPakistan, the main sponsor of the retrogressive Taliban hosts ofOsama Bin Laden's crew. Both Berger and Albright bemoaned thatbecause of the sanctions mandated by the Congress being imposed onPakistan, the US did not have any leverage over Pakistan. Bergeradded that the US did not think about cutting of IMF and otherinternational financial assistance to Pakistan, because it mightresult in a "a failed nuclear state in South Asia, which probably would nothave been the best thing for the United States."

Could this be the main driver behind the MNNA status? After all,the MNNA gives the US a big lever with Pakistan. That does not meanthat the US currently does not have any leverage in Pakistan.Surely, Gen.Musharraf owes his staying in power to the staunchsupport he currently receives from Washington. But that could beanother reason for the MNNA status. Because the current USrelationship with Pakistan seems to be dependent to a large extenton one man - Gen.Musharraf, the Bush administration has been comingunder attack from members of the Congress as well as the pressabout the need to institutionalize the American alliance withPakistan. Could there be a better way to institutionalize theUS-Pakistan alliance than a military to military agreement?

The MNNA status also gives the US other long-term advantages. USmilitary can now store larger quantities of military supplies inPakistani bases, which could facilitate quick military action inPakistan or nearby nations should it be required in the future. TheUS can also use the MNNA to strengthen military personnel contactsbetween the US and Pakistani military branches. Despite thesupposed American push for democracy in the "Greater Middle East,"American policymakers know that the Pakistan Army is likely to callthe shots in Pakistan for a long time.

Having Pakistani army personnel train in US military institutionsis a good way to ensure that the US military gets access to futurePakistani Generals. It is critical to note that many narratives ofthe events following 9/11 talk about the critical role played bythe General-to-General rapport between Secretary of State Powell, aformer General and Gen.Musharraf in Pakistan's fateful U-turn onthe Taliban. In addition, Gen.Musharraf's friendship with formerCENTCOM commander Gen. Anthony Zinni was also supposedly criticalin defusing the 1999 Kargil invasion by Pakistan into Indianterritory in Kashmir. By granting the MNNA status to Pakistan,America conveys a message to the Pakistan Army that the US-Pakistanrelationship is here to stay and is not merely a stopgaparrangement. In effect, this can be seen as a "win-win" for the USas well as the Pakistani Army.

But as with other US decisions on Pakistan, there are other aspectsof this move to grant MNNA status that could later come back tohaunt American policymakers. As the reaction from India showed,this US decision could seriously impact the current US-India movestoward forging a "strategic partnership." At the very least, thisis likely to marginalize the elements within the Indian policycircles that are pushing for India to move towards a foreign policymore aligned with America. The rhetoric of "natural democraticallies" may now give place to a more realpolitik approach by Indianpolicy makers towards the US. This also might seriously jeopardizethe current peace process between India and Pakistan because theMNNA enabled Pakistani Generals might feel emboldened to giveanother shot to the path of seeking to annex Indian Kashmir throughJihad. The Pakistani democratic elements are also big losers inthis bargain. By making this military-to-military deal withPakistan, America has in effect endorsed a long-term military ruleover Pakistan. But the biggest losers might be the American people,who had to endure the 9/11 atrocities, which were partly a resultof flawed US policy towards Afghanistan and Pakistan. What might bethe effect of this latest Faustian deal between the US andPakistani Generals? Only time will tell.

* Views expressed in this article are those of the author anddo not necessarily reflect those of Observer ResearchFoundation.
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