From M J Akbar
Brussels, Jan. 29: Nato, the military alliance in search of a mission since its victory over the Soviet Union in the Cold War, is being carefully steered by the United States towards a new, international role. The organisation views India, Pakistan and Russia as potential partners, although not yet as potential members, in its emerging responsibility as one of the peacekeepers of the world.
America expects Nato forces to go into Iraq this summer, which, if it happens, will enlarge the number of nations who have sent troops to the occupied country. It would also be a means to bring in troops from countries like France and Germany, who opposed Americas war on Saddam Hussein. America would also like Russia to be involved in peacekeeping in Iraq.
The idea seems to be to make an expanded Nato the military arm of the United Nations, providing it with the muscle that it does not have. Equally important, the muscle will come from a group that is restricted to nations with a proved record of good relations with America and Europe.
Talking to this correspondent in his office in Brussels, the American ambassador to Nato, Nicholas Burns, explained: Nato, as you know, has been a Euro-centric institution for 55 years... But its very clear to us that weve got to change our geographic focus.
Were (already) in Afghanistan. Were going to be spreading out and I think that Nato will take control of all international military operations under a UN mandate in Afghanistan. I think Nato will probably go into Iraq this summer. Our partners increasingly are going to be Russia and I would say India and Pakistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgystan, Turk-menistan, Uzbekistan.
Although Ambassador Burns did not disclose any names, this correspondent learnt from Arab sources that some key American allies in the region are scheduled to become members of Nato. Among them are Qatar, Jordan, Kuwait, Egypt and Tunisia.
Afghanistan will be the first laboratory of Natos new, UN-mandated intentions. The American goal would be that at some point in the next year or two Nato would essentially unite all of the different military activities underway in Afghanistan under one command to make it more efficient, said Ambassador Burns.
And we hope to attract not just members of Nato but partners Jordan, an Arab State, a Muslim State, is involved in Afghanistan. New Zealands in Afghanistan. Australia is. We would very much welcome other countries from South Asia, Central Asia, North Africa, the Middle East, being involved. We want it to be a truly multinational peacekeeping effort.
He added that Nato would expand from its present peacekeeping force around Kabul, 65 by 25 km, to set up Provincial Reconstruction Teams in all the major provinces. Theyre mainly military but they include civilian elements for humanitarian work in reconstruction. That will happen.
He pointed out that Afghanistan needed the support of both India and Pakistan as it rebuilds itself.
Asked if Nato had approached India or Pakistan for troops to serve in Afghanistan, Burns replied: I dont believe we have approached India or Pakistan to send troops to the Nato mission. Its certainly up to those two governments to define their relationship with the Nato mission and what they want to do in the future, What we certainly want is good relations with both India and Pakistan. Both countries are very important, critical to the future of the region and to Afghanistan.
Ambassador Burns cited the success of Nato in Bosnia, where it stopped the continuing Serb aggression against Muslims and then convinced the Serbs to go to the negotiating table, resulting in the Dayton accord, as a model of virtuous intervention, backed by sufficient force.
A decision on Natos collective role in Iraq would most likely be taken, he said, at the summit meeting in Istanbul at the end of June. In Iraq 18 of the 26 Nato countries have troops on the ground. The US view is that we ought to make a decision sometime in 2004.
One idea would be for Nato to take over the Polish Division, which is a multinational division mainly comprised of Nato allies and Nato partners. Thats one suggestion some of the other allies have put forward... Some of our members are going to want to see the emergence of a UN role which is in development, and theyll want to see the prospect on July 1 of sovereignty returning to an Iraqi government, which of course is what we are planning. If those two things take place I think that there is grounds for Nato to decide this in six or seven months time.
This vindicates my opinion that US will be having a leading role in the global affairs and constantly eying India as major, trustable, competent partner to play a responsible role in building the world community.