ISLAMABAD, Aug 8: Members from both the ruling and opposition parties in the National Assembly on Wednesday kept attacking Pakistan’s alliance with the United States in the so-called ‘war against terrorism’ as a foreign policy debate, marked more by abandon than caution, was dragged out to a fourth day.
Foreign Minister Khurshid M. Kasuri failed to make a scheduled speech as not many listeners were left in the house when he came to wind up the debate, which was dominated by demands for a review of a policy of perceived Pakistani subservience and American domination.
After failure of hectic efforts to collect a respectable audience for the foreign minister’s speech, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Sher Afgan Khan Niazi moved a motion, and got it passed, to extend the debate to a fourth day on Thursday, when the house will meet at 9:30am.
There were hardly about 40 members present in the 342-seat house at the time and Mr Kasuri’s speech could have been blocked if an opposition member had pointed out the lack of the 86-member quorum.
Most of the criticism was focused on the latest US legislation tying aid to Pakistan to its performance in fighting terrorism, a US nuclear deal with India, and controversial statements by two presidential hopefuls — Democrat Senator Barak Obama that he would be ready to send troops to Pakistani tribal areas in search of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and by Republican Tom Tancredo suggesting to threaten attacks on Islam's holiest sites in Makkah and Medina to deter a nuclear attack on the United States.
Some ruling party members seemed to compete with those of religious parties in denouncing the US for allegedly being ‘insincere’ to Pakistan and harming the Muslim world.
But some other members of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML)-led ruling coalition, including Minister of State for Finance Omar Ayub Khan and Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s parliamentary leader Farooq Sattar, defended the government's foreign policy and countered the opposition’s criticism.
Criticism by members of the People's Party Parliamentarians (PPP), too, was punctuated with words of caution in foreign affairs dealings and a stress on a full transition to democracy.
AMERICAN ANGER: While an anti-American speech by parliamentary secretary for defence Tanveer Hussain Syed on Tuesday sparked a sharp condemnation by the US embassy in Islamabad and a disclaimer by the foreign ministry on Wednesday, another parliamentary secretary and ruling party back-bencher were equally vehement in attacking Washington’s present and past policies towards Pakistan.
“These statements are outrageous and highly reprehensible,” the embassy said about Mr Syed’s remarks that called for responding to the present situation by allowing ‘jihad’ in Kashmir and ‘recognising’ the Taliban in Afghanistan, accusing the United States of seeking to take control of an ‘independent Kashmir’ to keep a check on China, and holding the American CIA along with the Indian and Afghan intelligence agencies responsible for the killings of Chinese nationals in Pakistan.
“The parliamentarian has levelled allegations that were completely unfounded and irresponsible,” said the statement issued by embassy spokesperson Elizabeth O. Colton.
In her comments on Mr Syed’s statement, foreign ministry spokesperson Tasnim Aslam said these were his “individual views and do not represent the government policy”.
Parliamentary secretary for defence production Mohammad Faiz Tamman said Pakistan had suffered “big jokes played by Uncle Tom” in what he called a ‘ove affair’ since the creation of the country by using its services when needed but leaving it out in the cold afterwards whether it was the fight against communism, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, or the situation created by the 9/11 attacks.
“We should devise a policy so that we can restrain them (Americans) from fulfilling their designs,” he said.
A PML back-bencher, Chaudhry Ejaz Ahmed, earlier said the Americans were “doing all this under a plan (and) to avenge the disgrace of their defeat in Iraq”. He described the threats of direct operation in Pakistani tribal areas as empty threats of ‘a coward nation’ and asked the government to reject any conditional aid from Washington.
About Mr Tancredo’s suggestion to threaten to target Makkah and Medina, he said: “If anybody ever dared to do it, a million Muslims can become suicide attackers.”
Minister of State Omar Ayub said the foreign policy pursued by the government, as well those of the previous governments of former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif were in national interest and successful.
He described statements by the two prospective American presidential candidates as irresponsible and said they should be restrained by the US administration as they were ‘playing with fire’.
Mr Sattar said Pakistan’s foreign policy had been influenced by international ‘accidents’ from the beginning such as the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan and the 9/11 and called for removing the impression that it was dictated by the United States.
But he asked the government’s critics whether they could implement what they were saying and what alternative they had to fall back upon.