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Pak-US relations: Parliamentary guidelines and the way forward!

The parliamentary guidelines have made it very clear that the United States must review its footprint in Pakistan. This means an immediate cessation of drone attacks inside the territorial borders of Pakistan; the cessation of infiltration into Pakistani territory on any pretext, including hot pursuit; and) Pakistani territory including its air space shall not be used for transportation of arms and ammunition to Afghanistan.

Pakistan is in the process of developing a work plan for effective implementation of the parliamentary guidelines for revised terms of engagement with the US/NATO/ISAF. Such a decision was taken on April 12 by the Defense Committee of the Cabinet. In developing a work plan, `all stakeholders’ are being made part of the consultation process. The visit of the US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Mark Grossman to Pakistan is second visit of high-level civilian official from Washington after Salala attack as Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides’s recent visit was the first of its kind, from April 25th was seen, inter alia, part of developing a work plan. With the development of a work plan in a foreseeable future, the two countries will regularly establish interaction. Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar is expected to undertake an official visit to Washington and revive the Strategic Dialogue between the two countries. It is also expected that there could take place a summit-level dialogue between Pakistan and the United States on the sidelines of NATO Summit in Chicago (USA) on May 20th.
The two sides have not been able to find a way forward on the issue of drones. It is learnt now that the two sides are working on a joint ownership of the drones so that there could be balanced achieved between the sovereignty and security concerns of the two sides.
The Parliamentary review of the Pakistan foreign policy in general and its relations with the United States in particular, have given first time a public ownership to Pakistan’s foreign and security policies. But at the same time, it has helped strengthen the hands of the government in dealing with the international community on issues of great national importance. President Zardari’s direct interaction with leader of JUI(f) Maulana Fazalur Rehman and prevailing him upon to become part of the parliamentary process has once again established that President Zardari can woo his friends and foes alike. The Parliament’s own credentials were at stake during the entire debate, both within and outside of the country. The critics of the parliamentary democracy in Pakistan were talking of `non-seriousness’ of the parliament as the process was lingering. The external forces were skeptical about the very passage of the guidelines, let alone we talk of unanimous passage. However, the `seriousness’ of the political forces across the political cleavage in the parliament frustrated such perceptions. The parliament shown its seriousness, embarrass the critics and took ownership of the foreign policy.

The unanimous passage of guidelines by the parliament notwithstanding, challenges for the government and the state of Pakistan are still there. The relationship with the United States is a long-standing but sovereignty of Pakistan is enduring as well. There are short-term as well as long-term realities-both for Pakistan and the United States. Apparently, Pakistan is not eager to link its sovereignty with any one’s security; it also does not want to be blamed for use of its territory against any other neighbourly or distant state. The recent multiple terrorist attacks in Afghanistan instantly warranted severe condemnation from Pakistan at all levels including the Defence Committee of the Cabinet. It is quite that Pakistan is not willing, by any notions, to compromise its sovereignty. The parliamentary guidelines have made it very clear that the United States must review its footprint in Pakistan. This means an immediate cessation of drone attacks inside the territorial borders of Pakistan; the cessation of infiltration into Pakistani territory on any pretext, including hot pursuit; and) Pakistani territory including its air space shall not be used for transportation of arms and ammunition to Afghanistan. On the other hand, President Obama also made it clear in a meeting with Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani in Seoul that Pakistan should keep in mind the security interests of the United States while respecting for its sovereignty.
It is here where the question of abandoning the drone attacks comes into play. Equally, it is here that the question of security interests of the United States comes into play. Publicly, the US authorities claim drones an extremely useful tool in eradicating the forces that kill US/allies soldiers in Afghanistan. The United States does take credit of annihilating the terrorists with drones who are bent upon destroying Pakistan’s society, its culture, its tolerance. Pakistan has also been pleading that drones should be operated under Pakistani flags by the Pakistani security forces. The United States can provide real time intelligence against the common enemies of the two sides. The two sides have not been able to find a way forward on the issue of drones. It is learnt now that the two sides are working on a joint ownership of the drones so that there could be balanced achieved between the sovereignty and security concerns of the two sides. The parliamentary guidelines have addressed this issue that ‘Pakistani territory shall not be used for any kind of attacks on other countries and all foreign fighters, if found, shall be expelled from our soil’.
If the short-term interests of the two countries have divergence at certain specific issues, the long-term goals of eliminating terrorism and stabilizing this region are the shared objectives of the two sides.
In the terms of short-term interests, the United States must be anxious about re-opening of the NATO supplies. But at the same time, Pakistan too has certain short-time shortfalls. Budgetary projections require external pledges in a country like Pakistan. The specific security environment in South Asia makes it mandatory for Pakistan to increase list of friends instead of losing old friends. The parliamentary guidelines also address these issues; particularly the issues of NATO supplies and the guidelines have provided certain cushions to the government. The proposed work plan being developed is certain to address the issue of re-opening of the NATO supplies. The two sides have already made it clear that there will be no secret deal on the said account.
If the short-term interests of the two countries have divergence at certain specific issues, the long-term goals of eliminating terrorism and stabilizing this region are the shared objectives of the two sides. The work plan being developed by Pakistan in consultation with all stake-holders is a good omen for the bilateral relations because such a work plan will provide a framework to move ahead. The work plan being developed by Pakistan in consultation with all stake-holders is a good omen for the bilateral relations because such a work plan will provide a framework to move ahead. Pakistan and the United States must have an honest, shared and frank dialogue.
By: Shaukat Piracha

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