ANOTHER multiparty conference, another missed opportunity. The political leadership of the country gathered in Islamabad on Monday at the invitation of the prime minister to discuss the national security and foreign policy challenges created by the recent Pak-India tensions. There were several substantive things that the leadership could have discussed, agreed upon and highlighted in the joint statement afterwards. Instead, the political leadership opted for an anodyne, instantly forgettable and regrettable set of talking points. Solidarity was expressed with the people of India-held Kashmir; unity on matters of unspecified national importance was reiterated; support was extended for the armed forces; and condemnation and lamentations of various Indian acts were voiced. It was both unedifying and unimaginative, and certainly did not behove an assemblage of the senior-most political leaders in the country. Consider that the single concrete proposal in the communiqué was a call to reconstitute the national security committee of parliament — a move that hardly required such an extraordinary gathering.
That the so-called parliamentary group leaders were unable to draft anything meaningful bodes ill for the joint parliamentary session. Perhaps, however, the joint session will be free of the shackles and sensitivities of political rivals being invited to the Prime Minister’s Office. If that does prove to be the case — though hopes cannot be too high at the moment — there are several things that parliament could discuss that are relevant to Pakistan’s internal security and its external situation. Specifically, parliament could be told about the true status of the country’s relationship with various international powers and informed why there is a growing perception of a drift towards regional and international isolation. How is it that a country of nearly 200m people with a reasonable economy and located at a self-declared geo-strategically vital centre is the subject of a relentless barrage of criticism and dissatisfaction by large chunks of the very international community that it wants to deepen its engagement with?
A frank assessment would also call for asking several tough questions domestically. Why, given the stated policy under NAP and countless statements by the political and military leadership, is a zero-tolerance policy against militants of all hues not yet visible? Why are several banned militant groups still able to operate openly and seemingly with impunity across the country? How is it that Pakistan is unable to even investigate certain alleged militant leaders and their cadres at a time of military courts and other constitutional distortions targeting anti-Pakistan militants? To ask those questions is not to internalise the blame for the cacophonous and myriad external allegations made against Pakistan. Surely, however, if Pakistan is to remain a responsible member of the international community, it must accept a certain set of responsibilities towards that community. What the parliamentary leaders’ group could not ask, parliament should: why is Pakistan ostensibly doing everything it can and yet drifting further away from a global consensus?
Published in Dawn, October 5th, 2016