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A relationship in tatters

THE much-hyped report of the Parliamentary Committee on National Security (PCNS) called for an unconditional apology from the US over the Salala border post attack by Nato forces in the Mohmand Agency in November.

It also made the following demands: end to drone strikes, no hot pursuit by US forces inside Pakistan, strong oversight of the activities of foreign security contractors and the imposition of taxes on the supply of goods to Nato forces in Afghanistan. The reopening of Nato supplies to Afghanistan was thus made contingent on the acceptance of these demands.

I am not certain whether we are institutionally on the best course towards policies meant to protect the national interest. One of the reasons for this is that, in our effort to overcome certain imbalances that have arisen due to tension between state organs, we end up in a deeper crisis.

For instance, foreign affairs are best dealt with through a national approach set by the state under the executive authority of the prime minister. The executive, represented by the prime minister who is also the leader of the majority coalition in parliament, represents both the executive and the legislature.

In this case — and given the nature of the issue — it appears that the executive abandoned the field and left the issue to be handled by the legislature. Such a measure results in the formulation of policy that may not subsequently be owned by the executive if the situation so warrants. It is thus open to argument whether parliament should be delving into the executive’s sphere, which is not its mandate, and whether this is good for Pakistan.

According to Articles 90 and 91 of the constitution, the executive authority of the federation shall be exercised by the president on the advice of the cabinet. The cabinet and the ministers are collectively responsible for the National Assembly.

The best interpretation of what has happened is that the prime minister has desired that parliament guide him in developing a policy to be followed by Pakistan in relation to the US. The recommendations of the PCNS are thus recommendatory, not mandatory, and will provide plenty of options to the executive on how best to formulate an implementation of policy towards the US.

The relationship between the US and Pakistan has soured after the May 2 attack on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, the subsequent unfolding of events within Pakistan and the pronouncements in Congress and by the military top brass in the US.

In Pakistan, simultaneously, civil-military relations reached a very low ebb due to the ‘memogate’ affair in which the president and the military did some shadow boxing.

It is unfortunate that matters between formerly friendly nations reached such an unfriendly level. It is also true to say that when any relationship goes sour, the blame does not lie with one party alone.

The problem on the Pakistan side has been that the inheritance of unwritten understandings with the US, gifted by the Musharraf regime, has caused an unfavourable reaction among the Pakistani public against the US. The weakness of that policy from the Pakistani perspective is that it was an understanding between, at best, the Pakistani military and the US.

I have often wondered whether we would have reached the current pass had the US withdrawn from Afghanistan in, say, 2008.

The object of any military government in Pakistan has been to keep the US engaged with this country in an extended relationship. This is so that the military achieves legitimacy based on economic development on funds provided by the US, its international allies and multilaterals such as the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and the IMF.

It is for this reason that Pakistan has high growth rates when policy converges with that of the US. This was the script during Ayub Khan’s period, the Ziaul Haq era and later, when Musharraf ruled Pakistan.

However, like the certainty of a chemical reaction, the plus point of the American presence is equally matched by the minus point of declining US popularity in the country.

Why does that happen?

The US loves the transactional model which bestows the elites attached to a particular non-popular leader with favours and believes that it has thus bought the rights to that country’s policy options which will then be exercised in favour of the US.

The downside is that it creates a reaction within the ranks of the religious right and those who think nationalistically. In Pakistan, America’s engagements have not been with the public at large but the military and political elites who have been linked with the military.

On the other hand, since the Pakistani military becomes subservient in this relationship, the US begins to exploit this dependency — thus setting off a reaction from the public. The end result is a relationship in tatters.

Yet this need not always be so. Yes, all nations protect their national self-interest, but one can say that the US national interest could be better served by aligning with the people of Pakistan instead of its military-elite complex. This is a model of operation that will require a different approach. However, it is not something beyond the capacity of the US.

America’s reaction to the report has been muted, and it remains to be seen what the implications are. In my opinion, it means little. The US will continue to do as it pleases and Pakistan will keep crying tears of righteous indignation; such is the logic of power.

Article was published in Dawn.


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