Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Daily Times Editorial March 22, 2012

PCNS recommendations

The much-awaited recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee on National Security (PCNS) have finally been presented to the special joint session of parliament to debate the new terms of engagement with the US. Briefly, the PCNS outlined the following parameters: cessation of drone attacks; lighter footprint of the US in Pakistan; no hot pursuit or boots on Pakistani territory; foreign private security contractors’ activities in Pakistan must be transparent and subject to Pakistani laws; unconditional apology from the US for the Salala attack; no bases or airspace use by the US without parliamentary approval; reopening NATO supply routes for Afghanistan contingent on agreed terms and conditions, subject to taxes and other transit charges; no more verbal agreements regarding national security; prior permission and transparency on presence of foreign intelligence operatives; active pursuit of the Iran gas pipeline, and last but not least, seeking a civilian nuclear treaty with the US along the lines of the one with India. Whether this is considered a laundry or wish list, the fact remains that there are certain provisions that appear doable, especially given the difficulties being faced by the US/NATO forces in Afghanistan since the closure of their supply routes, some difficult if not impossible, still others falling into a grey area.
The lighter US footprint and no hot pursuit or boots on Pakistani territory, including new rules on regulating foreign private contractors and flights near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border seem possible, although the suspicion cannot be avoided that while paying lip service to these, the US may find even more clandestine means to pursue its objectives in the region. No bases or use of our airspace without parliamentary approval would probably enjoy a consensus across the political divide. Charging for NATO supplies and routing at least 50 percent of these supplies through the railways also seems feasible, as does the stipulation that there would be no more verbal agreements impinging on national security between the US and Pakistani governments or their various arms. Drone attacks cessation may or may not fly, and could provide embarrassment for parliament if the US either refuses or continues the strikes clandestinely. The unconditional apology for the Salala attack may at some point become possible for the Obama administration, depending on the political climate in an election year in the US. Now the grey or most difficult parts of the recommendations. Expecting states to reveal transparently the numbers and personnel of their spy agencies appears unrealistic. That is the nature of modern spycraft. An exposed spy is dead in the water. The US's views on the Iran gas pipeline are well known. Pakistan’s dire energy crisis necessitates pursuit of energy from any and all sources, irrespective of any other considerations. The pipeline should be built, but we should brace for US anger and perhaps more because of it. The civilian use nuclear agreement with India that Bush signed appears the least likely of the recommendations to find favour in Washington. There is no harm in dreaming, but realistically, this seems a long shot.
The PCNS’s recommendations indict and attempt to reverse some of the non-transparent and even verbal agreements with the US made by Musharraf after 9/11. These were neither known at the time, nor subsequently discussed anywhere openly. The negative sides of these concessions only revealed themselves with time, especially after democracy was restored in 2008. Now in a first, parliament is taking the lead in formulating an independent foreign policy. The significance of this development, despite all the caveats and roadblocks, would not be lost on those familiar with the sorry history of our kow-towing to Washington through most of our existence as a country. Whereas other post-colonial states too suffered the same pressures, cajoling and persuasion through ‘aid’, Pakistan went a step further early in its existence by yoking its wagon to the US horse. Cento and Seato followed, we became the front line state in the cold war long before the phrase became familiar in the Afghan wars context, and despite ups and downs in Pakistan-US relations over the years, were seen by the world and a considerable body of opinion within the country as a client state. If the page is about to be, or at least attempted to be turned now, all who have the interests of the country at heart can only welcome it. As for the military establishment that has held centre-stage in the making of foreign policy throughout our history, at best it must confine itself to professional input and surrender this self-proclaimed role into the hands of parliament.

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