The government knows that reopening Nato supply routes in the country is a prudent course of action to take but unfortunately the rest of Pakistani polity is too fearful of public ramifications or too frozen in its ideological obsessions to make the right decision. A news report indicated that Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar has expressed his willingness to allow Nato supplies to be transported through Pakistan but meetings on the issue are still ongoing between US Ambassador Cameron Munter and government officials. At this point, it seems that the question is not if Nato supplies will be resumed, but rather when it will happen and what price Pakistan will extract for the concession.
It is appropriate that the matter is now being decided by the executive since parliament had its opportunity to give its recommendations but took the safe option of deferring any decision on the subject. After initially trying to link the opening of the supply routes to a complete halt in drone attacks, opposition parties opportunistically stayed silent in the final resolution and punted the matter to the government. This will allow them to claim plausible deniability and attack the government should the supply routes be opened to Nato trucks. The trick for the government is to make the correct call but also convince the public that the opposition parties are complicit in the final decision since they opted for political point-scoring rather than resolving the conflict.
It’s not as if the government has any choice but to reopen the supply routes. The US could simply take the more costly option of using Central Asia as a more expensive alternative route and then deduct the difference from Pakistan’s total aid package. With our economy still shaky, that is a course of action we should avoid at all costs. Instead, we should use negotiations with the US to work out a better deal that would allow us to collect greater tolls and taxes to pay for the damage done to our highways by Nato trucks. The final decision should be a practical, not emotional, one. For the sake of better relations with the superpower and to stay financially afloat, the government needs to bite the bullet and give in to the US.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 19th, 2012.
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