The opposition fears the political backlash; the government is unwilling to take blame by itself.
The recommendations of a parliamentary panel have become a veritable hot potato.
Well-placed sources in both the government and opposition have told The Express Tribune that the matter will be effectively abandoned following hectic negotiations between key political players. At best, the matter will be left pending for the time being.
The debate on the recommendations on foreign policy in general and ties with the US in particular yet to begin in earnest in the joint session, despite the passage of over a week since they were first presented by their architect, Senator Raza Rabbani. The future of the endeavour looked bleak to begin with.
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has attached conditions – far-fetched ones – for its support on an eventual resolution on the matter.
Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) has hastily distanced itself from the matter. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) walked out of Tuesday’s sitting, saying they were more concerned about domestic policy, referring to the fresh violence in Karachi, rather than foreign policy.
The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Awami National Party (ANP) are left alone on the matter. However, neither is willing to take the brunt of the public blame for a perceived capitulation before US-led international forces in the wake of the reopening of Nato supply routes through Pakistan. Given the sensitivity of the matter, the government wants any eventual resolution to be unanimous so that any fallout is shared.
With unanimity out of the question given the opposition’s stance, there is a frantic move to abort the endeavour that will result in the reopening of Nato supply routes.
The opposition’s stand was that, with this effectively being election year, the political hit will be too much for the parties to take, according to various off-the-record interviews conducted by The Express Tribune. Not even the military is willing to take a stand on the matter – having conveniently placed the sensitive matter in the hands of Parliament.
The government is said to have agreed with this stand.
According to sources privy to negotiations between the opposition and the government, the agreement between the two is to “continue the status quo” – that is, continuing Nato supply under the cover of Afghan Transit Trade. According to well-placed sources, a large chunk of the supply has already been started covertly in this manner.
“The United States and Pakistan Army conveyed a message to the government that, if they fail to get approval of a unanimous resolution from the joint session, then the continuation of Nato supply via Afghan transit trade should be continued covertly,” sources in PPP told The Express Tribune.
And that seems to be good enough for now.
According to the rules of procedure, after the end of a debate, the speaker puts the resolution to the house for a vote. However, the rules also say that the speaker can put a vote in pending for an indefinite period of time on the advice of the leader of the house, i.e. the prime minister. The joint session can then be prorogued, and the vote can be taken up later at any time during the life of the current National Assembly. The resolution would, however, lapse once the lower house of Parliament completes its term.
On the other hand, ties with the US need to be brought back on track. The effort in this regard is already on. President Asif Ali Zardari has met US special representative Marc Grossman in Dushanbe, while Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani met US President Barack Obama in Seoul. On Wednesday, the US military hierarchy flew in to Islamabad for meetings with Army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.
Meanwhile, sources in Islamabad have already confirmed upcoming visits by various high-level US officials, which may culminate in a visit by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton next month.
On its part, the PML-N, for all its opposition, does not want to antagonise the US.
Sources in the party told The Express Tribune that Nawaz Sharif presided over a meeting in Raiwind on Tuesday to discuss how the PML-N would tackle the matter in Parliament. In the meeting, according to sources, it was decided that the Leader of the Opposition, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, will try to not deliver a speech during the debate – given that his speech will be taken as party policy by the US and allied countries.
When contacted, PML Deputy Secretary-General Ahsan Iqbal said that it was a fact that powerful stakeholders wanted to get a resolution passed unanimously instead of by simple majority. However, he expressed ignorance about a deal between the opposition and government. He added that relations between Pakistan and US should be transparent and any covert pacts between the two countries are counterproductive, and regretted that, according to reports, the US, the government and the army had already reached an understanding on reopening supply routes.
Iqbal also pointed out that the government had already failed to implement earlier resolutions.
When The Express Tribune approached PPP Central Information Secretary Qamar Zaman Kaira, he was quick to point out that the recommendations were not by the PPP but by a multi-party parliamentary panel. He also said that it was mandate of the house whether it reject, proposed amendments or accepted a resolution – but added that the government would like to have the resolution passed unanimously, and would not pass it by simple majority. In the same breath, he added: “Let’s see what stance the house adopts over the draft.”
Asked about the continuation of Nato supplies through Pak-Afghan trade, he replied that no one can stop the routes of landlocked countries under international law. Asked again, whether Nato supply was being transported in the guide of transit trade, he repeated his earlier statement – and ended the call.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 29th, 2012.