ISLAMABAD: In its desire to muster political consensus on foreign policy reconfiguration, the government has given in to the opposition.
The Parliamentary Committee on National Security (PCNS), which drafted a 40-point proposal on terms of reengagement with the United States, is now considering a key opposition demand – to link the resumption of Nato supplies with a halt to drone strikes in tribal regions.
“This is our proposal … it will save us from public anger,” an opposition member told The Express Tribune after the PCNS session.
Opposition parties have refused to own the parliamentary panel’s proposal, objecting to key issues such as resumption of Nato supplies and US drone strikes.
The meeting of the multi-party, bicameral PCNS took place a day after top political leaders and military brass met in Islamabad where it was agreed that the recommendations would be reviewed.
The unusual huddle late Thursday night came after the revival of high-level contacts between civil and military leaderships of Pakistan and the US.
Officials say the main opposition party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), has agreed to most PCNS recommendations. But now it’s looking for some kind of ‘face-saving’ to avoid possible anger from its rightwing vote-bank.
“It appears they are looking for excuses now,” a PCNS member said about the PML-N whose chief Nawaz Sharif met with ambassadors of the US and the United Kingdom earlier in the day.
It wasn’t clear if the government itself endorses the proposal of unplugging Nato supply routes which were blocked after last year’s Nato air raid in Mohmand Agency that killed 24 soldiers. PCNS Chairperson Senator Raza Rabbani parried a question on the issue.
Meanwhile, the US is not willing to call off the drone campaign and officials said two top American commanders made this clear in their Wednesday’s meeting with Army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.
The PCNS has decided to drop proposals seeking transparency about the presence of foreign intelligence operatives in Pakistan and parliamentary oversight of foreign military bases here.
Rabbani told journalists that the committee will meet on a daily basis – even on Sundays – to complete a review of its earlier recommendations by April 5 before the next sitting of parliament’s joint session.
However, it’s not a binding deadline, Senator Rabbani said, hinting at possible further delays in the completion of the process.
Maulana Fazlur Rehman, chief of his own faction of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, said that fresh amendments would contain a holistic review of the foreign policy and might not be limited to one specific issue of Nato supplies.
Rehman, whose party had threatened to resist resumption of Nato supplies, said that it was good that the military establishment and Gen Kayani were not influencing the foreign policy review to have a decision of their choosing.
The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), a coalition partner of the PPP-led government, said that instead of misleading the nation, the government needs to be ‘brave’ and tell the people the truth about drone strikes and Nato supplies.
In a statement, MQM chief Altaf Hussain said, “On the one hand, a joint session of parliament is called to gain an opinion on drone strikes and Nato supplies, but on the other hand, drone strikes are continuing.”
He also noted that the government was silent on the March 30 drone hit as no statement was issued to “condemn, oppose or support” the strike. He added resources should not be wasted on meetings just for the sake of it.
Altaf said religious and political parties also maintained a ‘criminal silence’, despite their threats to ‘respond’ to a drone strike in the future. He linked these parties to “mice who go back into their hideouts when there is a drone strike.”
(With additional reporting by our correspondent in Karachi)
Published in The Express Tribune, March 31st, 2012.