Saturday, May 16, 2009



Will the parliament debate and review the commitments and statements made by Mr. Zardari in USA during his recent visit? Will he recall what Mr. Barack Obama told him in the brief one-on-one meeting with him? Will the members of cabinet be apprised of the discussion that took place between the two and whether the question of drone attacks was addressed?

Was Mr.Zardari authorized to endorse the Memorandum of Understanding on transit trade between Pakistan and Afghanistan and “beyond?” Why was the US secretary of state so very keen about this MOU – so very concerned that she literally presided over the meeting attended by the two presidents? Why did she call it a “historic event” and “an important milestone?” Why were the two presidents practically downgraded to the level of a foreign minister, Hillary herself being one?

Something bilateral was turned into a trilateral affair with a formal signing ceremony arranged at a place thousands of miles away from Kabul and Islamabad.

Good that the matter is being taken up in the National Assembly. Marvi Memon is raising the issue by moving an adjournment motion. Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, leader of the opposition told the reporters on Wednesday: “we will launch an agitation against the agreement, besides opposing it in the parliament.”

Although the MOU does not mention India, the general feeling is that New Delhi will be a major beneficiary of it. India has been wanting a transit facility to Afghanistan since 1947. Pakistan for good reasons has been resisting the grant of this concession. If India succeeds in securing this facility the consequences for Pakistan’s trade, industry and strategic interests could be most harmful.

It is well known that large scale goods going into Afghanistan via Pakistan have considerably damaged our economy because of resultant smuggling of the stuff back into our territory. It is important that the MOU is thoroughly analyzed and its contents fully examined in the light of the consequential implications. It shouldn’t be treated rhetorically in the parliament for merely scoring points and criticizing the government. Quite a lot is at stake.

India is obviously working behind the scene and Washington is more than willing to oblige New Delhi to strengthen its role in the region.

The added reason why it must be addressed seriously and vigorously is the requirement thrust on the government of Pakistan that the two governments must “undertake to conclude and sign a complete Afghanistan – Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement as early as possible and no later than December 31, 2009.” A coordination committee is also on the cards to “resolve all issues relating to cross – border commerce and inland transit.”

The opening paragraph of the Memorandum emphasizes the “regional linkages and export oriented business development.” The foreign office spokesman has sought to downplay the move by saying that it is a mere MOU and “nothing was finalized.” The fact that the US secretary of state is godfathering it leaves little doubt that the matter will be processed and finalized within the year.

Much will depend on how the opposition does its home work and how it builds up public opinion to dissuade the pliant government of Pakistan from giving in to the American dictat.

It was a mistake and a sign of weakness when in a SAARC meeting the Musharraf government yielded to the Indian demand that Afghanistan be included in the South Asian Association. Ever since the occupation of Afghanistan by USA and the NATO forces an India friendly and anti-Pakistan (Northern Alliance) government has been ruling the country.

India has invested heavily in Afghanistan, wields a lot of influence there and according to our Interior minister uses Afghan territory to destabilize parts of Pakistan. Can we afford this unfriendly neighbour to acquire the facilities which will seriously adversely affect our economy? If at all Pakistan finds itself forced to sign on the dotted line later this year, will it make the concession conditional on similar transit facilities, for Pakistan, to Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan across India?

Another important development is the sudden turn around and launching of a full fledged military operation in Swat and the adjoining areas. Not that Sufi and the so called Taliban should have been allowed a free hand to defy the writ of the government and to take over administration in Buner and Deer districts. As pointed out by PML (N) MNA Khawaja Saad Rafiq on the floor of the National Assembly, the matter should have been discussed by the political parties and the members of the parliament before a decision was taken.

The PML (N) leader Mian Nawaz Sharif had addressed a letter to Prime Minister Gilani calling for an all parties’ conference to examine various options. This was not done. Strangely enough, the National Assembly which was pious to debate the issue, was suddenly prorogued and the Prime Minister in a televised speech announced the launch of the military operation.

The operation in fact, was already underway when Mr. Gilani made his speech. The general impression is that a weak Pakistani government had buckled under US administration’s pressure. What indeed is most unfortunate is that little thought was given to the possible fall-out of the massive military action.

The government suddenly found itself facing a crisis of gargantuan proportions. More than a million Pakistanis have become internally displaced people. Islamabad is practically clueless about the repercussions of this large movement of men, women and children to various places including Islamabad. Makeshift arrangements are being made. An already badly governed country has on its hands an added hugely complex task of looking after lakhs of people who have fled from their homes and hearths.

There have been reports, in the past, of miscreants and criminals entering Pakistan in FATA and adjoining areas from Afghanistan – Uzbeks, Tajiks, Afghans and others. Is it farfetched to think that such elements will avail of this mass movement from Swat, Buner and Deer to mix with them and take to nefarious activities at various places?

Belatedly Mr. Gilani has called a meeting of the political parties on Monday. He possibly has fixed it keeping in view the return of his “boss” by then.

What a wonderful president do we have!?

He acts as the virtual “chief executive” of the country. Speaks of “my democracy” “my army” and “my parliament” and keeps away for more than two weeks while the country is in deep trouble. Will he make a little amends by visiting Swat and some of the camps in the NWFP? He is expected to do so as he is the head of the state and chairman of the ruling political party. Hopefully Mr. Gilani too will also pick up the courage to go to Mardan and Swabi relief camps and share the grief and misery of the hapless displaced families.

A great opportunity has come for the Punjab province to go out of the way to provide maximum possible relief to the IDPs. Shahbaz Sharif can show his worth and versatility by spending time with the displaced people.

As a suggestion, how about deputing, a competent minister, whole-time along with adequate staff and funds to undertake relief operations, for a period of three months or so.

Tailpiece: The Chief Justice of Pakistan has taken up the indefensible imposition of levies on the sale of petrol which keep its price pegged at a high level at the expense of the people and the economy. Hopefully the government will heed the Supreme Court advice and not hide behind unacceptable excuses.

There might have been no such directive from the court if a compassionate government had been, in place.

The writer is a political and international relations analyst.



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