Ever since the Nato/ISAF attack on the Salala checkpost on November 25, the government has sought to dampen countrywide anti-American anger and outrage by passing to parliament the responsibility for reviewing our foreign ties; in particular, relations with the US.
The report of the Parliamentary Committee on National Security has all the right sentiments and pious hopes. Much of its recommendations, such as pursuing a solution for the Kashmir issue, enhancing strategic partnership with China and reinforcing relations with the Islamic world, are unobjectionable. But its primary focus remains the US, with other countries and issues receiving short shrift.
The government had claimed that parliament’s involvement was meant to ‘review’ the foreign policy inherited by it. But this was recognised as disingenuous, because if that had been the intention, it would have initiated the process within weeks of coming into power. Had this been done, our foreign policy would have acquired domestic legitimacy and external credibility, as review of foreign commitments by a new government and especially one that succeeds a military dispensation, would have been viewed as within the norms of normal interstate relations. But having not merely honoured the military regime’s commitments, and engaged in the less-than-honourable policy of seeking refuge behind public denunciations of US actions, while privately endorsing them, the government found itself in an untenable situation in the wake of the ghastly Salala episode. Consequently, Pakistan-US relations, already lurching from one crisis to another, went into a nosedive. The bonhomie between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Shah Mehmood Qureshi appeared to be a distant dream, as did the claims of having established a strategic relationship.
Of the committee’s key recommendations, the most critical relate to the unconditional apology for the Salala attack, resumption of Nato supplies, cessation of drone attacks and the pursuit of the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project. Of these, the first can be finessed, as the administration was already inclined to do so, but for the sharp Republican reaction to President Barack Obama’s apology over the desecration of the Holy Quran by US troops in Afghanistan. Resumption of Nato supply lines, even on revised terms, should be welcomed to by the US. It is critical to the coalition’s operations now and likely to become more so during the course of the ‘endgame’. But the recommendation is bound to arouse great opposition within the country as it smacks of our legislators’ penchant for ‘commercial deals’. The demand for the cessation of drone attacks is, however, likely to be the most contentious one, particularly as the Obama Administration considers them to be the weapon of choice in the war against terrorism, as evident from their increased frequency and worldwide use.
With regards to the gas pipeline project with Iran, Secretary Clinton has not only publicly opposed it, but even threatened the imposition of sanctions should Pakistan take this ‘inexplicable’ step. Parliament’s endorsement should be welcomed by the government, though many suspect that there is a considerable gap between its public rhetoric and private position, as evident from its policy of acting slowly.
That the Parliamentary Committee sees no problem with the use of our bases or air space by foreign forces if done with parliament’s approval, or with reopening of Nato supply routes — on a revision of terms and conditions — demonstrates preference for ‘transactional relations’ with the US rather than a broad-based understanding. Worse, parliament is not opposed to the presence of foreign intelligence operatives either. All of this smacks of our historic proclivity for a ‘rentier’ attitude. The legislators have to ask themselves if the role of a ‘hired gun’ is in conformity with the people’s wishes.
The US has welcomed parliament’s recommendations, with Secretary Clinton emphasising that the US sought “an honest, constructive, mutually beneficial relationship with Pakistan”, but highlighting significantly, though not surprisingly, her expectation of cooperation with Pakistan, “particularly in the fight against terrorism”. That is the only issue that appears to matter to the US.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 28th, 2012.