BRUSSELS, May 17: The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation is to boost its military and political relations with Pakistan in return for Islamabad’s support to the 26-member alliance’s operation in Afghanistan.

“The essence of the relationship will be pragmatic,” Nato spokesman James Appathurai told journalists in Brussels on Wednesday afternoon.

“We do need technical discussion, technical cooperation, specifically related to support in Afghanistan. It will continue to be a pragmatic relationship based primarily on our shared interest in helping Afghanistan,” he said, avoiding to use the term strategic partnership.

He said Nato deputy secretary-general Alessandro Minuto Rizzo met President Gen Pervez Musharraf and other senior officials of the defence and foreign ministry and intelligence services in Islamabad last week. Mr Rizzo was accompanied by Nato’s senior civilian representative in Afghanistan, Hikmet Cetin.

He said the two sides discussed current issues and particularly the situation in south of Afghanistan where Pakistan played an important role. “So it is important we do have these political and military ties.” Gen Musharraf and Mr Rizzo discussed the security environment and also the importance of building links between Pakistan and Nato. “Pakistan of course wants ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) to succeed. They have the same interest as we all have.”

Nato took over command of the ISAF in August 2003. This is the first mission outside the Euro-Atlantic area in NATO’s history. Initially restricted to providing security in and around Kabul, the ISAF is currently in the process of further expanding its presence and role. Nato’s area of operations will expand this summer to the south of the country. The number of Nato-led forces is also set to rise from approximately 9,000 now to about 15,000.

Gen Musharraf and Mr Rizzo also discussed the possibility of opening Nato schools for Pakistani military personnel. Nato runs three schools in Europe – one in Rome, one near Munich in southern Germany and one in Norway.

The spokesman clarified that Nato was opening its schools in Europe to Pakistani military personnel but not in any way opening any facility in Pakistan. He said the schools were being used by Nato-partner countries of the Mediterranean dialogue and the Istanbul initiative which included Persian Gulf states. These schools have courses focused on Afghanistan, though not exclusively.

Mr Appathurai said Nato will deploy a liaison officer to Pakistan, but he did not know when the officer will go to Islamabad. Gen Musharraf and Mr Rizzo also discussed the agreement that was in development between Nato and Pakistan on line communication. In Nato jargon, it means transit of Nato forces or equipment through Pakistan to support the ISAF in Afghanistan.

Nato, he said, at the present did not have any agreement with Pakistan on the transit of troops or equipment which would cover the legal status of the Nato presence in a country. “We are working with the Pakistanis to allow this to happen.”

Asked if the growing Nato-Pakistan ties would not raise concerns in Pakistan’s neighbourhood, the spokesman said “no one should look at these relations with concern.” “Nato’s relations with Pakistan stand on its own merit. It is threatening to no one. They flow from very obvious shared interest and that it is to help Afghanistan stand on its feet.”—Online

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