Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Daily Times Editorial May 17, 2012
The ‘honour’ narrative As expected by many observers, the Defence Committee of the Cabinet (DCC) has given a ‘green light’ to the reopening of NATO’s supply routes, with the caveat as per parliament’s resolutions that only non-lethal cargo would be allowed to traverse Pakistani soil, and that too on the basis of a tariff to be imposed on goods transiting to Afghanistan. Not entirely unexpectedly either, the return to realism rather than the chest thumping on display by us for months in the name of national ‘honour’ has meant that diplomacy has kicked in on both sides. The reopening of the supply routes has been delinked from the demand for an apology for Salala or the cessation of drone strikes (the latter having been flatly refused by the US). On these two issues, the DCC has said the foreign office will continue to ‘engage’ with the US. On the other hand, in an ostensible reversal of NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s assertion recently that Pakistan would not find a seat at NATO’s Chicago summit or indeed any other NATO forum unless the routes were restored, the secretary general has extended an invitation to President Asif Ali Zardari for the Chicago moot. Since the DCC has welcomed the development, the condition in the president’s reply to the invitation that he would be guided by parliament and the government’s advice has been fulfilled, smoothing the path for the president’s attendance. The US State Department spokesperson has also delinked the invitation from what was previously seen as a pre-condition that the supply routes must first be reopened before an invitation would be forthcoming. What all this means is that both sides have retreated diplomatically from the brink of a total breakdown in relations and are striving to get back to business as usual, but with new terms of engagement. The DCC has instructed all relevant ministries to conclude their negotiations with the US on the new terms. The Corps Commanders meeting called by COAS General Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani to brief on the DCC decisions, whose results were not yet available at the time of writing these lines, was expected to endorse the government’s changed stance. Cynics would say that this is just a formality, since it is common knowledge that the military calls the shots on foreign policy, particularly vis-à-vis Afghanistan. The DCC wants the military to negotiate new rules for management of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, with better coordination/communication to avoid Salala-like incidents from recurring. It also endorsed parliament’s call for foreign fighters on Pakistani soil, wherever found, to be expelled, a decision that would be interesting to watch since it has been the core issue between the ostensible allies regarding the safe havens available to the Afghan Taliban on this side of the border. The difficulties the government is facing in announcing the decisions ostensibly already taken to cooperate once again with NATO, albeit on new terms, is a self-inflicted wound. By throwing the ball into parliament and its Parliamentary Committee on National Security’s court, the government opened the door to political forces in parliament fundamentally opposed to the alliance against terror with the US/NATO to assert difficult and even impossible preconditions for reopening of the routes. Now the government, in the shape of Information Minister Kaira, is treading softly in the public space because of apprehensions regarding the ‘unholy alliance’ of parties inside and outside parliament who are committed to stopping the NATO supplies, physically if necessary. Unfortunately, in one of its least wise decisions, the PML-N has thrown in its lot with parties like the PTI, JI, and the retrograde Defence of Pakistan Council, which boasts many extremists in its ranks. This is not to say that Pakistan should not have defended its ‘honour’ after the Salala attack. Only such defence must take into account Pakistan’s own interests in remaining engaged if not allied with the US/NATO in the struggle against terrorism, which afflicts us as much as it does Afghanistan. Our duality of policy vis-à-vis our Afghan proxies has made the task of combating terrorism on our own soil that much more difficult. Our chest thumping on national ‘honour’ had painted us into a corner from which extraction depended on professional diplomacy, not loud slogans for the gallery. ‘Honour’ can only be defended when a country is really strong and standing on its own feet. Anything less, which obviously applies in our case, must be negotiated with realism and pragmatism. Hopefully belated wisdom will teach us not to overreach our real strengths and weaknesses.