ISLAMABAD: Much of the US tough talking against Pakistan for its alleged complicity in the Haqqani network's attacks in Afghanistan has emanated from the American Congress. It was there that the United States top military officer Admiral Mike Mullen bluntly accused the Pakistani government and its premier intelligence agency ISI, of supporting and enabling the terrorist groups carry out attacks on US and its allied forces in Afghanistan before the US Senate's Armed Services Committee.
His stinging charges came more as a surprise as he was considered to have a soft corner for Pakistan. What unleashed a storm in Pakistan and brought its already strained relations with the US to a new boil was his description of ISI as “a veritable arm” of the Haqqani network which is a terror to the US and Nato forces and the Karzai administration in Afghanistan.
In his testimony before the powerful committee on September 23 Admiral Mullen, who is about to retire, said: “With ISI support, Haqqani operatives planned and conducted the assault on our embassy. We also have credible evidence that they were behind the June 28 attack on the Inter-Continental Hotel in Kabul, and a host of other smaller but effective operations.”
Since then key American lawmakers, both from the Senate and the House of Representatives, have been taking stock of the situation and discussing options to deal with it that uphold best interests of the United States. A few have suggestions verging on punitive action against Pakistan.
The purpose of this column is not to argue which side is right or speaking the truth, but to highlight how parliamentary committees in established and functional democracies work. Of course drawing comparison between the American Congress and our parliament would be unfair as repeated military interventions and dictators didn't let democracy take roots in the country. But our parliamentarians can certainly learn from the American elected representatives - or for that matter any successful parliamentary democracy - how to conduct themselves in the parliament.
It has been only a week when Admiral Mullen accused the ISI of endangering the US men and interests by running what he called a proxy war in Afghanistan, and American Congressmen, as reports suggest, are already working on multiple bills to deal with the supposed danger.
But, here in Pakistan, what our elected representatives been doing? There exist 50 plus standing committees in the National Assembly and another 28 in the Senate. No one has heard of even the relevant committees meeting while the storm brewed. Sadly, our lawmakers take time to realise the seriousness of issues and developments but are quick with angry statements and half cooked ideas.
One had expected at least the standing committees on defence and foreign affairs of the National Assembly would wake up to the crisis situation and give its in-put to the government how to deal with it.
But it did not. And why not?
Very few people know that veteran politician and Awami National Party supremo Asfandyar Wali Khan heads the National Assembly standing committee on foreign affairs. Pakistan has been one of the most discussed countries in the world since the present set up came into being as a result of 2008 general elections. But it apparently did not find the deteriorating security situation for the US and its allies in Afghanistan, and its fallout on Pakistan, worthy of discussion.
Chaudhry Ghias Ahmad Mela of the PML-Q, who is member of the committee, admitted to this writer that of all the committees, the foreign affairs committee met least. The main reason, he said, was the lack of interest by its Chairman, Mr Wali Khan.
Mr Mela, who has lived in the US and knows American committee system, said that considering the rising tension, Mr Wali Khan should have called an emergency meeting of the committee to discuss the drift in Pakistan-US relations.
According to him a majority of the standing committees exist in name only as members have no interest in using the platform to contribute to policy-making.
In the US, heads of the armed forces routinely appear before Congressional committees, something that had been unthinkable in Pakistan until the brazen US SEALS raid on Abbottabad to take out Osama bin Laden. Mr Mela asked his fellow parliamentarians to shake off this lay back attitude if they wanted to play an active role and establish supremacy of the parliament.
The other National Assembly standing committee relevant to the situation is that on defence. It is headed by little known Dr Azra Fazal Pechuho, a sister of President Asif Zardri.
This committee has more times than the committee on foreign affairs, but hardly took up some the real issues.
One item that has regularly figured on its agenda is securing the same legal cover for the Defence Housing Authority (DHA) of Rawalpindi as enjoyed by the DHAs in Lahore and Karachi. However, consistent opposition from the PML-N members in the committee has frustrated the attempt so far.
This committee should have been the busiest one these days, taking briefings from top military officers on Pakistan's role and interest in the US-led war against terrorism. Unfortunately, there exists no such culture in our country.
On the other hand, American Congressional committees play very active role. They endorse top level appointments and are known for strict scrutiny of federal government expenditures.
A top government functionary who advises the government on parliamentary affair, told the writer that our lawmakers have no inkling of the coming challenges to the parliaments world over.
“It is the responsibility of all political parties present in the parliament to groom their members in tackling the matters that concern their voters most. Even in Europe political parties and parliaments are feeling the heat as voters have burst out in the streets to protest violently over cuts in government spending on social services in the face of financial crisis,” he said.