After the furore in Pakistan over the deaths of its military personnel in a Nato attack in November 2011, it made sense for Pakistan and the US to take a breather and reassess their alliance. In Pakistan, that was meant to be done through a parliamentary review, a process that has been talked up by both sides as the key step in a full resumption of ties. Three months later — and over a month after the Parliamentary Committee on National Security submitted its recommendations —the review process seems to have stalled. With parliament no longer in session, it now seems unlikely that a joint session can be called to discuss and vote on the review till after the Senate elections scheduled in March. Waiting till then would be a profoundly unwise move, as Pakistan needs support from the US on financial aid and issues of cross-border terrorism. For the sake of this faltering alliance, parliament needs to act on the review immediately.
What is ironic is that the main issues it is considering have tended to be under the jurisdiction of the military. Drone attacks, in particular, have been touted as one of the main items under consideration in the review. While this review is conducted, however, the US has continued with its drone strikes, probably with the grudging blessing of our military. While parliament has conducted its review, the country has moved in an increasingly anti-American direction. The emergence of the Difa-e-Pakistan Council is one public manifestation of this trend. The fear is that with the elections approaching, parliamentarians, particularly from the opposition parties, may feel pressurised to take on the anti-American mantle. If the review is stalled because of ideological differences on the question of the alliance with the US, it could adversely affect our ties with the superpower. Parliament is expected to give only broad guidelines on how to deal with the US; the specifics during negotiations will come down to the government and most likely, the military. Parliament must do its job and get the ball rolling immediately.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 26th, 2012.