ISLAMABAD: A government-sought consensus on reviewing Pakistan’s strategic ties with the United States continued to elude parliament for the third week on Tuesday as a joint sitting of the National Assembly and Senate went into an extra day’s recess to help resolve an opposition about-face.
A prolonged, but sporadic debate on the recommendations of a bipartisan Parliamentary Committee on National Security was only briefly touched as the committee itself met separately to prepare an apparently preliminary new draft that its members were asked to discuss with the leadership of their parties before its and parliament’s next meeting on Thursday.
But there seemed little hope of a consensus of all parties as desired by the government as Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam of Maulana Fazlur Rehman continued a boycott of the committee meeting since Saturday.
All committee members representing their parties had signed the original report on what was described as “guidelines for revised terms of engagement” with the US-led foreign forces in Afghanistan that was presented in the joint sitting at its opening on March 20.
But in a clear change of mind, the Pakistan Muslim League-N and JUI-F voiced “serious reservations” about the report soon after its presentation and said they would not participate in the debate on the recommendations until their positions were addressed.
Since then, the committee headed by Senator Raza Rabbani of the Pakistan People’s Party had been holding its own meetings parallel to the joint sitting to resolve differences, mainly about a resumption of Nato supplies to Afghanistan via the Pakistani land routes that were suspended after a US helicopter attack on two Pakistani border posts killed 24 soldiers in November.
While objections raised by Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly, Chaudhry Nisar Ali, related to the possible use of Pakistani bases by foreign forces and presence of foreign intelligence operatives in the country, Maulana Fazlur Rehman took an extreme position similar to that of Taliban rebels by threatening a forcible obstruction to Nato supplies.
THAW? But on Tuesday, while the JUI leader continued his boycott of the parliamentary committee while the PML-N attended it, he showed signs of a thaw by receiving US ambassador Cameron Munter to discuss the same issue.
In their meeting at the Maulana’s Islamabad residence, he and Mr Munter “agreed on the need to work together” to improve Pakistan-US ties, a US embassy spokesman, Mark Stroh said.
He told Dawn the two men also agreed on the need for their two countries to “work together for peace in the region”.
Asked whether the Maulana raised his objections to US drone attacks in tribal areas and Nato supplies, the spokesman said the matter “wasn’t strongly stated to the ambassador”.
There was no formal word in the parliament’s meeting on Tuesday about the nature of changes made in the Rabbani committee’s report.
But the tone of some recent speeches in the debate by ruling coalition lawmakers and one on Tuesday suggested the committee could recommend a link between a resumption of Nato supplies and a halt to drone attacks at suspected Al Qaeda and other militant hideouts in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.
The original report too called for halting drone attacks but had linked them to Nato supplies, which it said, could be resumed by levying “taxes and other charges on all goods imported in or transiting through Pakistan” and that half of containers be handled through Pakistan Railways.
FURORE: While only one PPP member of the National Assembly, Yasmeen Rehman, spoke on the report on Tuesday, criticising drone attacks, the house witnessed a furore over some apparently unguarded words used by one of the lawmakers of the government-allied Awami National Party who protested against the organisers of Sunday’s national energy conference in Lahore for not inviting representatives of the private sector from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
ANP’s Senator Haji Mohammad Adeel complained of perceived unfairness to his province regarding the use of energy resources and provoked immediate protest shouts from PML-N benches as he said if such injustices continued then “we don’t want such federation … and such Pakistan”.
Some shouting seemed to be taunts about the pre-independence affiliation of ANP’s founders with the Congress party of India, and one PML-N MNA, Hanif Abbasi, voiced doubts if Mr Adeel had any respect for Pakistan’s founder, Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah.
Though Mr Abbasi could not be heard clearly in the galleries because of the noisy shouting, he pointed to the Quaid-i-Azam’s large portrait fixed above the rostrum and said something like challenging that he would “recognise” ANP politics if Mr Adeel could just say ‘Quaid-i-Azam rehmatullah alaih (blessings of Allah be him).
The ANP leader promptly did the same, to which the PML-N challenger responded by pleading with his party members to end the protest.
But another PML-N member of the National Assembly, Captain (retd) Mohammad Safdar, who is a son-in-law of party leader Nawaz Sharif, was not forgiving as he ended a sentimental patriotic sermon before the house was adjourned until 5pm on Thursday by saying that anyone who did not like Pakistan “should better leave the country”.