The timing of the Powell visit was critical because the Pakistan army was embarking on a major operation in WANA - with the heavy domestic cost, in lives and psychologically, that that entailed.
So we had Powell announcing that Bush would soon declare Pakistan as a Major Non-NATO ally (MNNA). Lest we in Pakistan did not realise the importance of this "honour", Powell practically compelled the Indians to issue a few weak objections to the granting of this status for Pakistan. If readers will recall, it was only after Powell declared that he did not see India having any objections to this (or words to that effect), that the protest from the Indian side was heard - right on cue. So we had Indian government officials stating that this US move was a "cause for concern". For we know that if India objects, it must be advantageous for us!
This is extremely significant given the already-burgeoning strategic partnership between India and the US - with state of the art military systems in the offing for India. Clearly, there has been an on-going effort to delink India’s nuclear status from that of Pakistan’s and the recent nuclear controversy - which, like an FIR will hang in there to be used at any opportune moment - has helped this dangerous development. According to Indrani Bagchi (India Today, March 15, 2004), "the unravelling of Pakistani military’s (again as predicted in these columns, the Indians, along with some of our own analysts, are pushing for this line) proliferation system may have ensured that the nuclear ‘hyphenation’ between India and Pakistan is well and truly dead." It appears that the Indian expectation is that in April, at the plenary meeting of the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group in Seoul, the 30 or so members will announce an "outreach" programme with India. This would certainly be ironical since this group came into being as a response to the 1974 Indian nuclear test.
So why is Pakistan ignoring all these developments - given that no whimper of a protest has come over the US invitation to India regarding the PSI? Will we once again be left reacting to negative developments? Or are we now so euphoric over the MNNA status that we are oblivious to certain ominous developments on the nuclear front? The UN Security Council is debating a resolution on curbing proliferation of nuclear weapons technology ostensibly to groups like al Qaeda - but will predictably include some Pakistan-bashing according to Indian expectations. Then there is the NPT Review Conference in 2005, with a Preparatory Committee later this summer. We used to attend the PrepComs as an observer (as late as April 1997), but have stopped doing so in recent years. Surely we should be actively lobbying for recognition as a nuclear weapon state, along with India, in this forum also?
As for the issue of becoming a MNNA - the benefits seem to be mostly symbolic, focusing on a close relationship between the defence forces of the two countries. There is an advantage in the foreign assistance process because the status makes a state eligible for priority delivery of excess defence articles as well as stockpiling of US defence articles. It also allows for the purchase of depleted uranium anti-tank rounds and for participation in cooperative research and development programmes. Finally, it will allow Pakistan participation in the Defence Export Loan Guarantee programme, which backs up private loans for commercial defence exports. But this means that one has to buy American - with all that that implies in terms of future sales of supplies and technology updates! Our experience in this field has been a particularly painful one despite being members of SEATO and CENTO.
As for the cooperative research and development, there may be some minor gains in terms of training access to our armed forces in the US - but we seem to have done fairly well without it and, in any case, since the war on terrorism began, this cooperation had already commenced. But the question is: Would the US demand similar access and cooperation from our end in terms of our strategic research and development? This has serious negative repercussions for us in the long term - given US proliferation policy and its strategic partnership with India.
In fact, what is important is what has not been stated in the details available regarding the notion of MNNA - an idea that first surfaced in 1989 and the early states designated for this status were Australia, Egypt, Israel, Japan and South Korea. Later on Jordan (1996), Bahrain (2001) and Kuwait (2004) joined the club. New Zealand and Argentina are also members of this club! After all, if the US is going to allow certain "privileges" to MNNA members, what is it seeking in return? Clearly, access to the militaries of the member states as well as base facilities on a formal and permanent footing once required. Also, as the US official justification in the case of Bahrain put it: "The Government of Bahrain has been a steadfast supporter of our (US) foreign policy objectives."
But it seems we are so enamoured of even symbolism from the US and our other allies, that we go beyond even that extra mile and bear all the resultant costs ourselves. This is indeed a pity. Already, the earlier symbolic gestures in terms of market access for Pakistani textiles in the EU (the US never having done even that much) are fading away - as memories of our frontline cooperation in the war on terrorism become diluted within the European perspective. In fact, the EU is deliberately undermining Pakistani textile interests by allowing India an advantage of over 15.58 per cent in duties over Pakistani textile exports in the quota-free era beginning from January 2005.
Again, the Pakistani government’s silence on this issue is mystifying. Clearly, our losses because of the war on terrorism have found no understanding from the EU - except in the early stages of the post-9/11 period. Yet those Europeans who have forces in Afghanistan should know the significance of Pakistan’s support on the issue. But are we being increasingly seen as easy to ride roughshod over by the US and Europe?
We are not as powerless as we may feel and it really is time to undergo a psychological uplift. We have a lot going for us as a nation - let us recognise this as we so readily accept all our shortcomings, real or imagined.