Friday, April 13, 2012

Daily Times editorial April 14, 2012

Parliament and foreign policy

After a hectic three-week joint session of parliament, the amended recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee on National Security (PCNS) were finally unanimously adopted. For a while it seemed that consensus would elude the government, and it might have to rely on a majority opinion. Of course that would have deprived the government of the wholesale backing of parliament, which the government wanted before entering into negotiations with the US on the basis of the new terms of engagement. It cannot be gainsaid that parliament’s discussion of, let alone formulation, of foreign policy is a historic first. Having said that, the adopted recommendations provide a picture of the concerns and issues surrounding our relationship with the US. Pakistani sovereignty assumes centre-stage, not surprising considering the events of the last year that brought the issue squarely into the limelight. A mere mention of Raymond Davis, the Abbottabad raid and the Salala incident are enough to underline the point.
What the adopted recommendations say in essence is that the US footprint in Pakistan must be reviewed. There must be an immediate cessation of drone attacks, although this demand has not been linked, as some opposition lawmakers wanted, to restoration of the NATO supply line to Afghanistan. Further, no infiltration into Pakistani territory should be allowed, including hot pursuit. The NATO supplies can only include non-lethal goods; no weapons or ammunition may be transported through Pakistani airspace or territory. For those like Chaudhry Nisar of the PML-N and Maulana Fazlur Rehman of JUI-F, who were heard proclaiming loud and clear that the NATO supplies would not be restored, this appears the compromise they finally accepted, albeit not without Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s persuasion of Nawaz Sharif and President Asif Ali Zardari’s of the Maulana. Pakistan’s nuclear programme and assets must be safeguarded, and the civilian nuclear deal received by India must also be given to Pakistan. While the nuclear assets have been mentioned in the context of all the speculations abroad about their safety, it may be difficult to extract the civilian nuclear deal because of our proliferation track record. An unconditional apology is demanded from the US for the Salala incident in which 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed. New flying rules must be framed along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border to avoid a repetition of such incidents. No verbal agreements on national security will be possible in future, and those of the past are null and void. In future all such agreements will go through a vetting process by the concerned ministries and the PCNS before being endorsed by the cabinet. This will be a far cry from the past sorry record of military dictators making one-man decisions behind closed doors and never even sharing them with the country. No private security contractors or intelligence operatives will be allowed in Pakistan. This may be practicable as far as contractors of the like of Raymond Davis are concerned, but the clandestine nature of intelligence work would probably make this recommendation difficult to implement, or, the US and other countries may find new ways and means to get around this roadblock. Perhaps the most interesting recommendation is that Pakistani territory would not be provided for any foreign bases, nor used for attacks on other countries and all foreign fighters, if found, would be expelled from our soil. This raises the interesting question whether the latter half applies to the Afghan Taliban on our soil. If we wish to find them, perhaps Aabpara should be contacted. The recommendations also include the demand for greater access to US, NATO countries and global markets in the light of the damage Pakistan’s economy has suffered on account of the war on terror. While Pakistan stands committed to combating and eliminating terrorism and extremism, the stabilisation of Afghanistan through an Afghan-led and -owned reconciliation process is the only way forward. Relations with India, China, Russia, and the Muslim world should be strengthened. The Iranian gas pipeline should be pursued.
The prime minister vowed in parliament to implement all the recommendations in letter and spirit. That may be well intentioned but it must be recognised that some recommendations are not entirely in our control to achieve. Meanwhile the US reaction has been cautious so far, while recognising the “seriousness” of the proposals. The Defence of Pakistan Council, however, has not let caution stand in its way and declared that it would not even allow non-lethal supplies to go through for NATO in Afghanistan. In the days ahead, all this will be on the table, a veritable moveable feast, if ever there was one.

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