Just who is the non-starter Parliamentary Committee for National Security (PCNS) trying to fool, you may well ask. Certainly not the US, whose patience is being put to a test? The people of Pakistan? Perhaps. Comprising elected representatives from the treasury and the opposition, the committee cuts a sorry figure as it struggles to come to a consensus on redefining Pakistan-US relations.

What are the credentials and therefore worth of the members of the committee which does not have a single foreign policy expert on it? Has the PCNS bothered to consult such experts in the academia, the think tanks, career diplomats or anyone having any expertise in the field? The answer is a resounding ‘no’.

It’s only a boys club fighting over randomly proposed disparate views. They seem to have little understanding that foreign policy is no child’s play; it cannot be based on the political wishes or one or the other party, which are being equated with national interest.

Pray tell what is national interest? Words like sovereignty, national honour and integrity ring as hollow as they are because they are not injected with any defined meaning. Let’s see what these words and terms have in effect meant to Pakistanis in recent years.

First, take sovereignty. It has variously meant Pakistan’s leaders’ will, or lack thereof, to let the country suspend itself in free fall; let us kill our Benazirs, Salman Taseers and Shahbaz Bhattis, practise hate and violence in the name of Islam, let the Taliban and the like run amok, turn a blind eye to the bin Ladens and the like who perpetrate atrocities such as those in Mumbai, and cry murder when the world questions us on such issues.

National honour has meant locking up women, denying justice to rape victims, forced conversions of Hindu girls and securing the ‘ideological’ frontiers. The last mentioned translates into insisting that we have our own value systems and a worldview shaped by these, and of which we are very proud, regardless of whether or not they conform to globally accepted norms of decency and human rights. We started a whole new country to nurture this ideology of isolationism and we are immensely proud of what we have achieved as a result, the nukes being a shining example, which bring us much national honour and pride.

National integrity has meant suppressing the many indigenous, living cultures, denial of ethnic and religious diversity of our people and attempts at imposing a medieval, tribal Bedouin code. This was a code that Arabs themselves had discarded as soon as Islam grew beyond the Arabian peninsula in less than 30 years of the great faith’s proclamation, and reached the Fertile Crescent, the cradle of human civilisation.

From there and beyond, Caliphate transformed itself into dynastic, secular rule, embracing modern learning and patronising knowledge, the arts and science. In the heyday of Islamic civilisation, spread over Arab and non-Arab lands, no attempts were made to suppress indigenous cultures, languages or faiths; Arabic progressed just as much as did Persian or Turkish, for instance. This was left to be done in today’s Pakistan in the name of national integrity.

Religion was never the defining feature of nationhood. The Ummah under Muslim rule had comprised Muslims and non-Muslims alike, Christians and Jews lived alongside Muslims in harmony without endangering the so-called nation of Islam — from the early state established at Madina to Islam reaching the shores of the Mediterranean, from Palestine to Spain. Today in Pakistan we want the world to leave us to our own devices in the name of national integrity, to be free to suppress the Baloch, for instance.

The question is: do we want such sovereignty, national honour and integrity as we have been practising to define our march forward in a world that is increasingly interdependent? It is in the pursuance of such isolationist internal and external policies that we have wreaked havoc at home and lost many friends, including China, of late. Depending heavily on the US and its regional allies economically, especially the Gulf Sheikhs and international market mechanisms, can Pakistan base its foreign policy on the mere wishes of its politicians to score brownie points with the generals and the electorate in an election year?

We will be deceiving ourselves by focusing on the half truth that the US needs Pakistan; we also need the US and its allies for our own sanity and a chance at survival. The lunatic fringe sympathetic to the Taliban and the like is only a fringe. The politicians and the generals are doing Pakistanis a disservice by mainstreaming their ruinous agenda in foreign policy considerations. Let the think tanks, foreign policy academics and economic managers guide the PCNS in its deliberations.

The debate on what is national interest should be taken up by the media and the experts invited to deliberate on the issue. It is they who must be given the forum to guide the parliamentary committee and parliament.

The writer is a member of the staff at Dawn Newspaper.

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