The expected and the desirable from a responsible policy-making point of view has happened. Given how Pakistan’s popular and foreign policy debates have been framed, the opening of NATO supply routes and Pakistan’s participation in Chicago may in some circles be interpreted as damaging to our security interests.
It is important to be clear where the wishes of the people lie in the context of foreign and security policy. It lies in creating security, and socio-economic conditions within which the government can fulfill its constitutional responsibilities towards the people.
Public sentiments cannot dictate decisions on NATO supply routes. Government must decide and take responsibility.
As for whether this move will damage or promote Pakistan’s interests, some facts are relevant. For one, Pakistan’s invitation to the Chicago summit was linked to reopening of supply routes. There were also indications were that Washington was also beginning to squeeze Pakistan financially.
First, Pakistan’s decision will now ensure it’s participation in Chicago. And Chicago is important because it brings us into the “policy-making D” regarding the future of Afghanistan.
Clearly while President Karzai and the US are in that D, and now also pursuing the policy of dialogue with the Taliban that Pakistan has been advocating, Pakistan cannot abandon the opportunity to be part of the process.
Pakistan cannot ‘go it alone.’ We need to be in partnership on the best negotiated terms possible. Afghanistan’s future will realistically, given the political, security and financial realities, be determined by a four way engagement- Karzai plus other political groups, the Taliban, Pakistan and the US.
Two, the routes have been opened after the factor was leveraged to begin negotiations on key Pakistan-US related issues. That is still work-in-progress.
For weeks negotiations have been ongoing. Currently negotiations on three specific issues are underway: on terms for the use of supply routes, given that the previous terribly low rate of 350 dollars per container will have to substantially be increased, on terms for US guarantee of no Salala type attacks and negotiation of arrangements ensuring that there are no unilateral drone strikes in the future.
How valid is the criticism of the parliamentary process which has been gaining ground especially as US pressure began increasing? Many argue that policy-making is an executive function hence involving the parliament was a wrong idea.
Parliament’s involvement on a key foreign policy issue which has been popularized in the last three decades was necessary to get a general consensus. However that the issue was dragged for so long is a valid criticism. The long drawn out process triggered the law of diminishing returns to some extent; a fact that Pakistan’s ambassador to the US continued to raise with the government.
Washington was almost in awe of the process and began recognizing its own shortcomings. Apology was available for Pakistan which it refused, agreement to release CSF funds was there which a senior White House official and the Pakistan ambassador jointly announced but the parliamentary process dragged on and talks on the NATO supply routes did not resume.
With the deadlock having been broken, when the two Presidents meet in Chicago, Pakistan will have taken a seat at global policy making on Afghanistan and the region. And, provided that seat is wisely utilized, Pakistan will have also promoted its own security and economic interests- as we are doing in opening up trade along with conflict resolution dialogue with India.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 16th, 2012.