The government told the Senate on Monday that there was no change in the country’s foreign policy on Syria and termed all reports claiming otherwise ‘mere propaganda’.
“There is no change in the government’s policy on the Syrian issue. It is absolutely wrong. Some segments are making propaganda,” said Raja Zafarul Haq, leader of the house in parliament.
He was responding to criticism coming from opposition members, who cited media reports that the government has made a major shift in its policy on Syria after a visit of the Saudi crown prince and that it will now be part of efforts to topple President Bashar al Assad’s regime.
One of the points mentioned in the joint communiqué after the visit of the Saudi dignitary last week had mentioned the need for installing an interim government in Syria to replace the embattled Assad regime.
This triggered a debate in the country, with some analysts terming it a major policy shift at the behest of Saudi Arabia.
Farhatullah Babar of the PPP had submitted motions in the Senate Secretariat to debate the issue in the house. Before the start of the new session, it was decided in the business advisory committee meeting that the government will allow a detailed debate on the issue.
Haq said the government was cognizant of the consequences of indulging in the Middle East quagmire. “We already have many issues of our own. We cannot afford anything like that. We know the internal and external ramifications [of Pakistan’s interference in Syria],” he added.
Adviser to PM on national security and foreign affairs Sartaj Aziz later told reporters that it was a misconception that the government has made any policy shift on the Syrian crisis after the visit of the Saudi Crown Prince.
He said the purported paragraph in the recent Pak-Saudi joint communiqué related to regime change was part of the Geneva 1 accord, which the Syrian regime has itself signed with world powers.
Rabbani castigated the government for not taking parliament on board over the purported foreign policy change on Syria and talks with the Taliban.
Opposition senators, including Afrasiab Khattak of the ANP seconded Rabbani’s demand for an in-camera session on these issues.
Earlier, chairman of the standing committee on defence Mushahid Hussain Syed apprised the Senate about the visit of his panel to the Makran coast and under-developed Gawadar port in Balochistan. Members of his committee spoke about the potential of Gawadar and called the chairman to spearhead the parliamentary panel that should play its role to tap the potential of Gawadar port.
Babar asked the army, the Frontier Corps and Coastal Guards in Balochistan to follow the example of the Pakistan Navy in learning how to win the hearts and minds of people instead of behaving like an occupation force, as is the general sentiments about them in the province.
He said the launch of public welfare projects, like schools, hospitals and water supply schemes by Pakistan Navy from within its own meagre resources was spirit-lifting and an eye-opener.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 25th, 2014.