By Reza Jan May 22, 2012
President Obama speaks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari during the NATO summit in Chicago, May 21, 2012 (White House)
As the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit in Chicago concluded, the much hoped-for deal between the United States and Pakistan to reopen NATO supply routes through Pakistan did not materialize. In fact, hardened stances on display in Chicago on both sides chipped away at optimism that a deal may be in the offing anytime soon.
The elusive deal to open the Pakistani Ground Lines of Communication (GLOCs) appears in the end to have stumbled on a pricing issue, but it was likely a misreading by both parties of the other’s negotiating red lines and competing external and internal pressures that led to the showdown becoming the spectacle that took center stage in Chicago. Both sides will likely now re-gauge and approach the negotiating table afresh. Securing an agreement on the GLOCs is important enough to both Pakistan and the U.S. that the setback is unlikely to kill negotiating efforts altogether. It is possible that negotiations can now be conducted in a more level-headed manner free of the artificial deadline and inflated international expectations that the Chicago summit imposed on them. The advantages to both sides of reopening the GLOCs are so great that a deal is likely at some point. The experience of the closure and the negotiations, however, has laid bare the changed relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan. The idea that the two states are real partners in a common struggle has been replaced by a naked process of horse-trading. The shift to an openly transactional relationship between Islamabad and Washington may be the most important outcome of this process.
The Last Minute Deal That Wasn’t
While a GLOCs deal between the U.S. and Pakistan started to flounder before the summit even began, in the days leading up to Chicago both sides broadcast optimism that a deal would be reached by, and even announced during, the NATO conference.
On May 15, following months of prevarication, haggling, and domestic politicking, Pakistan’s government announced that it had approved, in principle, the reopening of the NATO supply route. Pakistan had shut the route nearly six months ago following a border clash on November 26, 2011 in which 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed by NATO aircraft after Pakistani and NATO soldiers ended up trading fire. The very same day as that announcement was made, Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari received an invitation to attend the NATO summit in Chicago—an invitation that NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen had earlier hinted might have been withheld altogether if Pakistan did not agree to open the NATO GLOCs. According to U.S. officials, the invitation was extended because the U.S. and Pakistanis had more or less reached a deal on the GLOCs. The Pakistanis, however, stated that receiving the invitation to the NATO summit was the key step in reaching an agreement.