ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif on Wednesday indirectly conceded that his ministry was not in authoritative control of the country’s foreign policy.

Winding up discussion on the recent visit of the US secretary of state to South Asia and the new American strategy on Afghanistan, he said the foreign policy was being shaped by different institutions and no single institution was in charge of the foreign affairs.

However, he said the policy was framed in the light of recommendations of the National Security Commit­tee and parliament.

The foreign minister, while referring to the remarks made a day earlier by Senator Farhatullah Babar who criticised him for advising the Americans to have an Afghan policy free from the influence of generals and asked him to apply the same in Pakistan, said: “I agree that it should be so.”

He made it clear that he had not “unwittingly” criticised American generals for their failure in Afghanistan, saying the new US policy was ineffective because it was influenced by the generals who suffered defeat in Afghanistan.

“The Americans have devised a framework for their policy for South Asia, which is in fact focused on Afghanistan. It was devised by generals who have struggled in Afghanistan for the last 15 years. I do not think any policy can be made by people with that baggage and mindset,” he remarked.

Mr Asif said he had urged the US State Department and other policy-making institutions of the country to have greater control of the American policy “instead of relying on President Trump’s rejected approach to this problem”.

“If America frames its policy free from the influence [of these generals], it will be much more successful and effective. When they make Pakistan scapegoat, they are in fact covering up their own failures [in Afghanistan],” he repeated. “I am saying this very ‘wittingly’.”

The minister said the concerns expressed and suggestions made by the lawmakers would serve as a guideline in framing the foreign policy. He made it clear that the country’s foreign policy would not be subservient to interests of external powers and would keep in view interests of the country.

Beginning his speech with an acknowledgement of Donald Trump’s assertion that “things have started getting better” in US-Pakistan relations, and thanking the American president for the endorsement, Mr Asif reiterated that Pakistan wanted a regional solution to the Afghan problem.

“The entire region has a role to play in the Afghan process, and Pakistan wishes for a regional solution to the security challenges faced by the country,” he asserted.

“The American secretary of state has told the US Senate that Pakistan needs effective communication on intelligence matters. If intelligence is shared with us effectively, we can expect better results in the future,” he said.

Enforced disappearances

Minister of State for Interior Talal Chaudhry informed the Senate that three women and three children from Awaran, who had gone missing in Quetta, were in the custody of law enforcement agencies. “The Balochistan government has informed us that they had been arrested for attempting to cross the border,” he said.

Earlier, Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani regretted that the state continued to make people disappeared in violation of five articles of the Constitution — 4, 9, 10, 10-A and 14.

Mr Chaudhry said the government had zero tolerance for enforced disappearances and claimed that the trend had declined if not completely eliminated.

On the call of Tahir Hussain Mashhadi of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, all opposition members in the house staged a walkout in protest against the arrest of the women and children. Senator Usman Khan Kakar of the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, an ally of the government, also joined them.

Earlier, speaking on a calling-attention notice regarding disappearance of the wife and children of a Baloch nationalist leader, Senator Babar of the Pakistan Peoples Party warned that a Pakistan delegation to the UN review conference next week would have a hard time explaining mysterious disappearances of citizens with alarming impunity.

He said the activists dissenting from the state narrative faced three threats — they disappear mysteriously, are charged under the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) for endangering integrity of the federation and beaten black and blue in broad daylight by invisible people.

The latest disappearance of the family of the Baloch dissident, the prosecution under PECA of a journalist in Quetta for posting comments viewed as critical of a security agency and the beating up of journalist Ahmad Noorani by invisible people in Islamabad demonstrated this dangerous trend in stifling dissent, he said.

Mr Babar said the Senate’s human rights committee had at a meeting in September last year in Karachi made some recommendations for addressing the issue of missing persons in Sindh. When the committee again visited the city last month it was shocked to find that scores of more people had disappeared, he said.

“Till today not one person has been charged or investigated for involvement in the crime. The unanimous recommendations of the Senate made over a year ago remain unimplemented,” he deplored.

Ethics committee

Chairman Rabbani announced that the Senate’s ethics committee had been operationalised, terming it a big step towards putting in place a mechanism for self-accountability.

He said Senate rules had already been amended to incorporate code of conduct for members. He said the committee ethics, headed by the deputy chairman, consisted of all members of the business advisory committee.

He said the rules provide for a procedure to be adopted by any person for making a complaint against a member of the Senate, and explained that only such complaints would be entertained where the cause of action had arisen after notification of these rules.

Published in Dawn, November 2nd, 2017