Speculation swirls around Pakistan’s President Zardari December 8, 2011Posted by sandygordon in : Afghanistan, Gordon, Sandy, Pakistan , trackback
President Zardari reportedly suffered a minor heart attack on December 6 and is now in Dubai. The normally well informed STRATFOR reported that Zardari had been ‘incoherent’ in an earlier telephone conversation with President Obama. According to the BBC, Zardari’s staff say the problem is minor and there is no question of his resigning.
There have, however, been a series of worrying developments in the Af-Pak region recently and it is quite possible either that it has all become too much for Zardari or that he has been given the nod to leave by the military.
Assessments amongst NATO powers on the future of NATO forces in Afghanistan have likely become bleak. Although the US has put a good face on the cut-off of supplies through Pakistan, this is a very serious development for the 140,000 NATO troops there, now dependent on highly costly and uncertain aerial supplies and rail supplies from the Baltic coast, thousands of kilometres away. Reliance on transit through Russia places all the cards in Moscow’s hand at a time when Russia is deeply antagonistic to the US over the European anti-ballistic missile placements. The nightmare scenario would be the prospect that the NATO forces in Afghanistan might become difficult to supply and even extract. Headquarters throughout the NATO powers – and also in Canberra – would now be considering their options should the situation further deteriorate.
The worry on the part of the Australian government is visible in a shift in rhetoric on the part of the Prime Minister, who now says the 2500 Australian forces may leave before the scheduled 2014 departure date. This is markedly different rhetoric from the usual formula, which tends to speak of ‘staying the course’. Something has occurred just recently to cause a change in assessment. The Australian’s Greg Sheridan – who would normally be expected to run the line that Australia should be in Afghanistan supporting the US for as long as needed – is now arguing Canberra should withdraw Australian troops before the scheduled departure, in order to concentrate on the far more serious and consequential situation in Pakistan. Sheridan is well plugged in both to US and Australian security policy makers and again, one wonders what he has heard.
The next few days will be crucial. Should Zardari stay in Dubai for an extended period, it would signal some kind of profound shift in the Pakistani disposition of power.