ISLAMABAD: In a hard-won consensus, parliament recommended to the government on Thursday to no more let Pakistan serve as conduit of arms to Afghanistan, but gave a green signal for a resumption of non-lethal Nato supplies to the war-ravaged country.
And before the joint sitting of the National Assembly and Senate unanimously adopted revised recommendations of a bipartisan Parliamentary Committee on National Security, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani assured the house that his government would implement its landmark guidelines “in letter and spirit”.
“Pakistani territory including its airspace shall not be used for transportation of arms and ammunition to Afghanistan,” said the committee’s revised report, which dropped clauses of a previous report containing conditions for resuming transportation of supplies through Pakistani land routes for US forces, Nato and a Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) in Afghanistan, effectively leaving the matter to administrative decisions of the Pakistani government.
However, the committee reiterated its earlier call for an “immediate cessation” of US drone attacks aimed at suspected militant hideouts in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, ignoring suggestions made from some lawmakers during a protracted debate to make such a halt a precondition for allowing Nato supplies.
The consensus followed some recent political and diplomatic contacts behind the scenes and more than three weeks of haggling marked by an opposition about-face after the committee headed by Senator Raza Rabbani of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party presented the original consensus report to the joint sitting at its start on March 20.
Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan of the PML-N, and JUI-F leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman had then voiced “serious reservations” about the report and refused participation of their parties in the debate even though the document was signed by their representatives on the committee.
But those hard positions, including a Taliban-like threat by the JUI-F leader to forcibly obstruct Nato supplies, seemed to have melted down after a phone contact between Mr Gilani and PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif, and separate meetings of Maulana Fazlur Rehman with President Asif Ali Zardari and US ambassador Cameron Munter, who had also met the PML-N leader late last month.
“Today Pakistan has crossed another milestone,” the prime minister said before the house voice vote on the report, which he called the first time in Pakistan that “we have brought real and substantive oversight and democratic accountability to our foreign and security policy”.
Both Chaudhry Nisar and the JUI chief, in their speeches before him, had accused the government of not implementing unanimous resolutions of two previous joint sittings of parliament and sought assurances that it would not be the same this time.
Though the prime minister did not agree with the accusations, saying the steps taken in response to the Nov 25-25 US strike against the Pakistani border posts in Mohmand tribal agency were in the light of a previous joint sitting resolution and assured the house that the committee report now would serve as “the guiding framework for this government”.
“We will implement the recommendations both in letter and spirit,” he said.
Regarding Chaudhry Nisar’s demand for assurances about what the government would do if the committee demands like a halt to drone attacks and other violations were not met, Mr Gilani said US President Barack Obama had assured him during a nuclear security summit in Seoul last month that Washington would respect the Pakistani parliament’s review.
Pointing out that the government’s position vis-à-vis dealing with foreign countries would remain weak without parliament’s support, he said: “The solidarity demonstrated today has strengthened our hands.”
“Parliament’s resolution is no small thing,” the prime minister said about the report that was later adopted as a resolution before the sitting was prorogued, and told the house:
“After today’s resolution, your respect will be enhanced the world over. I am fully confident this resolution will be respected.”
But Chaudhry Nisar, in his speech, called the committee consensus as a job only half done and said: “It will become historic only when it is implemented.”
He took pains to emphasise that all parties in the house wanted good relations with the United States but said “it cannot be an imbalanced relationship”.
Maulana Fazlur Rehman, who in a speech in parliament last month had threatened forcible obstructions to Nato supplies – through his famous remark “we are not wearing bangles” – appeared a lot mellowed on Thursday though he interpreted the revised report as a virtual termination of Pakistan’s strategic alliance with the United States. “The story of the past has gone and we are beginning a new journey.”
Senator Rabbani paid tributes to what he called “farsightedness” of all parties in parliament and their leadership without which, he said, “today’s consensus would have eluded parliament”.
The committee report, called “guidelines for revised terms of engagement with US/Nato/Isaf and general foreign policy” says: