The report is here. That’s all we know
If you think the parliament is finally taking charge of foreign policy and national security issues – don't.
Allow me to explain: the Parliamentary Committee on National Security has submitted its report and a debate will ensue from next week. The report has spelt out recommendations for reviving ties with the United States which have been in deep freeze since the November Salala massacre. These recommendations are a curious mixture of belligerence, realism and often pure jest. The parliamentarians will now shower their pearls of wisdom on the contents of the report in a gallant effort to reach at some conclusion.
Prepare to be amused.
Many points in the report deserve to be contested. Others require a reality check. But such a critique – if it has to have some substance – will need the parliamentarians to have a fair understanding of the nuances that often define our relationship with the United States. Blaming the Americans for everything under the sun may make for solid political grandstanding, but not serious policymaking. This report is a policy document, not a political manifesto. It will require scrutiny with some sophistication. This may be asking for too much.
Let's add a rider here: it is clearly unrealistic to expect the parliament to be stuffed with foreign policy experts. It is also unfair to ask the parliamentarians as a whole to conjure up substantive alternate narratives. Once these limitations are factored in, a limited role remains for these representatives. They can give suggestions and then at some stage shout 'ayes' and 'nays' to determine the fate of Pakistan's policy towards the United States.
The equation does not add up. One reason perhaps is the absence of a proper, institutionalised foreign-policymaking framework. In plain English, this means the parliament doesn’t have the structure to make such policy because, well, it never has.
Consider how this report got done. The task was assigned to the committee on national security. So far so good. Then there was radio silence. No one knew what the committee was doing. A shroud of secrecy was blanketed over all proceedings. Senior officials were summoned before the committee to provide input, but no one knew who was saying what and why. For three months, the committee worked behind closed doors. And then, voila! The report appeared all primed and padded with a ribbon on top. Did the members of the committee – no Kissingers them – brained up the recommendations? Did the Foreign Office provide a ready-made draft? Or did the military high command tell them what needed to be said? We do not know. It is therefore not surprising that the committee finds itself standing on weak legs.
It could have been different. Open, transparent and, thus, more legitimate. Yes I'm referring to the committee hearings format. Now such a format is not part of the procedure in our parliamentary system but that does not mean a more informal way could not have been adopted. In such a manner, options backed by solid logic and reasoning could have been debated and discussed. Individual and institutional viewpoints could have been aired and dissected. In addition to providing a richer and deeper discourse, this would have also painted a transparent picture of where the political leadership stood, and more importantly why it stood where it stood.
Distilled and filtered through such a process, the report would have arrived in the parliament already injected with a degree of public legitimacy. This would have lifted the burden off the shoulders of the parliamentarians and allowed them to look at the bigger picture. A nip and tuck here and there, and the deed would have been done.
The stuff that dreams are made of. What we now have is a document whose real authors remain a mystery, tall claims notwithstanding. The opposition led by PML(N) has already stated its reservation vociferously. The religious parties and the Defence of Pakistan Council are smelling treason. Rallies and protests against the possible re-opening of the Nato supply routes have been announced. The right wing is licking its lips and sharpening its swords. The hunt is about to begin.
The worst possible scenario is the whole thing being reduced to a farce. Mudslinging matches over serious policy matters are generally not very useful. In the end, the politicians may end up being their own worst enemies, and allowing the national security establishment to snigger and say: "we told you these guys can't handle these issues". The pendulum then will swings back from the parliament to GHQ.
Brace for the empire to strike back.
The writer hosts a primetime talk show on ARY News. He has worked as Director News of Express News and Dunya News and Editor The News, Islamabad. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @fahdhusain