THE much-underrated and maligned Hamid Karzai is after all not such a dunce. On May 1, the Afghan president pulled off a major diplomatic deal to give Afghanistan an edge it had never enjoyed over Pakistan. Nominated at Bonn more than a decade ago as Afghan chief and ‘elected’ twice in ballot exercises of doubtful validity, Mr Karzai must now be scoffing at Pakistan to his heart’s delight.
The 10-year Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA), signed by President Barack Obama and Mr Karzai a day before the first anniversary of the SEALs’ Abbottabad raid, has brought about a radical shift in the regional balance of power, with Afghanistan emerging in a stronger position vis-à-vis Pakistan in terms of security guarantees from America.
Because Islamabad failed to satisfy the US that it was acting in a way commensurate with Pakistan’s status as a ‘major non-Nato’ ally, Washington has had the pleasure of twisting Islamabad’s arm by deciding to give the same status now to Afghanistan. As the SPA’s sub-clause 3 of article III says, America will designate Afghanistan a major non-Nato ally to “help provide a long-term framework for mutual security and defence cooperation”. In short, while Pakistan is no more America’s ally, Afghanistan is. The agreement expires in 2024, a long time, and has enviable room for Mr Karzai’s friends in New Delhi.
Another clause — 9 of article III — has immense and frightful implications for Pakistan: it recognises that Afghanistan’s stability contributes to the development and stability of South-Central Asia, and therefore the United States affirms that “it shall regard with grave concern any external aggression against Afghanistan. Were this to occur”, America and Afghanistan will “hold consultations on an urgent basis” to develop “an appropriate response, including … political, diplomatic, economic, or military measures …”
Who is suspected of having committed or who may commit “external aggression” against Afghanistan? Most certainly no other neighbour save the one on the east of the Durand Line. The agreement by implications is Pakistan-specific, and to expect any Kabul government not to use this agreement to its maximum advantage against Pakistan is to be naïve. Pakistan’s newly developed foreign policy mechanism is ponderous — ponderous not because it is inherently so, but because it is new, untested and is in the process of evolution. The parliamentary committee’s recommendations and its adoption by parliament took five months. In these five crucial months we stood motionless while Mr Karzai had the common sense to move with speed. While he clinched a deal with the superpower, we continued to lament Salala and expected the world to shed tears with us. Nobody bothered to.
The gravity of a crisis that perpetuated itself in various forms — Raymond Davis, Abbottabad and Salala — had required a quick response acceptable to both Pakistan and the US. Instead, if there was any activity that was visible, it was the ‘religious’ mobocracy whose howls and shrieks occupied centre stage. The brains behind this street demagogy did not realise that at stake was the future of Pakistan’s relations not just with the superpower but with 49 other nations, including EU countries, Canada, Australia, Japan and many others.
Pakistan’s non-Nato ally status had a potential — but a potential which Islamabad never had the wisdom to exploit. Mr Karzai exploited our stupidity with remarkable success and may now adopt a stance much tougher than he ever has towards Pakistan.
All said and done, Mr Karzai is not an idiot.