Our stalled foreign policy

Published: March 29, 2012
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US President Barack Obama (R) and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani (L) shake hands as they meet with the media during their bilaterial meeting on the sidelines of the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit at the COEX Center in Seoul on March 27, 2012. PHOTO: AFP

US President Barack Obama (R) and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani (L) shake hands as they meet with the media during their bilaterial meeting on the sidelines of the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit at the COEX Center in Seoul on March 27, 2012. PHOTO: AFP

While our parliament was getting ready to debate the text of the foreign policy draft in a joint session, US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani were at a conference in South Korea trying to sort out a troubled anti-terror alliance which almost ruptured over 10 months of mistrust and recriminations.

President Obama admitted that, “There have been times — I think we should be candid — over the last several months where those relations have had periods of strains”. Then he delivered the crucial conditionality of any future discussion between them two: “But I welcome the fact that the parliament of Pakistan is reviewing, after some extensive study, the nature of this relationship. I think it’s important to get it right. I think it’s important for us to have candid dialogue, to work through these issues”.

Prime Minister Gilani was careful, replacing ‘terrorism’ with a word that the Pakistan Army prefers as explanation of what is happening in Pakistan: “We are committed to fighting against extremism. We want stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan”. An Islamabad-based think tank has recently issued a study of extremism in Pakistan as if to buttress the position increasingly adopted here in respect of what the international community insists on calling terrorism.

It is clear that by committing foreign policy to the custodianship of parliament, the PPP-led government has postponed any discussion of bilateral issues with the US. The draft text of the ‘guidelines’ that parliament would have the government follow are a mixture of abstraction and realpolitik — ‘principle’ and ‘flexibility’ — that will make any negotiation difficult. But unfortunately, problems have arisen among the parties represented in parliament on these guidelines.

The opposition led by JUI’s Maulana Fazlur Rehman and the second largest party in parliament, the PML-N, now want the draft guidelines changed. They say they want to debate the sincerity of the government in following what parliament will endorse and they have reservations about the clear indication in the draft of reopening of the Nato supply route to Afghanistan under certain conditions. It is clear that debate over foreign policy will unfold slowly as background music to efforts being made on the roads of Punjab to topple the erring government.

There is an element of fear in what is being proposed by the political parties before they engage in the debate. The Taliban have warned that any talk of reopening the Nato supply route will attract their retaliatory attacks on the politicians. Al Qaeda’s Aiman al Zawahiri has also added his voice to this warning, saying the rulers in Islamabad are slaves of America and should be toppled. Jamaat-i-Islami chief Syed Munawar Hasan, who is a leading light of the rejectionist alliance of religious parties and organisations included in Defence of Pakistan Council says he will not hesitate to spill blood if the route is reopened.

The effect of this environment of fear has triggered a proposal from a section of parliament that the debate be held also with parties not in parliament. This, of course, means those who stayed out of the 2008 elections as well as those who are organisationally present as nonstate actors of Pakistan. Needless to say, this ‘expanded’ debate will eliminate the centrepiece of any negotiation with the US of such sensitive issues as drones and a possible nuclear deal in the energy sector.

We all know what happens to unrealistic foreign policy pronouncements by parliament. They were made in the past but the government was unable to act on them. In fact, what we had in consequence was a rift over foreign policy now being adjudicated in the Supreme Court in the shape of ‘memogate’ scandal.

What clearly has come to the fore is that foreign policy of Pakistan is not only run by the army, but also indirectly by other elements outside parliament who partially control events inside Pakistan, and that ignoring the views of these elements can endanger the lives of our politicians. The world can wait as we sort out this dilemma.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 29th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (12)

  • MarkH
    Mar 29, 2012 - 2:26AM

    “Syed Munawar Hasan, who is a leading light of the rejectionist alliance of religious parties and organisations included in Defence of Pakistan Council says he will not hesitate to spill blood if the route is reopened.”
    The sense ends there. There’s absolutely no point in your elections or system if people like that are embraced in the decision. The reason people are voted in are that people want them to make the decision, not the ones who aren’t. It also makes the government look about as weak as it gets. You don’t have nice chats with people who say that. You tell them to knock it off or they will be the ones to receive retribution. Not the other way around.

