Deadlocked politically, the already-prolonged exercise of reviewing relations with the US was facing an unceremonious death in Parliament – so the prime minister gathered all stakeholders outside it.
And the move seems to have worked.
Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on Thursday chaired an all-inclusive high-level meeting, which was attended by the country’s political and security leadership – including leaders of coalition parties and the opposition as well as the services chiefs, the ISI chief, foreign minister and Pakistan’s ambassador to the US.
According to sources privy to the proceedings at the Prime Minister House, political parties have agreed to bring amendments in some clauses of foreign policy recommendations proposed by the all-party Parliamentary Panel on National Security – and then ultimately pass it.
“Some specific clauses will be amended to make the draft acceptable to all,” sources said.
An official statement from the Prime Minister House seemed to hint at the same. “To remove the reservations of different parties upon the recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee on National Security and to evolve consensus on unanimous recommendations in the Joint Sitting, the [Parliamentary Committee on National Security] will hold its informal sittings (once again).”
“There was a noticeable change in the opposition’s tone and demeanour,” said one source who attended the meeting.
While the effort to finalise the consensus continues, the joint session of Parliament has been adjourned.
On Thursday, the noticeably hesitant joint session of Parliament, currently underway and meant to debate policy proposals pertaining to relations with the US, also saw a conspicuous mid-week break. Later, an official statement said that the joint session will remain adjourned on April 3 and 4 due to the death anniversary of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) founder and former prime ministet Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.
The next session will take place on April 5.
In any case, the session has been unable to begin the debate in earnest despite the proposals having tabled its proposals 10 days ago.
Initially, the opposition asked for a few days to study the proposals, which led to backdoor negotiations with the government over the proposals’ eventual passage by the joint session. The matter was then sidelined by the power crisis in Punjab and the violence in Karachi. Though they have been a few speeches on the policy proposals, they have been by backbenchers, and have been largely overshadowed.
The government wants a unanimous approval of the recommendations, while the opposition seems wary of the political fallout of their support.
The delay has given rise to fears that the proposals, which had been prepared after an exhaustive effort, would be buried or left pending.
Thursday’s meeting comes a day after two top US commanders visited Pakistan to meet with army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, and two days after the prime minister met US President Barack Obama in Seoul.
“It’s not only a matter of the US; it is a matter of 48 countries,” the prime minister reminded the participants in reference to the continued blockade of Isaf supply routes through Pakistan.
“The entire world is waiting patiently and respectfully following the recommendations of parliamentary parties, and they are giving a lot of importance to them,” said Prime Minister Gilani in a two-minute address released to the media.
“The deliberations and line of thinking that you will adopt will determine our future line of action,” he assured the meeting, reminding all in attendance of their “responsibility as national leaders.”
Addressing the meeting, the prime minister also commended the parliamentary panel, headed by Senator Raza Rabbani, for drafting the proposals on new terms of engagement and cooperation with US, Nato and Isaf. “I think the parliamentary committee has worked hard … they have now presented their input in the Parliament and it is now the property of the house.”
Aside from the prime minister, the government was represented by Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US Sherry Rehman, Interior minister Rehman Malik and PPP’s chief whip Khursheed Shah. Senator Raza Rabbani and Speaker National Assembly Fehmida Mirza were also in attendance.
From the opposition, it was Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Senate opposition leader Ishaq Dar as well as Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman.
The military’s presence included Chief of Army Staff Gen Kayani, air chief Tahir Rafique Butt and Director-General Inter-Services Intelligence Lt-Gen Zahirul Islam.
The government’s coalition partners in attendance included PML-Q’s Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, and Mushahid Hussain Syed, Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s Haider Abbas Rizvi and Senator Afrasiab Khattak. Kalsoom Parveen, Haji Munir Khan Orakzai and Muzaffar Shah also attended.
(Read: Where are Pak-US ties headed?)
Published in The Express Tribune, March 30th, 2012.