NATO’s engagement in Afghanistan

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The Greek embassy in Islamabad facilitated a visit of senior Pakistani journalists to Brussels to visit NATO headquarters and meet with high officials so as to exchange views on the issues relating to NATO’s presence in the region. The visit was a sort of familiarization trip purpose of which, inter alia, was to brief the Pakistani media about NATO’s functioning as well as its engagement in various parts of the world. Since all briefings were of the record therefore we are bound not to share any details nevertheless we can ostensibly talk about the nature of the relations between Pakistan and NATO’s involvement in the regional affairs.
The visit was quite fruitful and result-oriented in the sense that it provided the Pakistani journalists with an opportunity of knowing more about the Organisation besides getting detailed presentations that surely helped all of us better understand the NATO. Likewise the high level interactions at the NATO headquarters contributed greatly towards obviating misconceptions about the Treaty that we have had in our minds before Brussels sojourn.
NATO is perceived as an American mouthpiece here in this part of the world, especially in Pakistan it is believed that NATO is in fact America. People probably have a reason to believe this. NATO has conducted four or five major operations including Afghanistan and all those operations were carried out at the beck and call of the United States. It briefly intervened in Greece-Turkey conflict over the Aegean Sea issue however that conflict did not involve any human casulaties like Afghanistan or elsewhere. In this case not only people from this region, but from other parts of the world, especially from Europe, perhaps have a valid reason to ask, why it is always the United States that needs NATO’s support. Why not any other country of the alliance because after all there are 27 other member countries in the Alliance as well?
The first Secretary General of NATO Lord Ismay once said NATO was created to keep Russians out, Germans down and Americans in. When we raised this question with the NATO officials in Brussels they were quick to negate this dictum saying it no longer remains valid as Russians are now very much engaged with the Organisation as NATO- Russian council is now playing cardinal role in bridging gaps between the two sides. However on a question whether Russia may be given NATO membership, the officials preferred to keep a mum only saying Russia has never shown any interest to be part of NATO. Anyhow, building linkages with Russia remains high on NATO agenda and it appears as if this exercise is going quite well.
NATO, as we were told, was not a mouthpiece of anybody rather it was a highly democratic organization where decisions are taken by consensus and not by majority or qualified majority etc. Every member country has a veto right and a proposal will have to be approved by all member countries before it is acted upon. NATO officials have an understanding of their handicaps, especially the perception of the US being the lead country therefore they are constantly working for the removal of this perception because according to them all member countries carry equal importance.
NATO is under heavy criticism in Pakistan these days. Relations between the two sides became tense after Salala incident. And now PTI’sit-in has added to problems of the organisation in Pakistan, especially at a time when the Alliance is mulling a withdrawal from Afghanistan. The question of drones was raised at Brussels as well and NATO officials contention was drones and NATO are two different things because NATO has nothing to do with drone strikes.
A sort of de-briefing session held at the residence of Greek Ambassador Petros Mavriodis after the conclusion of the visit was in fact a good opportunity of sharing our experiences with him and Ambassadors of Austria, Hungary and Romania who were also present there. The facilitation of Pakistani journalists to Brussels and consequent interactions are a clear manifestation of a strong will and desire to create goodwill and make NATO a well-understood orgnaistion, especially in this region. The NATO embassies in Islamabad are planning to organize an event so as to enable people to better understand this Alliance and its various spheres. It may be a belated effort however it would surely be a positive development in terms of improving bonds between Pakistan and NATO.