Policymakers in Washington must realise by now that Islamabad is in no hurry to restore NATO supplies via Pakistan to Afghanistan. They should stick to and expand reliance on alternative routes, howsoever costly and laborious.
After having blocked the NATO supplies following the attack on a remote post on Pak-Afghan border on November 26, 2011 in which 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed, Zardari-Gilani government had outsourced the responsibility of taking a policy decision on the matter to the Parliamentary Committee on National Security, which had representation from all the parties elected to the two houses. The committee was asked to set guidelines for resetting our relations with the US.
After painfully prolonged deliberations the PCNS eventually came out with its proposals on March 20 and presented them before the joint sitting.
Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, the leader of the opposition in the lower house, however, blocked immediate initiation of a debate on the proposal on the grounds that his party needed ‘sufficient time’ to review the package which incidentally had the signature of his party colleague, Senator Ishaq Dar, the leader of the opposition in the upper house and who had represented Chaudhry’s party in the PCNS. And the government conceded with a large heart.
Yet, meeting after a week’s hiatus on Monday the joint sitting could not start the debate. The PML-N and its allies strongly felt that instead of delivering speeches on ways to redefine our relations with other countries, public representatives must be allowed to reflect the enraged feelings of our people against long hours of unannounced load shedding.
The government didn’t resist the demand and all seemed now set for a lengthy and focused debate on the PCNS proposals on Tuesday. Alas, if wishes were…
The Tuesday sitting was scheduled to start at 10:30 am. For exactly a hundred minutes, though, not many legislators came into the house. After anxiously waiting in the press lounge, most reporters eventually found out that many legislators were still not willing to start discussion on PCNS proposals. Far more reluctant than the opposition members in this context were the coalition partners, the MQM.
Its parliamentarians felt grieved over the murder of one of their lead cadres in Karachi. Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and Maulana Fazlur Rehman had their own reservations. After pleading and appeasing for more than an hour, Syed Khurshid Shah and Raza Rabbani finally succeeded in persuading the MQM to at least come to the house.
Haider Abbass Rizvi of the MQM took the floor immediately after recitation from Holy Koran to announce boycott of the proceedings in view of the murders in Karachi. Chaudhry Nisar stood up after him, but not to open the general discussion.
He rather opted to speak on a ‘point of order’ to tell us in clear terms that the PML-N members were not willing to ‘rubber stamp’ the idea of restoring the NATO supplies that he alleged had already been decided by the President and the Prime Minister at a meeting held at Aiwan-e-Sadr some days ago. The praetorian elite was also present in that meeting and after the conclusion of it, Washington had already been conveyed Islamabad’s willingness to restore NATO supplies.
His point of order did not end there. Nisar went on and on to build the thesis that cessation of drone attacks on Pakistan’s territory remained the core demand not only of his party but the whole nation. The government must ensure their cessation before restoring the NATO supplies. With contempt he also told the government that all the forty proposals that the PCNS had put in its package should be implemented in totality. “We are not ready to let the government get away by boasting that it got 40, 50 or 60 per cent of these proposals implemented.”
Doing this, he conveniently forgot that the PCNS had also asked for nuclear cooperation with America to generate power in Pakistan and Washington is just not willing to hear a word on that.
Maulana Fazlur Rehman supported Nisar vigorously. Also speaking on a ‘point of order,’ he ended his very long speech by asserting that restoration of NATO supplies would ignite violent attacks on their convoys. He sounded as if expressing the intention of encouraging, if not participating in such attacks by reminding the government that “we, (the JUI cadres) don’t wear bangles.” They know how to protect national honor. Funnily, even a renowned columnist with reputation of a blunt liberal, Ayaz Amir, did not sound any different while pressing for a more open and exhaustive debate in the house. Raza Rabbani responded with an equally rhetorical speech and I left the gallery in utter disappointment. We seemed heading nowhere with rhetorical fits.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 28th, 2012.
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