THE Parliamentary Committee on National Security’s recommendations on the US-Pakistan relationship contain at least one major new and positive suggestion and at least one significant sticking point. Perhaps the most promising change Senator Rabbani laid out was not just tactical or strategic but philosophical, calling for greater transparency in the US-Pakistan relationship — a transparency overseen by the civilian set-up. On-paper agreements would replace the verbal understandings that have defined the terms of the relationship over the last decade. These would then go through the ministries concerned, including the law ministry, the PCNS, the cabinet and parliament. Slower progress would be an inevitable result, and the security establishment would still play a significant role behind the scenes. But if implemented, and defined in a manner that minimises red tape, this new framework could be a giant leap forward for transparency in the US-Pakistan relationship, the way the Pakistani public perceives the relationship and the strength of civilian institutions.
One particular recommendation does, however, have the potential to become a major roadblock. The PCNS called, more categorically than the parliamentary resolution passed after the Osama bin Laden raid, for an end to drone strikes. But if the terms of these strikes can be renegotiated to ensure that Pakistani sovereignty is not violated, and to minimise non-combatant casualties, it would be worth reconsidering. Drones reach areas the army cannot and cause fewer casualties than traditional air strikes. They have demonstrated their usefulness to Pakistan by taking out Baitullah Mehsud, then Pakistan’s public enemy number one. A more pragmatic approach would be to try to reach an agreement on the frequency of strikes — it would have to be brought down permanently from the pre-Salala level — and on sufficient Pakistani involvement in identifying targets and planning attacks. The risk of adopting the recommendations’ language and calling for an unqualified end to them in a parliamentary resolution is also that they may well continue despite these efforts, embarrassing the civilian set-up and further inflaming public opinion.
Most other demands, while asserting Pakistani sovereignty, have already been stated before or seem more doable. Calls for redrafting agreements on supply routes will come as no surprise here or in Washington. The apology on Salala could well come from the US military, if not from President Obama. Other issues might turn out to be more problematic, including the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline and greater transparency about potential American intelligence activities in Pakistan. In considering these, parliament will have to strike a tricky balance between looking out for Pakistan’s interests and preventing the dissolution of a critical relationship. Sovereignty is important, but Pakistan cannot afford not to be pragmatic.
IT is a matter of national shame that the polio virus still threatens the children of Pakistan, despite several years of intensified eradication efforts.It reflects poorly on the Pakistani state and society; perhaps the reason for the campaign’s failure is that the state has not treated polio as the crisis it is. The World Health Organisation has recently warned that a polio outbreak is imminent in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Bara tehsil of Khyber Agency, where security forces are battling the militants, has, in fact, had no vaccination campaign since September 2009 and is the only place in Asia where type-3 polio cases were reported in 2011 and 2012.
As highlighted by the WHO warning, the volatile security situation is perhaps the main imperative behind immunising children in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, particularly in the province’s conflict zones, as well as the neighbouring tribal belt. Yet there are other factors as well, such as lack of satisfactory coverage in areas not considered conflict zones. While the anti-polio policy might appear effective on paper, its implementation leaves much to be desired. The WHO suggestion that checkpoints be set up at locations where families fleeing the conflict pass through should be implemented so that vulnerable children can be immunised, while countrywide efforts should be made to target mobile populations. Four polio sanctuaries have been identified in Pakistan — Karachi, Quetta, Qila Abdullah and Pishin. Concentrated efforts are needed to immunise children under five in these regions, especially in Karachi and Quetta, where accessibility is not generally an issue. Successive governments have failed to involve mosques and schools in anti-polio campaigns; this shortcoming must be addressed, as the persuasive powers of the pulpit are considerable in this country. If semi-literate clerics can spread baseless propaganda about the polio vaccine, legitimate scholars can surely be brought on board to emphasise the necessity of getting children vaccinated. Public figures in general should get involved in anti-polio efforts, while men should be convinced about the need to vaccinate children as they are the decision-makers in most Pakistani families.
No role in politics
ASLAM Bhootani should know better than to support the idea of the army’s continued involvement in politics. Talking to newsmen in Quetta on Monday, the Balochistan Assembly speaker said the army had a role in the province and that negotiations with the nationalist groups would not be successful unless the military force was involved. In fact such views appear out of place when one considers that the tension that had at one stage assumed the proportions of an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation between the government and the army has been tapering off. The prime minister’s statement in parliament in December that the army had become “a state within a state”, and the army’s warning of “grievous consequences” did not lead to a derailment of the democratic process as many feared at the time. Showing good sense both sides pulled back from the brink. While it may be true that the army’s role in Balochistan is a reality and that GHQ has its own views on the province, even if the intention is to develop a consensus between the people’s representatives and the generals on the Balochistan issue, backing a role for the army in politics can only prove to be counterproductive. One has only to revisit Pakistan’s own history to be convinced of this.
Democratic governments the world over listen to their generals on security matters. But by their very training, military leaders have a one-dimensional mind. On the other hand, an elected government is not worth its salt if it does not take a holistic view, which while accommodating the military’s suggestions is not oblivious to other equally vital matters. As finally formulated, the policy of a democratic government represents the views of all segments of the executive, including the military.