Washington will have to wait.
The long-awaited review of relations by Parliament has another hurdle to cross: a seemingly discerning opposition.
Dispelling notions that recommendations by a parliamentary committee had already met with an off-the-floor understanding between the government and opposition, Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan on Tuesday demanded more time to study the proposals before a debate on the matter started.
The government willingly ceded to this demand – and the joint session of Parliament was adjourned till Monday (March 26).
The day saw the first official unveiling of the exact proposals put forward by the parliamentary committee regarding relations with the United States following detailed discussions with stakeholders. In fact, the proposals are not just US-centric, but talk about foreign policy in general.
The proposals, which, according to analysts could fetch Pakistan up to billions per day in terms of new taxes, and save as much in terms of infrastructure cost, were introduced by the chairman of the parliamentary committee on national security, Senator Raza Rabbani. The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) senator termed the day ‘historic’, given the introduction of parliamentary oversight on such important matters.
In all, there are 16 recommendations, with as many as 24 clauses – important parts of which were read out by Senator Rabbani.
Not everyone was in a celebratory mood, however.
Chaudhry Nisar, in particular, was in no mood to join the party. First, he pointed out that earlier recommendations by joint sessions had not been implemented. Then, he demanded details of understandings that had been reached with the US in the aftermath of the invasion of Afghanistan during the Musharraf era.
He also regretted that the opposition had not been given copies of the recommendations in advance so that they could come to the sitting prepared to debate the proposals.
Seeking assurances that the government would implement the latest recommendations, Chaudhry Nisar also said that he saw hints of pressure from certain powerful quarters to give the new terms of agreement a green light.
However, Senator Rabbani was quick in his dismissal of this notion: “I don’t think there is any pressure. The panel’s recommendations must be debated thoroughly on the floor of the house.”
Newly-elected Senate Chairman Nayyar Hussain Bokhari, who chaired the session in the absence of the National Assembly speaker, pointed out that there were over 400 participants in the session, and that there needed to be a proper understanding before the debate began.
He assured the house that a business advisory committee would note down names of those lawmakers who want to speak on the issue on Monday.
PPP chief whip Khurshid Shah happily backed up the opposition’s demand for more time, and was seen locked in discussion with Senator Rabbani as the proceedings moved forward.
Though the gist of most of the proposals has already been reported by the media there are some fresh points. In one of the most significant recommendations, the panel has proposed that at least 50% of Nato containers travelling through Pakistan be handled through Pakistan Railways.
Also recommended is that Islamabad actively pursue the gas pipeline project with Iran to meet its growing energy requirements, while the dialogue process with India be continued in a purposeful and result-oriented manner, the strategic partnership with China should be deepened and relations with Russia strengthened.
The panel’s report emphasises that Pakistan’s nuclear programme and assets, including its safety and security, cannot be compromised. “The US-Indo civil nuclear agreement has significantly altered the strategic balance in the region; therefore, Pakistan should seek from the US and others a similar treatment.
The recommendations further say that Pakistan should demand an unconditional apology from the US for the November 26, 2011 air attack on the Salala check post. It added that Washington should put a stop to drone strikes in tribal areas.
Senator Rabbani after the session, in an exclusive chat with The Express Tribune, was upbeat. “If supplies to foreign forces resume in light of these recommendations, Islamabad can earn billions of rupees per day by imposing additional levied on foreign forces supply,” he said.
(Read: Parliamentary review)
Published in The Express Tribune, March 21st, 2012.