The details of the deal with USA may take a little while to be divulged, the decision to clear the way for the Nato supplies via the land route has been taken. Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar’s remark that it was time “to move on” left little doubt that the blockage is about to end.
The stalemate lasting six months or so has hardened the American attitude. The anti-Pakistan moves made by the Republicans in the House of Representatives have deepened the distrust between the allies. The White House rebuke to the House aside, there is little love lost between Washington and Islamabad. The USA is in no mood to offer an apology for the deliberate slaughter of Pakistani soldiers at Salala. Drone strikes, though reduced, continue. Meanwhile, the supplies by air never stopped. Only 30 percent of the total supplies will be going by the land route.
All that the Pakistani government, in consultation with the military top brass, is currently engaged in is to make the most of a bargain, in the context of a transactional arrangement. The intention appears to be to secure as many dollars as the US is willing to give. There is very much this troublesome realisation that with a down-at-the heels economy, the country cannot afford to continue to take a confrontationist posture with the dominant Western powers.
What about the tall talk about sovereignty? What about the parliamentary resolutions? Was it politic to pass on the responsibility to the elected houses? Can the government cope with the political opposition if they take to the streets and launch sustained protests?
With this problematic set of issues in the background, the key question is what Mr Zardari will be saying at the Chicago Summit? He is bound to be facing a number of queries. What will be his stand about the accusation regarding safe havens in North Waziristan and the role of the Haqqanis? The Taliban attacks in Kabul and other places are invariably attributed by the Western powers to the militants living in FATA.
The Chicago meeting will be focusing on the future of Afghanistan after the Isaf combat troops leave the country by the end of 2014. So, what role can and will Pakistan play in the endgame? Will Pakistan be a part of the strategy for a grand reconciliation with the Taliban and other militant elements in Afghanistan? How can Pakistan work for a stable Afghanistan after 2014? Can a civil war be avoided? If the fight amongst various Afghan groups ensues, what will be its fallout for Pakistan?
In that case, how can Pakistan stop another flux of a large number of refugees entering Pakistan? Can Pakistan afford the swelling of these numbers, having already suffered, for decades, heavily on this account? There is also the India factor. Already Kabul has forged a strategic pact with New Delhi, which provides for the training of Afghan military by the Indian armed forces.
So, Mr Zardari will be up against a battery of difficult questions pregnant with far-reaching consequences, when he speaks at Chicago.
Pakistan, with respect to foreign relations, is polarised. The PML-N, Jamaat-i-Islami and Imran Khan’s PTI are against the reopening of supplies to Nato troops in Afghanistan. The rulers in Islamabad have done little to consult these parties and accommodate their point of view. Will there be credibility in his voice when Zardari addresses the Nato heavyweights on the thorny issues mentioned above?
With no clarity as yet visible on crucial questions, what will be our response to various options that might be raised in the Chicago’s Nato conference? The irony of it all is that we have a weak, vulnerable and incompetent government at a time, when only a strong, stable and highly competent administration could have safeguarded the country’s interests and taken care of the challenges faced by it.
The world considers that some parts of our country are breeding grounds of terrorism. Any terrorist act anywhere is initially at least, linked to militant elements in Pakistan. There is so much lawlessness inside the country that no foreign investor is inclined to take a risk and do business here. There is so much shortage of energy that our industry – whatever is left of it – is rapidly losing steam. We have a Prime Minister, who is proud of openly defying the verdict of the highest court of the country. A Prime Minister, who takes 90 cronies and hangers-on to London and spends five days there, when all that he was to do was to hold a one-day meeting with his counterpart. Happy with his collection of designer suits, he remains unconcerned to the spate of non-stop targeting killings in the commercial hub of the country - the capital of a province ruled by his own political party.
Way back in May 2009, Aryan Baker wrote in the Time magazine: “Beset by feckless leadership and a muddled sense of identity, Pakistan is now plunging into chaos.”
Can the people of Pakistan afford to let the present rulers continue pushing the country to the brink?
It is high time that the opposition launches a massive movement, which ensures free and fair elections under the stewardship of an upright and competent Chief Election Commissioner.
The country must be saved from further irreparable damage, which the present government is bound to inflict on it.
Good that the GHQ is presently headed by a wise general, who is rightly disinclined to walk into the corridors of power.
There is still time for Mr Zardari to hold an urgent meeting with the top opposition leaders and carry the mandate of the nation with him. The nation is firm in its demand that drones strikes must stop!
John Brennan, Adviser to the US President on counterterrorism, said the other day that there was “nothing in international law that bans the use of remotely piloted aircraft.” He added that there was nothing legal to bar the US from “using lethal force against our enemies outside of an active battlefield at least when the country involved consents or is unable or unwilling to take action against the threat.”
These are ominous words. It is time that Pakistan sets up a panel of legal luminaries to examine the legality of drone strikes. Such initiative has become absolutely necessary, in fact urgent, to counter the above quoted authoritative categorical statement emanating from the White House.
Will this desensitised government of ours heed this demand and strive to stop external forces that continue to kill Pakistanis with impunity, making a harsh of the parliamentary directive which supposedly reflects the united will of the chosen representatives of the people of Pakistan.
The writer is an ex-federal secretary and ambassador, and political and international relations analyst.