Here are the pluses. It is good to have a parliamentary committee on national security which works. Commendable is the fact that it can deliberate on issues on nonpartisan basis. Both developments, given the current work of the Parliamentary Committee on National Security (PCNS), show a degree of maturity that is promising. The third plus deals with the process: the committee was briefed by three ministries, foreign, defence and finance as well as the director general military operations. It put together its recommendations which are now being debated by parliament.
Beyond this lies rough terrain.
There are legal-technical problems with some formulations; while “new rules of engagement” are to be laid down in writing, there’s no word on why this was not done earlier; there’s mention of “The gap between assertion [sic] and facts on the ground [that need]… to be qualitatively bridged through effective steps” but we don’t know which gap is being referred to, what assertions and by whom and what effective steps will be taken in case any red lines are crossed, for instance on the drone attacks; finally, there’s a broad problem of the inability of the recommendations to spell out US-Pakistan relations and their tenor. This is an important omission. Let’s consider a few points.
Clause 2 begins by asking the US to “review its footprints in Pakistan”. Amazing. Is it the US’ job to review its actions on the territory of another state or that state’s responsibility to ensure that a foreign power’s ingress remains limited, controlled and subject to host state’s laws?
The clause then talks about “cessation of drone attacks”. How’s the ‘what if’ to be dealt with? Is there a strategy? Technically the drones can be shot down. Can Pakistan afford to do that? Is there a policy that covers the space between issuing condemnatory statements and actually shooting down the drones – e.g., taking the issue to the ICJ or even to a US court? What is the reality of Pakistan’s tacit agreement which many documents, Wikileaks to books and articles, have recorded?
Similarly, there is no mention of the fact that drone attacks are legally untenable and there is a growing corpus of literature on that fact. The committee seems to be ignorant of that. Reason: while it got briefings from the ministries, to my knowledge it made no effort to arrange hearings from experts in various areas for external input, a glaring omission.
The same clause stresses that the activities of “foreign private security contractors (PSC) must be transparent and subject to Pakistani law”. This means that contractors were operating in Pakistan and government’s (civil and military) previous denials were lies. What steps are to be taken to ensure that these operators will indeed abide by Pakistani law? Transparency demands that the government make public the list of PSCs operating in Pakistan. It also needs to tell the public why it is important to have these contractors, what exactly is the nature of their work and even to define what the category PSC means. Transparency also demands that the public be told who authorised them, how, when and why to operate on Pakistani territory.
Those of us who deal with these issues have answers to some of these questions but let’s have the parliament ask these questions.
Clause 3 says “The strategic position of Pakistan vis-a-vis India on the subject of FMCT [fissile material cut-off treaty] must not be compromised …” Pakistan’s position on FMCT is not India-related but multilateral and as part of negotiations in CD (Conference on Disarmament) which include, in addition to disarmament, NSA (negative security assurances) and PAROS (prevention of arms race in outer space).
Also, why is this FMCT issue being directed at the US? Similarly, the same clause further up says “Pakistan’s nuclear programme and assets, including its safety and security cannot be compromised”. What does this mean? Is it a general statement of purpose or was someone trying to compromise the safety and security of the programme?
Clause 3 also talks about the US-India civil nuclear agreement as having “significantly altered the strategic balance in the region” and calls for Pakistan to “seek from the US and others a similar treatment/facility [sic]”. Quite apart from Pakistan’s continued confusion on this issue and whether we need such a deal or would even accept it if one were offered us — those issues being a separate debate — how does Pakistan expect on the one hand to redefine relations with the US in a more limited framework and then ask for special treatment? Please note that the entire exercise is being carried out because we do not want a heavier footprint of the US. This requires reducing the US leverage, not enhancing it.
Then there’s the opening of the supply line. Are we agreed that the supply line should be opened? What deliberations have been done and what benchmarks used to arrive at the conclusion that Nato supplies should be resumed? Does it serve Pakistan’s interests? Now that the US is in negotiations with the Taliban and Pakistan is bilaterally trying to facilitate peace with the Kabul regime, shouldn’t there be some conditionalities attached to resuming supplies to ensure that the level of violence in Afghanistan is reduced? The recommendations make clear that Pakistan is convinced that there is no military solution to the Afghanistan problem. Shouldn’t that be reflected in the decision to resume supplies?
The document talks about duties and other taxes. The way this is formulated gives the impression of a rentier approach especially if it is in Pakistan’s interest — presumably also Afghanistan’s — to reduce levels of violence in Afghanistan. The framework for resuming supplies should have been more rigorous.
Finally, there is the politics of this exercise. There has been inexplicable delay between the finalisation of PCNS’s recommendations (January 12) and the parliament session (which began March 27) to debate them. Why? The only explanation can be that Islamabad discussed these with Washington through the back-channel. This explains why, against the stated mandate of the committee, the Americans seemed to know the salient features of this document. Ironically, covert deliberations go against the very assertions of the committee contained in this document that nothing in Pakistan’s foreign policy will be grounded in verbal understandings, “agreements” and opacity.
The recommendations are a laundry list of unilateral demands and oscillate between reducing certain types of cooperation while demanding more from the US. That’s unworkable.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 28th, 2012.
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