Saturday, December 3, 2011

Pakistan Ponders Alignment with USA

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani on Friday ordered review of the national security paradigm and relations with the United States and Nato, but at the same time admitted that remaining aligned with Washington was the best way to achieve peace in Afghanistan.

“We believe that the way forward is to make honest efforts to get clarity and develop coherence, especially between Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States for instituting a credible process for a durable political settlement,” Mr Gilani said in his opening remarks at a meeting of the Parliamentary Committee on National Security (PCNS).

The session had been specially convened to discuss the Nov 26 Nato attacks on border posts and the government’s response.

The parliamentary committee will frame recommendations on how to conduct the complicated relationship with Washington.

The Director General of Military Operations, Maj Gen Ashfaq Nadeem Ahmed, gave a briefing to the committee on the strikes and their impact on relations with the US. Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar and Interior Minister Rehman Malik attended the meeting.

This is perhaps the first time during the current cyclic trough, which has been marked by high-pitched rhetoric, that the prime minister underscored the importance of working with the US, albeit just for success of the intended political process in Afghanistan.

The prime minister, in keeping with the national mood, however, punctuated his remarks with the usual rhetoric: “Clearly, there is a limit to our patience. Cooperation cannot be a one-way street.”

It was interesting to note that despite Mr Gilani’s wise counsel about working closely with the US and Afghanistan, the committee upheld the decision on boycotting the Bonn conference on Afghanistan, which is regarded as one of the most important international initiatives for the future of Afghanistan.

Several members of PCNS, including Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao and Afrasayab Khattak, also opposed the boycott.

Foreign Minister Khar later apprised her British and German counterparts about the decision.

There is a consensus that absence of Pakistan from the negotiating table will render the outcome of the conference irrelevant.

Immediately after last Saturday’s incident, the civilian government and military leadership reacted by blocking Nato’s supply route and asking the US to vacate the Shamsi airbase in 15 days. Both retaliatory measures have a bearing on Afghanistan’s security.
Mr Gilani, nevertheless, tried to dispel an impression that Pakistan was stalling the Afghan peace process.

“I would like to avail myself of this opportunity to underscore, once again, that Pakistan, as a responsible state, is ready to make its indispensable contribution to regional peace and security, in particular to support an inclusive process of national reconciliation and peace in Afghanistan.

“We have repeatedly stated that stability and peace in Afghanistan is in Pakistan’s national interest. We have participated and supported initiatives for peace in Afghanistan and the concept of regional economic cooperation.”

He spelt out conditions for a rapprochement with the US, which included respect for the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity; a firm and categorical commitment on inviolability’ of Pakistan’s borders and an assurance that incidents like the one on Nov 26 would not be repeated.

“The terms of our engagement with the United States and Nato/Isaf (International Security Assistance Force) have to be revisited on the basis of sovereign equality, mutual interest and mutual respect,” he said.

“Our continued cooperation in this regard can only be premised on a partnership approach that is consistent with Pakistan’s national interests and scrupulous respect for its sovereignty, independence and absolutely zero tolerance for any transgression against Pakistan’s frontiers.”

REVIEW OF NATIONAL SECURITY: The prime minister used the occasion to order a review of the national security paradigm to deter recurrence of incidents like the weekend attack by Nato in which 24 Pakistani soldiers died.
“These dastardly attacks in the dead of night cannot but be construed as a grave infringement of Pakistan’s territorial frontiers by Nato/Isaf and definitely compel us to revisit our national security paradigm. These attacks also have serious implications for regional peace and security,” he noted.

The May 2 US raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound and the latest attack on a border post has raised questions about the efficacy of defence systems, which consume large sums of taxpayers money every year.

Army chief Gen Kayani, through a communiqué circulated among troops on Thursday, allowed soldiers posted on the Pak-Afghan border to respond to any future attack by US/Nato forces without waiting for instructions from the command.

Mr Gilani referred to Gen Kayani’s directive in his speech. “Instructions have been issued to all units of the Pakistan armed forces to respond, with full force, to any act of aggression and infringement of Pakistan’s territorial frontiers.”

It is expected that the Army may review the role of deployment along Pak-Afghan border. Additionally, response mechanisms may be updated to minimise reaction time.

The parliamentary committee will reconvene on Thursday ( Dec 8 ) to frame its recommendations on ties with US and national security policy. The proposals will be tabled in a joint session of parliament, which is expected to be summoned soon.

Source: Pakistan Dawn

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