    Also, the world will only wait for a limited time for people trying to throw a wrench in the gears of something that effects their own people. If it was a debate that effected Pakistan only, it can be as slow as it wants. With people dying, an unsaid time limit is in place. It will come from a measure of Pakistan’s worth in relations. You’re still housing militants while this chat happens. They will eventually be dealt with. It’s just a matter of who does it and most would rather it be Pakistan itself. But, if that option isn’t there, it doesn’t mean nothing will happen.

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  • Billoo Bhaya
    Mar 29, 2012 - 2:51AM

    You are presuming that it was moving in the first place hence the term stalled. NO. It was never a dynamic but an ad-hoc one, buffeted by events not of our choosing. Now we have a chance to make amends. But the Johnnies in Parliament as per an Englishmen’s parlance, are behaving like natives. How can natives then design a foreign policy???

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  • Arindom
    Mar 29, 2012 - 6:19AM

    If your PM is even scared of using the word “terrorist” than how are you going to fight it?

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  • ashok
    Mar 29, 2012 - 6:52AM

    “Galbraith once mentioned three basic type of intelligence.

    Animal Intelligence

    Human Intelligence

    Military Intelligence

    In the same hierarchy of order”

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  • BlackJack
    Mar 29, 2012 - 9:06AM

    Extremism [ik-stree-miz-uhm] (noun): Terrorism resulting in killing of innocents in the name of Islam by Pak nationals (Ref Taliban.com unabridged).

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  • Feroz
    Mar 29, 2012 - 10:20AM

    By the time the Parliamentarians finish the debate on Foreign policy the importance of Pakistan would have diminished significantly. NATO wants their supplies now, if a route is provided after another 6 months it may serve no purpose and whatever little leverage that exists will be lost. Remember what is valuable today may not be valuable tomorrow.

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  • huzaifa
    Mar 29, 2012 - 11:35AM

    An excellent over view! Isn’t it the main reason US doesn’t like democracy in Pakistan. The president Obama was real fidgety this time, he could only convey a concealed threat to Parliamentarians to put it right. It’s very funny that on one hand our brave Parlimentarians are squaring off threats from TTP about not giving access to NATO and on other hand the US is conveying warnings. So, real test of Democracy lies ahead.

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  • Thoughtful
    Mar 29, 2012 - 12:21PM

    It seems that the parliament lacks the political will to take a decision and has once again abdicated to the army to strike a side deal. Isnt that what is being hammerred out parallely?

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  • G. Din
    Mar 29, 2012 - 5:21PM

    @huzaifa:
    “The president Obama was real fidgety this time,…”
    Rational people have a great deal of respect for words. They tend to chose them carefully. Because there are subtle nuances which differentiate one from the other, what you see as being fidgety is more a hesitation and a grope for using the “right word”. President Obama is especially known for such “fidgety” eloquence, practically in all his speeches.
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  • Mar 29, 2012 - 10:25PM

    “There is an element of fear in what is being proposed by the political parties before they engage in the debate. The Taliban have warned that any talk of reopening the Nato supply route will attract their retaliatory attacks on the politicians. “

    All the more reason for a united stand against the Taliban, yes? Perhaps after years of static deployments and useless conflict between allies the P.A. would be enthusiastic about supplying the U.S. and fighting the Talibs, catching them between hammer and anvil?

    In the U.S. we have do this when a president is the victim of an attempted assassination, successful or not: parties who beforehand argued unite to implement his policy. That’s the best way of deterring assassins.

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  • huzaifa
    Mar 30, 2012 - 12:55PM

    @G. Din:
    Dear, the way you have used words in the end speaks load of your up bringing and grooming. If you have researched a little bit and opened a thesaurus, you had known that this word has multi meanings, even if some body while talking is scratching his nose, he may be called fidgety and it also conveys ” uneasiness” and by no means written and spoken out of disrespect. I have failed to understand your outburst, i understand that President Obama must have meant a lot for you that’s why i mentioned him with his full title and not by first name “OBAMA”. Some body rightly said that “ignorance is a bliss”.

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  • huzaifa
    Mar 30, 2012 - 5:23PM

    @G. Din:
    Thx, Moderator, I am obliged.

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