The joint sitting to restore Nato supplies

Parliament has gone into joint session to discuss the recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee on National Security. These recommendations were formulated after the committee was referred the matter of the country’s foreign policy, after the massacre by Nato helicopter gunships of 24 Pakistani soldiers at its border checkpost of Salalah, but, more significantly, after Pakistan stopped the use of the land route for supplying Nato forces. Though the aerial route continued, as was later revealed by both countries, and though there was a switch by the USA to the alternative northern route; the prohibitive cost of both ensured that the USA – which is most affected by the ban, and whose helicopters were responsible for the Salalah massacre – was most affected. The USA has already argued that its withdrawal of military supplies requires that route, so as to withdraw its military equipment. This is the juncture at which Parliament is being involved in making policy, when the USA is close to a withdrawal. Since it first invaded Afghanistan in October 2000, this represents the first time that the Pakistan military has not dealt with the US military. That dealing was perhaps inevitable, because in 2000, the military was ruling Pakistan, and if the USA was to fight the Taliban, it had to deal with the military. And who better to do the dealing than the US military? However, there was a big difference. While the Pakistani military thought there was to be a return to the old days of the jihad against the USSR, the US military did not comply. One reason was there had been a very important change. During the Afghan jihad, Pakistan had merely aspired to nuclear status. Now, it had it.

Also, the USA was now much more aggressive and willing to exert its power. More so, this was the first time in a decade that a political US government dealt with a political Pakistani government. The wider aims of the USA and Pakistan differed too. Whereas Pakistan could even share the aim of keeping out the USSR, and could also hope for its break-up, it could not share the current US aim of propping up India as the regional hegemon, not with India still dedicated to Pakistan’s destruction, and not with the water issue and Balochistan joining the Kashmir issue as disputes posing Pakistan an existential threat. Also, Pakistan was inevitably disturbed by the USA’s giving India a role in Afghanistan, a country it had not had any interest in, and by its being used against China, a country Pakistan was bonded with in a large number of ways.

While deliberating over the PCNS recommendations, Parliament would do well, as should all other parties, to remember that the Salalah massacre and the Nato supplies ban are not isolated incidents, but part of a chain of events that started in 2011 with the American CIA contractor Raymond Davis gunning down two Pakistanis. Davis got away ultimately when blood money was paid to the survivors, with no legal ruling being made on the claim put forward on his behalf, of diplomatic immunity, but with the claim not being entertained by the authorities holding him. Then Osama bin Laden was killed in Abbottabad, and a number of questions were raised. First, it was asked why the ISI did not know, or knew and did not tell the USA, where Osama was. It was also asked how the Americans could do as they claimed, which was fly a SEAL team into Abbottabad, kill Osama and get away, all without telling the Pakistanis or being detected. These questions were still being asked when a Navy P3C Orion was destroyed in a raid by militants on PNS Mehran. These shocks were not over when the Salalah checkpost massacre occurred.

Meanwhile, the memogate affair had also begun, where it seemed that after Bin Laden was killed, a memo was delivered, purportedly on behalf of the President, promising the USA a veto over Pakistan’s nuclear programme, as well as other Al-Qaeda leaders, if it stopped a military coup from taking place. The scandal came to a head with the commission set up by the Supreme Court adjourning sine die. The memogate reflected not just the influence the USA is supposed to have, but must be viewed in the context of the PCNS recommendations and the initial reluctance of the joint sitting to discuss them.

It might seem that the recommendations were being overtaken by events, as the joint sitting wanted to take up the power protests gripping the country, even though the summer heat had not yet started. However, since Parliament has come into the Afghanistan endgame through them, it bears remembering that, whether people swelter in the heat, or sit in an ease created by electricity-powered cooling devices, the PCNS recommendations call for an end to such incidents, the recent track record of the US forces in Afghanistan shows that such an end is not possible. Whether it be taking photographs of mutilating Afghan bodies, or burning the Holy Quran (as at Bagram) or indulging in a murderous firing spree in Kandahar, the US troops have shown a distressing propensity to violate the express orders of their superiors and do what they want. Although this upstanding and rugged individualism is what the ‘American Way of Life’ is all about, the US army seems to be facing the sort of disciplinary problems it did in Vietnam, when it also faced a phenomenon that gained its own name, ‘fragging’, or killing one’s own officers. Rugged individualism does not seem to be much good at making an army an army. The only way of avoiding further incidents seems to be to put as much distance between oneself and the American forces. The joint sitting must also not ignore the fact that the USA is not going to make the apology asked for by the PCNS, and which the government has said it has not asked for.

This is the line being pushed by the opposition in the joint sitting, which only got underway after a debate. However, the debate is needed by the USA to deliver the Nato supply routes, and there has been an agreement just to pay for the upkeep of the roads, but the giving of some of the supplies to the Railways for transport means a guaranteed source of income for a cash-strapped organisation. It also seems that the government is not holding the debate because it should, but because the USA has expressed an interest in this. This did not stop Centcom Chief and the US Commander in Afghanistan, Gens James Mattis and John Allen, from meeting COAS General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani before its deliberations were over. One of the PCNS demands, for an end to drone strikes, seems something the USA will not concede, despite the thorough violation of Pakistan sovereignty it represents.

Another problem the debate faces is that both the President and Prime Minister are abroad, and thus the matter cannot be as serious as those visits. The Prime Minister is even proceeding on a private visit to the UK, thereby sending an unmistakable quiet signal about the debate. However, the view that there is something outside the joint session deserves serious consideration by the assembled parliamentarians, for it challenges their authority to speak for the nation. And that, in turn, means that the government it throws up is not the representative body it claims to be. Admittedly, perhaps, no government that has completed four years in office can claim to be representative any more. Though it has a legal right to complete its full term, its moral right to carry out steps like restoring Nato supplies must be doubtful.