After a long period of deliberation, the parliamentary committee tasked to review ties with the US came up with recommendations that are both imminently unobjectionable and yet, unlikely to ever come to fruition. Presented by the committee’s Chairman, Senator Raza Rabbani, the review’s most important proposal was regarding US drone attacks in the tribal areas. Without parliament’s approval, said Rabbani, the US would not be allowed to use Pakistani bases or airspace. Just saying this, however, does not mean it will automatically translate into reality, as the US has shown no willingness to take dictation from Pakistan while the military establishment, which has given its assent to drone attacks, has no desire to listen to orders from a nominally supreme parliament. This was all but acknowledged by the parliamentary review, which also said that no state institution can come to a verbal agreement with foreign governments on such matters.
Even though it may sound tough in its rhetoric, all the clauses have given the Americans plenty of wiggle room. Even the one recommendation most likely to anger the US — that we will continue to pursue building a gas pipeline project with Iran — is simply a restatement of existing policy. The parliamentary review has been able to bring some sense of clarity to the debate over ties with the US. We now know what the view of the civilian government is, even if there is very little chance of it being implemented or obeyed by the US or the security establishment.
The one silver lining to this debate has been the way parliament has tried to take back from the military its prerogative to devise foreign policy. Of course, there are some who may be of the view that parliament is doing precisely what the military would have done anyway. Although a single parliamentary review is not enough to do all this, but hopefully it will establish a tradition of the country’s elected representatives openly debating matters that should be under its purview. If that is indeed the case, then despite its many delays and likely ineffectualness, the parliamentary review will have served its purpose.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 21st, 2012.