An advisory body, the Parliamentary Committee on National Security (PCNS), has taken on some executive functions after it came up with the following recommendations: Any use of Pakistani bases or airspace by foreign forces would require parliamentary approval and that all agreements/MOUs (after necessary circulation and requisite work through related ministries) will arrive at the PCNS for vetting and for recommendations to the Cabinet for approval. The executive’s intent in ceding its own functions to a committee is a move to signify parliamentary supremacy over all other state institutions especially when it faces a competitive assertiveness by others in an environment in which an impending clash could occur. Or, does such a move reinforce a sense of dysfunctional governance?
It is the executive’s responsibility to devise, design and formulate foreign policy based on the national interest, which is best known and understood by the executive because of its unique advantage of receiving related inputs from all organs of the state and because of its own vision. This was expressly abdicated in favour of the Raza Rabbani Committee for bipartisan consideration and consensus to restore relations with the US following Salala. This may also be a convenient ploy to avoid taking responsibility in an election year given popular anti-American sentiment in the country and when restoring relations with America is the issue.
While Pakistan stood estranged and incommunicado, the Taliban have been in contact with the Americans who in turn have opened their own channels for direct contact. Despite some initial stutters that avenue will begin to function, for the Afghans are nothing but pragmatic as are the Americans who want out. All along, nations such as Iran, Turkey and India have kept themselves available and relevant for any role to the Taliban and the Americans. Investments in Afghanistan have gone on by both China and India. Pakistan’s own interest — especially in the immediate context — of bringing the war to a close at the earliest and to see the departure of foreign troops from Afghanistan and help bring some sense of normalcy to an incinerating region, and to itself, has lain unattended for all this time. Possessing illusions of injured pride (when actually the substance to such pride remains dismally low in both capacity and capability) and while reality beckons otherwise, is self-destructive and self-defeating. Pakistan’s interest should override all other illusions or delusions. We need to engage forthwith with all players in the region and the primary one out those is America. We need to be seen centre-stage as the curtain falls over Afghanistan and that cannot be done without engaging with the central players.
Meanwhile the dynamics of Pakistan’s engagement on related issues of war on terror are still very much there: fighting the war on terror; a commitment and the need to end radicalism and extremism; the need to retain a functional relationship with the US to support our military wares, and the need for funding, grants and monies as budgetary support, or to finance fiscal deficits, since most of the IFIs are controlled by America. In pursuit of these objectives, but with cognisance of limited freedom because of engineered sensitivities, the committee has had to keep face and apply conditionalities in terms of taxing US/NATO/ISAF supplies and in seeking better accountability and a record of what goes through Pakistani territory. By themselves each of these would be of relevance only if inherent inclinations to do ‘business’ were not to betray the sham slogans of violated dignity.
This is whence the committee eases into the ‘transactional’ despite all its chest-beating of not selling national pride and not compromising sovereignty. There are two impracticalities that the committee proposes: seeking a nuclear deal a la India, and in leaving little margin for negotiations on the issue of drones given that there may a situation where parliament may wish to step further and harden its stance in the final resolution.
Also, what about the possibility that what if each of these conditions is not agreed to by the US? What will be Pakistan’s fall-back position then? Is the government letting itself be herded into a cul de sac by playing the maximalist/minimalist stratagem through parliamentary enunciation of the negotiation red-lines?
Published in The Express Tribune, April 3rd, 2012.