By Asma Jahangir
May 17, 2011
THE in camera joint session of parliament was a positive step as it allowed the political and military leadership to speak freely, without the distraction of their media image. Though the details of the debate are not public, the few accounts that have appeared make it abundantly clear that a frank discussion did take place.
However, the conclusion is by and large confusing, unrealistic and apologetic rather than constructive. If the joint statement is anything to go by, then the establishment has once again hoodwinked parliament. The joint statement gives no indication of a shift in policy; instead, it lends further patronage to the age-old policy of self-denial and constantly playing with fire.
The military leadership allowed politicians to let off steam — but only to a point. The few reports leaked to the press reveal that the opposition was solidly snubbed by the DG ISI, and ‘patriots’ within parliament were quick to come to the rescue of the military in order to change the narration of the debate. It is clear that Pakistan’s territory was violated by the US and it is equally obvious that neither protests from us nor a threat of retaliation will have any real effect. A superpower such as the US will not be deterred from undertaking hot pursuit against suspects that are a threat to its national security, especially if all shades of militants have merrily set up house here.
The presence of militants has put the lives and security of the people of Pakistan in double jeopardy. Their dignity is challenged by the violation of their territory by the US and their lives are at risk at the hands of religious militants. We deeply resent the unilateral actions by the US on our soil and the outrage is evident. By contrast, very little resentment is expressed against the non-state elements that have killed thousands and which have safe havens while operating against our own people.
In addition, the military leadership has never fully explained its dual strategy of sparing some groups while dismantling others.
Where has this approach led us to? The nation — at least the millions who want to live in peace — deserves answers. Are we looking for peace and prosperity or more violence? Is it a war for self-respect? If so, how do we explain the fact that in some parts of the country the writ of the government has been replaced by the rule of foreign and local militants? Are we confusing arrogance with dignity? Death through violence, kidnapping and living in fear are hardly the hallmark of a dignified life.
On the other hand, it is sheer arrogance on our part to insist that the entire world is in the wrong while we alone are the great warriors of justice and the truth. The silence of the international community in coming to our support after the Abbottabad operation speaks volumes for our credibility. This is a defining moment for us, a wake-up call. Yet, sadly, the signs in Islamabad are to the contrary.
The unanimous resolution of parliament is a strong diplomatic warning to the US and includes a mild threat of withdrawing transit facilities that Nato and Isaf have so far enjoyed. It laments that Pakistan (meaning the rulers, I hope) is being maligned by “certain quarters” in other countries. All this has been said earlier but it is now being endorsed by parliament. It would, therefore, follow that the stakes have been raised and a lack of reaction to the North Waziristan drone attacks or hot pursuit against suspected international terrorists will only embarrass and frustrate us further.
Should we then presume that tough decisions and open confrontation with the US is a serious option? If that is the plan, then the resolution is well-worded and clear and obliges our leaders to boldly prepare the nation for the consequences. Sacrifice is not new to Pakistanis. They have ungrudgingly suffered on account of policy decisions that were made in secret by dictators.
At least now the verdict is being endorsed by those who represent us and if their resolution is merely a bundle of words then they have seriously put their credibility at stake.
Sadly, the joint resolution itself is misleading. It starts by saying that a joint session was held to consider “the situation arising from the unilateral US forces’ action” in Abbottabad, whereas the general impression was that the session was also called to discuss the situation that “led” to the unilateral action by the US. Finally, the resolution has decided to set up a commission that is expected to fix responsibility and recommend necessary measures to ensure that such an incident does not recur.
Fortunately, it is not purely a judicial commission that will be responding to a politically loaded question which parliament itself has determined in an imprudent manner.
The resolution fixed total responsibility on the US administration and vowed faith and trust in the national security apparatus.
The commission will have no influence or authority over US forces to ensure there is no recurrence and to that extent will remain toothless. It could inquire into the intelligence failures on both counts — the undetected presence of Bin Laden and the unilateral US operation. Now that parliament has given a clean chit to our security forces through a resolution, should they then expect sturdier shoulders in the commission to carry the responsibility of uncovering the bitter truth and presenting wiser choices?
The joint session of parliament, the statement of Mian Nawaz Sharif, the deliberate silence of the government and the open debate in the media raised hopes for policy changes. But, alas, the holy cows go unscathed despite the East Pakistan debacle, the Ojhri camp disaster, the brutalisation of Balochistan and the Kargil operation. This time around the main issues have been skilfully sidestepped. We have suffered crisis after crisis with unending patience because of skewed security and foreign policies. This is not likely to change after the military leadership has turned the tables on civilians who have abandoned their own concerns and joined the establishment’s bandwagon.
Let us just give up. Let political leaders pay any price that the nation must pay, just so they may stay in office. Let the mullah take the lives of our young ones on the promise of seeing paradise. Let economic disaster eat away the flesh of our poor. Let us rapidly slip into isolation. Let us remain speechless when the young beseech us to give them some hope of a better future. Let us remain bewildered while Jeeves carries on.
Source: The Dawn, Pakistan