ISLAMABAD, April 13: Adopted terms by the parliament on Thursday, the new framework for foreign policy and terms of ties with the US sets out the country’s legitimate expectations, its security concerns and the vision of the way forward. But the overarching theme is the reaffirmation of Pakistan’s commitment to fighting terrorism. What stands out in the four-page document is the manner in which the linkage between demand for cessation of drone attacks and reopening of suspended Nato supply routes has been avoided, much to the relief of the government which at one stage appeared to be losing the gamble of referring the touchy issue of US ties to the parliament.
In a broader context, the parliament which got the centre stage on foreign policy formulations, emerged as a winner from this gruelling review process that was initiated way back in December. But the real gainer was the PPP-led coalition government which succeeded in involving other parties in deciding on continuing relations with the US and that too at a very critical juncture – at the end of a disastrous year (2011) in Pak-US relations.
Much of the criticism from opposition groups outside parliament after the adoption of new rules naturally got directed towards PML-N and JUI-F.
PTI Chairman Imran Khan said in a twitter posting: “Maulana Fazlur Rehman & PML-N again show their doublespeak & double game by going along with govt on PCNS Res. Their drama ends in a whimper! (sic)”.
This pattern followed on the TV talk shows where leaders from PTI and Difa-e-Pakistan Council, a grouping of 40 odd parties opposed to Nato supply resumption, screamed at the top of their lungs over PML-N and JUI-F joining the parliamentary consensus.
While everyone looks obsessed with the go-ahead for Nato routes, many are missing the finer text of the document on drones.
It’s right that the approved guidelines reiterate their insistence on cessation of the drone war, but a comparison with the initial document indicates that the revised version has been watered down in this respect.
The original set of proposals tabled in the parliament after asking for end to drone campaign underscored its futility by noting: “It needs to be realised that the drone attacks are counter-productive, cause loss of valuable lives and property, radicalise the local population, create support for terrorists and fuel anti-American sentiments.” This commentary on the negatives is missing from the revised document.
It’s significant to note that the preliminary set of recommendations had a provision wherein any future violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty, including through drone attacks, would have led to immediate suspension of the Nato transit routes.
That clause has now been done away with.
From a populist perspective this may be seen as compromise of sorts. However, practically this was the best option available with the legislators on two counts – firstly, the tactical advantages of the drone attacks are widely acknowledged in the country and, secondly, little could be done to counter continued strikes. Closure of Nato supply routes for the US not stopping drone attacks was clearly no answer because it would have always been taken negatively as a move to undermine UN-mandated counter-terrorism operations in Afghanistan.
Reiterating its longstanding opposition to the drones simply means that the parliament sticks to its principled stand. The stance isn’t futile either, the US has taken note of it and is already revisiting the drone campaign, which is also expected to address Pakistan’s sovereignty concerns.
The other important aspect of the new rules is a green signal for the resumption of Nato supply routes suspended since the Salala incident.
“Pakistani territory including its airspace shall not be used for transportation of arms and ammunitions to Afghanistan,” the approved guidelines read.
Nato in the past primarily used the routes passing through Pakistani territory for transporting non-lethal supplies including fuel, spare parts, clothing and food items.
It was rather intelligent on the part of the parliament not to demand money for allowing the supplies, because this was something for the executive to bargain during subsequent talks with the US/Nato. Otherwise, the whole exercise would have appeared transactional.
The part on expeditious CSF reimbursements has also been omitted from the revised guidelines. The two sides are said to be close to signing a new mechanism called CSF 2.0 for reimbursing the cost incurred by Pakistan in support of US operations.
The revised rules greatly improve upon other areas, also including the provisions about security contractors and foreign bases in the initial draft. By clearly saying on both accounts end the controversies that have dogged this country for too long. Just as a reminder, Shamsi airbase and Blackwater both have been serious issues in our public discourse.
A lot of emphasis was placed in the new guidelines on stopping cross-border attacks by Afghanistan-based militants. The militant raids last year became a serious issue and several Pakistani troops were lost in the multiple attacks launched from the Afghan soil. The document twice refers to this. At one point it demands “cessation of infiltration” and at another it says:
“Pakistan does not expect the soil of other countries to be used against it.”
As a whole the adopted guidelines reflect the maturity of the parliamentarians in dealing with the issues related to foreign policy. The legislators have restricted them to setting broader rules and leaving it to the executive to settle the knitty gritty.
The language is clear and seemingly realistic than the original version.
The main strength of the revised guidelines is that they give a lot of space to the government to negotiate with Washington, instead of setting everything in black and white like the earlier edition.