By S. M. Hali
Following the Bonn Conference, we were invited to visit the NATO Headquarters at Brussels to cover the NATO Foreign Ministers’ Conference on Afghanistan. This was a follow up action since our hosts, the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs was keen that we get acquainted with the working of NATO and cover the Foreign Ministers’ meet on Afghanistan. I entered the NATO Headquarters with mixed feelings; on the one hand was the anger and angst at the NATO attack on the Pakistani military check-post taking a toll of 24 lives from the Pakistan military; simultaneously I thought it was a good opportunity to put across Pakistan’s viewpoint to NATO.
Departing Bonn by road, we enjoyed the scenic and picturesque beauty of the German countryside. With the advent of the European Union, crossing from one country to the other is hassle-free. On arrival at Brussels, we directly went to the NATO Headquarters, where Oana Lungescu, the NATO Spokesperson and Ambassador Dirk Brengelmann, NATO Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs and Security Policy delivered a pre-ministerial briefing and responded to our questions candidly. We inquired that apart from the customary condolence expressed by US Secretary of State and NATO Commanding General, why NATO had not rendered a formal apology for the grave incident of unprovoked NATO air strikes against Salala border outpost at Mohmand Agency, since it is a matter of great concern that US/NATO and Western media have shamelessly attributed the whole episode to “mistaken identity” and or reaction to Pakistan’s fire. NATO’s response was that since the matter was still being investigated, it would be too early to attribute blame on any agency, hence apology and compensation if merited, would be rendered once the findings of the investigation are complete. On querying regarding the effects of decision of Pakistan’s Defence Committee of the Cabinet to block NATO supplies into Afghanistan, NATO replied that it would have a telling effect on the operations in Afghanistan. It opined that strategic dumping would take care of immediate logistic needs but in the long run, NATO would feel the pinch. It stated that negotiations were taking place regarding Pakistan permitting some items of dire necessity like “the supply of fuel” for heating and transportation.
The next morning, we had separate briefings with the NATO Spokesperson, Mr. Nick Williams of the Operations Division of the Afghanistan Section of NATO, Brigadier General Josef Blotz, of the German Delegation to NATO and spokesperson of International Security Forces (ISAF) from April 2010-July 2011 and Mr. Gille Vander Ghinst, representative of Political Affairs and Security Policy Division. Each contributor knew his subject well but was reluctant to dwell upon the NATO incident in Pakistan apart from the conciliatory comments. On inquiry, whether a joint investigation between Pakistan and NATO was taking place, NATO informed that each side was conducting its own inquiry. Mr. Gille Vander Ghinst appeared to be a specialist on Pakistan and also opined that without the active participation of Pakistan in the reconciliation process in Afghanistan, little or no progress could be made.
Next morning, following a Ministerial on NATO Russian Council, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen stated that NATO’s missile defence was not directed against Russia but Russia's threats to withdraw from the START treaty and deploy ballistic missiles on its southern border to counter the missile shield were reminiscent of a confrontation of the cold-war era. Libyan and Tunisian journalists present in NATO Headquarters were keen to present their versions of the Arab Spring, which was a welcome input. The Libbies heaved a sigh of relief that there was no truth in the rumours that NATO would be charging them for the costs incurred in its operations in Libya. After a meeting of the Foreign Ministers of ISAF to discuss Afghanistan and plans to gradually transfer security control to Afghan forces before foreign combat troops plan to withdraw by the end of 2014, NATO Secretary General and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton jointly unveiled the logo for the NATO conference in Chicago May 2012. Hillary Clinton found it opportune to cite the alleged attack by the Lashkar-e-Jhangwi on Shiah mourners in Kabul and warned Pakistan to reign in the terrorists.
Thus ended a highly instructive trip, which broadened my vision of the Afghan problem and through interaction with the Afghan media, helped quell some of the misunderstandings we have with Afghanistan. Peace is still a mirage in the distant future but there is light at the end of the tunnel