Politics remains at the forefront in Pakistan — and at times for a huge price. Even issues related to the economy, national security and foreign policy, which should be kept above all politics, end up being politicised. The recent rift in Pakistan-US relations is another example of how politics is practised in Pakistan on issues related to national security and foreign policy.
In the aftermath of the Salala incident, most political parties found it convenient to get political mileage through making tall claims against the US. America was presented as a country whose defence capabilities in Afghanistan were solely dependent on Pakistan and it was argued that it would taste defeat if Pakistan did not restore the Nato supplies route. The government was caught between the options of infuriating the US and enraging its own public. However, it played it smart by handing the task of deciding how Pakistan should pursue its relations with the US to parliament. Yes, the same parliament that has not been able to conduct a single fruitful debate on national security in the last four years and which saw great sloganeering on national sovereignty after the Abbottabad raid but no policy framework that could act as a guideline for the future.
After the Salala incident, there had been reports that the US was ready to offer an apology in a meeting between Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar and the US Foreign Secretary Hillary Clinton, but the latter was told to hold the apology until parliament submitted its recommendations.
However, the parliamentary recommendations turned out to be completely unrealistic. They could not even address the basic question of whether the US and Pakistan have similar or conflicting objectives in the region. There was no mention of the limits of the cooperation that Pakistan could extend to the US so that it would result in positive outcomes for Pakistan while, at the same time, not putting it at odds with the rest of the world. A joint session of parliament was summoned for the sake of giving a new direction to foreign policy, but most of its sittings were taken up by domestic issues. It seemed that either parliament was not interested in dealing with national security and foreign policy issues or that these were beyond its comprehension.
We saw Pakistan boycotting the Bonn Conference and delaying the decision on the Nato supplies resumption. As US President Barack Obama signed a strategic agreement with Afghan president Hamid Karzai, Pakistan became the centre of criticism in the US Congress, with Ms Clinton also criticising it on the Hafiz Saeed issue and that too in India. So, what started as the US being upset with Pakistan, ended with much of the Western world being upset with Pakistan. We were gradually being pushed to a corner of isolation. The government that had made tall claims while boycotting the Bonn Conference was suddenly desperate for an invitation to the Chicago Summit.
Today, the US is not willing to apologise for the Salala incident, nor is it willing to pay the $5,000 per container for the Nato supplies that we are asking, should the route be restored. As reported, the US was willing to apologise a few months back, but now Pakistan is not only going to re-open the Nato supplies without receiving an apology, it is also going to look apologetic itself. As long as national security and foreign policy issues continue to be politicised, we will keep on witnessing embarrassing situations like this one. Maybe we need to learn to think before we speak.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 3rd, 2012.
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