NATO fears for Afghan mission
Fears are rising that the escalating tensions between India and Pakistan following terrorist attacks in Mumbai could spill over and jeopardise NATO's efforts in Afghanistan.
At a meeting in Brussels, NATO foreign ministers urged both sides to act with restraint amid concerns that Pakistan could move its forces from the Afghan border towards India. This would leave a gaping security vacuum that could bring more instability to Afghanistan.
Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen has called for restraint so long as it remains unclear who carried out the attacks.
"I call on both sides to act with restraint and not to overreact before knowing who is behind these attacks."
The outgoing US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, cut short her meetings at NATO headquarters on Tuesday and headed for an urgent mission to New Delhi to ease tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbours. Before leaving, she spoke to reporters:
"Everyone should cooperate fully. Pakistan, in particular, needs to cooperate fully and transparently."
If her efforts do not succeed, the fear is that Pakistan would make good on its threat to shift its troops to the Indian border and away from the north-west frontier with Afghanistan, a region long regarded as a haven for terrorist groups. Islamabad has come under fire in the past for not doing enough to stop militants crossing the border to attack US and NATO troops in southern Afghanistan, spurring a recent US military raid there which Washington said was necessary as part of its Afghan operation Enduring Freedom.
Although NATO's Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said the cooperation with Pakistan was now improving, he added:
"I certainly hope that Pakistan's current efforts to fight extremists [there] will be sustained in the current difficult climate."
Colonel Christopher Langton, a Senior Fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, warned a stand-off with India might leave Pakistan feeling dangerously isolated:
"It would make it more likely to become more introspective and less helpful, believing that everyone is ganging up against it. That would certainly be bad news for NATO."
A new dimension
Indo-Pakistani tensions could potentially add a whole new dimension to the war in Afghanistan, where over 50,000 troops are fighting the Taliban as part of NATO's ISAF mission. It could fuel years of animosity between the two countries and lead India to become more engaged in Afghanistan. Colonel Langton explains:
"Pakistan is against Indian involvement in what it calls its 'strategic depth' in Afghanistan. But after the Indians suffered the July attack on their embassy in Kabul, they stepped up their effort in Afghanistan, which met with more accusations by Pakistan of some kind of Indian strategy to secure Afghanistan and therefore surround Pakistan. So this is no longer about Afghanistan and Pakistan. It's also about India."
5 December 2008