President Obama will welcome NATO leaders to a Chicago summit on Afghanistan in just ten days. Pakistan is regarded as a key player in settling Afghan issues. However, Pakistan may not attend the summit either of its own choice or because it is not asked.
Recent remarks by the NATO general secretary Anders Rasmussen implied that unless Pakistan reopens NATO supply routes that it will not be welcome at the May 20-21 meetings. The remarks seem to imply that the price of an invitation to Pakistan is reopening NATO transit routes through Pakistan to Afghanistan.
The ubiquitous anonymous American official was available for comment: "But we'll have to see what progress Pakistan can make in the coming days to determine whether they might ultimately be issued an invitation." There are to be talks next week between Pakistan and Washington about reopening the transit routes and repairing relations. However, Pakistan has its demands too.
One prominent demand is the end of drone attacks. The parliament set this as a condition for reopening the transit routes. However the U.S. has made it clear that it will not stop the drone strikes. Pakistan has suggested that there are talks about alternatives to the strikes, but it is hard to know what these would be except for more ground actions by the Pakistani military.
Two weeks ago the Pentagon released a report that claimed that militants "still operate with impunity from sanctuaries in Pakistan." If this is so the U.S. is unlikely to give up drone attacks. On the other hand Pakistan has an interest in retaining relations with groups that have influence in Afghanistan now and may have more after a NATO withdrawal. To listen to the righteous moralising of NATO and the U.S. about Pakistan consorting with terrorists is somewhat bemusing when the U.S. itself funded and had close relationships with the same type of jihadists when the Soviets were in Afghanistan.
Obama hopes that the Chicago Summit will throw support behind the Strategic Partnership he signed recently with Karzai. The agreement sets out some of the parameters of relationships after the pullout of most troops in 2014. The Afghans will take over most of security. However, the Afghan government will need billions in aid to keep afloat every year. Obama will be trying to pry donations out of reluctant NATO countries as much of the cost will fall upon the U.S. taxpayer.
Obama said: "In Chicago, the international community will express support for this plan and for Afghanistan's future. And I have made it clear to its neighbor—Pakistan—that it can and should be an equal partner in this process in a way that respects Pakistan's sovereignty, interests and democratic institutions." Of course Obama's officials have made it clear that there will no stopping drone strikes. Pakistan will be an equal partner but only on terms dictated by the U.S. and NATO.
It remains to be seen whether the Pakistani government can give up the demand that the drone attacks cease in order to get an invitation to the summit. Such a move might be an invitation to political disaster at home. It might be safer to announce a boycott first and then not be issued an invitation anyway.