The United States’ decision to grant Pakistan the status of a major non-NATO ally drew protests from India and threatened to unravel two years of Bush administration efforts to forge a new kind of relationship with the newest declared members of the world’s nuclear club.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell announced the addition of Pakistan to the ranks of Washington’s major non-NATO allies (MNNA) during a March 18 visit to Islamabad. Since 1987, America has granted the status to a dozen countries, allowing them to host U.S. military equipment stockpiles, buy used weapons, cooperate on Pentagon research and development efforts, and get faster processing of export control licenses.
Analysts and U.S. defense officials said the move had at least two motives: It allowed the U.S. to send military gear to help Pakistani troops hunt for Osama Bin Laden and Taliban, and it sent a public message of American support to shore up beleaguered Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf. Public opinion and elements of Musharraf’s own military have denounced his decision to send government troops into the country’s northwest provinces to support the U.S.-led war on terror
“This was very important from Pakistan’s point of view, given the great amount of criticism from all quarters,” said Mahnaz Ispahani, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, New York. “It had reached a point where the U.S. support for Musharraf has been questioned.”
U.S. State Department officials, congressional analysts and other experts in Washington see MNNA status high in symbolism and low in substance. It does not, for example, grant the kind of U.S. security guarantees that South Korea and Japan enjoy. But the decision blindsided defense officials in New Delhi, who were furious that Powell had not informed them of the plan and who subsequently rejected a U.S. offer to extend the same status to India.
“The U.S. secretary of state was in India just two days before his statement was made in Islamabad,” said an official of India’s Ministry of External Affairs on March 23. “While he was in India, there was much emphasis on India-U.S. strategic partnership. It is disappointing that he did not share with us this decision of the United States government.”
Indian analysts and defense officials alike fear that the move will lead to actual security guarantees by Washington for Islamabad, which they say would weaken New Delhi’s defense posture. One Defence Ministry official said planners are particularly worried that U.S troops might remain for years on Pakistani soil.
It might even lead to a permanent U.S. base in northwestern Baluchistan province, which borders Iran and Afghanistan, said Nitin Mehta, a New Delhi-based analyst.
Indian officials were outraged that Washington would take such a step in the wake of January’s revelation that the father of the Pakistani nuclear bomb, A. Q. Khan, had spread nuclear-weapons technology to Iran and Libya. Musharraf has denied government complicity in this.
“Pakistan is cooperating with us on not only on counterterrorism but also on counterproliferation,” said Robert Joseph, who directs non-proliferation efforts in the White House’s National Security Council, when asked about the effect of Pakistan’s new status on U.S. non-proliferation goals.
White House Goals
For decades, Washington has walked a tightrope in subcontinental politics, where a strategic nod from the United States for one country was seen as a slap in the face of the other. But during the past two years, the Bush administration has been trying to wean officials in India and Pakistan from that view, a policy it calls dehyphenation.
“The major non-NATO ally status is a particular aspect of our relationship with Pakistan,” U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said at a March 23 briefing. “We are consigning the hyphen to history so that we have different relationships with Pakistan and with India.”
The Pentagon general in charge of U.S. weapons sales even foreshadowed the move a month ago.
“We look forward to building a more robust relationship with Pakistan to help Pakistan pros-ecute the war on terror that threatens President Musharraf,” Air Force Lt. Gen. Tome Walters, who directs the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency, said in a Feb. 24 interview in Singapore.
Walters said Pakistan was stepping up operations along the Afghan border and would need radios, night-vision devices, and other equipment. But the United States wants to ensure that the gear doesn’t end up in “caves quickly vacated by the Taliban.”
A U.S. embassy official in New Delhi said the MNNA status was meant to help Pakistan improve and upgrade its arsenal, including its F-16 jets, and was not intended to affect U.S.-India relations.
But old habits die hard.
A March 25 op-ed article in the Lahore, Pakistan-based Friday Times newspaper captured the prevailing sentiment there.
“The [Pakistan] government is euphoric; it is flaunting the reward in the face of political opposition, and of course it is quite happy to see New Delhi sulk over the whole thing,” wrote Ejaz Haider, the paper’s news editor and a former fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington. “The announcement does bolster General Pervez Musharraf within his own constituency, namely the military.”
A former adviser to Pakistan’s prime ministers said the new status sent the wrong message to the Pakistani military.
“They could see this as a signal that they can get away with” their old ways, of supporting the Taliban and terrorist elements on the sly, said Hussain Haqqani, who is currently a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.
“It could lull Pakistan into thinking, ‘We can in a couple of years down the line be in a position to be military equals with India’” — by continuing to support militant groups in Kashmir, Haqqani said. In the past, support for these groups has helped Pakistan offset India’s quantitative military advantage in the disputed region.
And by appearing to strengthen the hand of Pakistan’s military, the move may slow efforts to democratize the country, he said.
Despite the announcement — and New Delhi’s alarmed reactions to it — India’s relationship with the United States is already far deeper than that the one an MNNA status confers. Bush and Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee signed a memorandum of understanding Jan. 13, that would allow high-technology trade to flow more freely from the United States to India, particularly to help India’s civilian nuclear and space sectors.
“You can’t compare the scale of military, strategic, economic and intelligence and a whole range of conversations the U.S. administration has with India,” said Ispahani, the Council on Foreign Relations fellow. “It is on a completely different and substantive