- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Georgia’s aspirations to NATO membership could affect the sustainability and success of the alliance in Afghanistan. During April’s NATO summit in Bucharest, Russia committed to support NATO’s supply lines to Afghanistan across Russian Federation territory. While American troops’ supply lines run mainly through Pakistan, Russian cooperation is no little thing. After the NATO foreign ministers held an emergency meeting last week in Brussels amidst the fighting between Georgia and Russia, they issued a strongly worded statement saying that there will be no “business as usual” until all Russian troops withdraw from all parts of Georgia. Then Moscow announced its suspension of all military cooperation with NATO.

The debate over who to blame for this war in Central Asia becomes less important if Russia has leverage over the NATO operation in Afghanistan. Russia is waiting to see how the Western alliance reacts to its withdrawal from Georgia before deciding what to do next. “It would depend on whether the Russians simply stop being positive, which probably wouldn’t have much of an effect,” James Dobbins, the former special envoy for Afghanistan, said last week at a New America Foundation event. “[If] they start being negative… [if] they start using their influence on Central Asian governments to get them to stop [cooperating with NATO and stop supporting supply lines to Afghanistan across their territory], then it could be a more serious problem.” In fact, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said clearly last Thursday that Russia does not need the cooperation as much as NATO does. “Russia’s support [in Afghanistan] is crucial for NATO,” he said. Pakistan is the most serious obstacle to NATO’s success in Afghanistan, but Russia has certainly made its point to all Central Asian countries that crossing its lines will cost them dearly.

According to European Union experts, [Georgia] suffered some $1 billion in direct infrastructural loses, and will lose a projected $1 billion more in direct foreign investment over the next year or so,” wrote Thomas Goltz, author of “Georgia Diary,” from Tblisi. “Get ready for a long, cold winter in Georgia, with social chaos around the corner.” The Western alliance’s military strength in the Middle East and the Caucasus looks to be waning. Longtime U.S. allies have begun to flirt with alternative future alliances.

Last week, Jordan’s King Abdullah flew to Moscow for the third time in six months. Syrian President Assad visited Moscow to seek defense cooperation. Even more interestingly, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Russia to launch a “Caucasus Stability and Co-operation Platform,” aiming to bring Turkey, Russia, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia to the table. Although the initiative is unlikely to go any further, Washington was caught totally off guard. A U.S. official told me that the strategic vision document between the United States and Turkey that was agreed upon about two years ago included a commitment by Ankara to inform and consult Washington on these matters. The ruling party also needed U.S. support, and that document was presented as evidence of success in its foreign policy. Now it’s been forgotten. Yet Turkey allowed three U.S. military ships to pass through Turkish straights to deliver humanitarian aid to Georgia.

All of this is happening as France, which brokered the deal between Russia and Georgia, lost 10 soldiers in an ambush in Afghanistan - the country’s worst military loss in nearly three decades. It also coincides with the resignation of Pakistani President Pervez Musharaf, raising concerns about that country’s stability. But Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington, Hussain Haqqani, celebrates Mr. Musharaf’s resignation as a sign of democracy in Pakistan. “[E]verybody who disliked him disliked the United States. I think that has changed (with his resignation),” Mr. Haqqani said. But Mr. Musharraf’s resignation will not boost America’s image in Pakistan, nor will it make fighting al Qaeda and the radical Islamist ideology any easier. In fact, until true rule of law is established in Pakistan, and until a forceful crackdown on radical Islamist ideology takes place, talk of democracy in Pakistan will only serve to make people feel a little better.

But if Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of Benazir Bhutto, is seen as a possible successor to Mr. Musharraf, the rule of law will not be well represented. Mr. Zardari’s name has been linked persistently to corruption allegations inside and outside his country - and as such, would cast suspicion on any discussion of democracy. The U.S. is also limited in the kind of pressure it can apply to Pakistan, which can say, “*top using us (Pakistan) as a transit line to Afghanistan, and then we’re sort of stuck,” Mr. Dobbins said. And that makes the Russian role, “[n]ot an insignificant point of leverage.” Realistically speaking, that could end Georgia’s ambitions to become a NATO member any time soon.

Tulin Daloglu is a free-lance writer.

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