Looking past the smokescreen

Published: February 26, 2014

The prime minister’s adviser on national security and foreign affairs, Sartaj Aziz, is fully conversant with the craft of confusing facts through manipulative use of diplomatic jargons. Yet he failed to dispel the widely held feeling that since the third coming of Nawaz Sharif to prime minister’s office, Pakistan was having second thoughts regarding its position on Syria and had eventually decided to join the Saudi-led campaign to manage the regime change in that country.

Khurshid Shah and Shah Mehmud Qureshi had denounced the perceived policy shift through their emotional speeches in the National Assembly Monday evening. That forced Sartaj Aziz to volunteer reading of an official statement at the outset of Tuesday’s sitting.

This bureaucratic statement primarily aimed at refuting the perception that Pakistan had now discarded its neutral stance regarding the internal affairs of Syria, but only in broader terms. Far more focused the same statement, however, seemed in trying to refute the story claiming that Pakistan would now be supplying anti tanks and aircraft weapons to anti-Assad rebels with money paid by Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia, no doubt, has truckloads of such weapons to spare from its own arsenal. From Pakistan, it simply requires some expertise to train rebels for using them. Jordan has already been selected as ‘the base’ for such training. But Sartaj Aziz never cared to address these sides of the Syrian story. The opposition legislators appeared equally clueless in this context and miserably failed in pointing out visible flaws in the statement read out by Sartaj Aziz.

The point scoring opposition also seemed oblivious to the fact that thanks to assiduous lobbying, Saudi Arabia did succeed in finally convincing the US intelligence community that al Qaeda cadres were fast taking over the anti-Assad campaign. It was time to deny them “another Afghanistan” by a well calibrated and closely monitored and regulated arming and training of the ‘moderate opponents’ of Alawite-led regime in Syria.

“Our representatives” hate doing any homework, however, before unleashing rhetorical assaults on foreign policy positions. Little wonder, not one legislator from any side of the house could motivate reporters to stay put in the press gallery, when the house switched to discuss Pakistan’s foreign policy through yawn-inducing speeches.

Most reporters were rather more anxious to find more about the federal cabinet meeting of Tuesday morning. Nawaz Sharif has summoned his ministers to discuss and approve the much-awaited national security policy, the selective portions of which might be revealed to the national assembly Wednesday.

Three different ministers that I could contact in this respect seemed genuinely confused. One of them rather admitted frankly that cabinet members briefly saw the draft of the proposed policy for a quick reading. No minister could take a copy of it away for studious reading. The sycophant-types rather preferred to trust the wisdom of Nawaz Sharif and his one-man think thank cum deliverer when it comes to ensure law and order in this country, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, almost blindly.

At least I am not aware that any of the federal ministers ever bothered to find out as to what had happened to the Cabinet Committee on National Security. Some weeks ago, we were repeatedly told that this outfit would have a permanent secretariat, headed by a seasoned diplomat, Mohammad Sadiq, currently serving Pakistan as its ambassador in Afghanistan. Without explaining how and why the focus has now been switched to turn the National Counter-Terrorism Authority (Nacta) into a full-fledged institution dealing with all issues related to terrorism. There also is loud talk of some quick response force. Who would head Nacta and the proposed force? No minister has a clear answer to this question. Two ministers did feel alarmed when I jokingly recalled what had happened to the Federal Security Force (FSF) that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had established to keep “the army away from issues related to internal disturbances.”

Published in The Express Tribune, February 26th, 2014.

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