The Need For Debate

Don’t throw a monkey-wrench into the machinery.”
– Philander Chase Johnson
President Asif Zardari recently said: “The parliamentary oversight and democratic accountability was a new and important facet of Pakistan’s foreign policy.” Perhaps, it will auger well for the country.

When the Nato forces with the tacit approval of USA’s high command attacked the Salalah checkpost that resulted in the death of 24 Pakistani soldiers, people finally woke up to the reality of being a non-Nato ally and frontline state in the war on terror. Both the political and military leadership, as well as members of civil society, reacted severely and condemned the outrageous act that led to the shut dowm of Nato supply routes into Afghanistan.

According to an estimate, about 43 percent of the supplies to the occupation forces were transported through Pakistan. Initially, Washington thought that the decision to suspend the routes was temporary and soon it will be business as usual. As a countermeasure and in an effort to bring Pakistan on its knees, it suspended the economic and military assistance due to it. Also, it withheld the Coalition Support Fund (CSF). But all these tactics failed.

In the beginning, the Pakistani government and the armed forces, along with the opposition parties, were on the same page. There was a consensus that there should be a debate in Parliament before a decision is taken on the issue. So, the Parliamentary Committee on National Security (PCNS), headed by Senator Raza Rabbani, was formed to review new “terms of engagement” with the USA, which finally presented a 40-point proposal.

According to the PCNS recommendations, Pakistan and the US would not engage in any secret agreements and, if any, it will be done in a transparent manner. Besides demanding that the US should immediately release the over $2 billion as Coalition Support Fund to Pakistan, the committee recommended an increase in the transit fare on the supplies that are transported through its territory, which should be paid by the US-led Nato forces.

The PCNS also recommended that the US should provide trade access to Pakistan – that, if agreed to, would stimulate its economic growth. More so, Pakistan should demand that the sanctions imposed on it after the suspension of the supply routes by the USA must be lifted.

Another issue that has haunted the Pak-US relationship is the unilateral application of drone attacks by the Americans; it is an issue that was expected to be resolved had the recommendations been unanimously accepted.

The opposition needs to realise that through the PCNS recommendations a new era of Pakistan’s assertiveness in defining its foreign policy is likely to emerge, which will help chalk out a better relationship with not only the US, but also other countries. Gone are the days when Pakistan used to faithfully follow the strategic interests of the West without taking into consideration its vital national interest.

Nevertheless, the opposition by criticising the government and raising concerns over the recommendations at the joint sitting of Parliament have overlooked the fact that without proper debate, the US – that has always bullied Pakistan on various issues – will not take into consideration the country’s interests.

In case there is no reciprocity between the US and Pakistan, the relationship between the two will not improve. The US is well aware about Pakistan’s strategic importance; it is a vital link between the Gulf, Central Asian Republics and South Asia, an area that is expected to shape the macro and micro economic parameters of world trade.

Against this backdrop, it is necessary that Washington and Islamabad recognise and respect each other’s vital interests. It is only then that both the countries can move forward towards the normalisation of relations that, at the moment, is marred with several divisive issues. Needless to say that despite differences they need to cooperate with each other not only for peace and harmony in South Asia, but also the world.

Keeping this in view, one hopes that the opposition will not only participate and deliberate on various issues that exist between America and Pakistan, but also help the government develop a foreign policy so that the country can move on economically. However, it would be of utmost importance if the ground realities are taken into consideration and leave enough room for compromise. At the joint sitting of Parliament, Senator Rabbani rightly said: “Representatives of the masses are discussing the foreign policy related issues, which is a good omen.” He added: “The Parliamentary Committee having representation of different political parties, including PML-Q, PPP-S and others, made these recommendations. However, the final decision to reject or accept the PCNS recommendations will be made by Parliament.”

One hopes that concrete proposals will emerge on Pakistan’s foreign policy, specifically its bilateral relations with the US, because in the coming years such debates will have great significance to set the country’s direction. That will also enable it to improve economic ties with other nations – an essentpial ingredient for any country’s progress and prosperity.