NATO Must Monitor Central Asia, Reach Out To Pakistan As Afghan Mission Ends

Afghanistan’s neighbours have conflicting aims for the strife-torn country’s future and NATO should keep a wary eye on Central Asia while reaching out to Pakistan as international troops prepare to withdraw in 2014, members of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly were told Sunday.


In a report to the Assembly’s Sub-Committee on NATO Partnerships, Rapporteur Daniel Bacquelaine warned that stability in Central Asia has major security implications for NATO and that the Allies should monitor it frequently, perhaps even put it on the NATO’s agenda.


He urged members to consider devising a joint approach to promote security there, including greater intelligence sharing on the region. Bacquelaine underlined that Pakistan, as the most influential of Afghanistan’s neighbours, deserves independent attention from the West given its nuclear arsenal, high levels of extremism and strained relations with India.


“Despite public commitments to Afghan stability, regional goals and rivalries are inhibiting true strategic cooperation and planning, or at least complicating them,” Alexander Cooley, Political Science professor at Columbia University, told members of the NATO PA’s Defence and Security Committee, which also debated the issue Sunday.


“Afghanistan and Central Asia are viewed as arenas for regional powers to pursue influence and local security rivalries, whether it’s the India-Pakistan issue or the Pakistan-Tajikistan rivalry,” he said. “We all should plan and coordinate and work together with various regional partners, but the road ahead really is a difficult one.”


Bacquelaine’s report – Afghanistan and Southwest Asian Security – noted that NATO can do little to directly improve relations among Afghanistan’s neighbours, but that it might be able to indirectly influence their ties for the better. It also recommended that NATO Allies jumpstart discussions in the United Nations as to how the UN and its agencies can do more as 2014 approaches.


Focusing on Pakistan, he suggested that NATO consider helping reform its security sector. The international community could also support development, ease trade and strengthen business links with the country. The relationship with Pakistan should not be seen as a purely military one, the report stressed.


“Pakistan is clearly the most influential partner on the situation in Afghanistan. It is often seen as a destabilizing regional element, but it also has constructive potential,” Bacquelaine told the parliamentarians.