The much-delayed parliamentary review on ties with the US is now facing further obstacles in the form of the unreasonable stance taken by the opposition political parties. Despite the fact that the parliamentary committee that produced the recommendations on re-engagement with the US comprised members of all parties and produced a report that was unanimously signed by the members, debate in parliament has been acrimonious. The main hurdle in the path to re-establishing ties with the US has been the uncooperative stance of the PML-N and the JUI-F. Some would say that their demands have been a bit unrealistic and that they may be trying to extract political mileage out of the situation.
Their main proposal is to link the transport of Nato supplies through Pakistan to a halt to drone attacks, an unrealistic demand that ignores the multi-layered dynamics of Pakistan-US relations. The reality is that the US, as shown by the May 2 raid, has not often cared about Pakistan’s sovereignty. But even if that was a concern for it, the US already has the military’s permission to carry out drone strikes. Parliament has essentially been cut out of that process. That it is now trying to reassert itself in the decision-making process is laudable but it needs to tread carefully. If it overreaches, as the PML-N and the JUI-F appear to be doing, there is a chance that it could be overridden by circumstances outside of its control.
Strategic powerplays aside, normalising relations with the US is a goal worth attaining. With the military sometimes unable to take on the militants in parts of the tribal areas, drone attacks have proved the most effective — if also the most controversial — method of eliminating militants. Holding that hostage to a fit of anti-American pique is a self-defeating exercise. The original Parliamentary Committee on National Security recommendations had also called for an end to drone attacks but did not link it to the resumption of Nato supplies, instead saying that the latter should be allowed only if the US pays its duties and taxes. This original formulation was far more sensible and the opposition parties should get on board with it. Relations with the US are far too vital to be held hostage by political demagoguery.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 12th, 2012.
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