Senator Sherry Rehman, vice president of the Pakistan People’s Party, cautioned on Tuesday that the situation in Afghanistan may have a negative impact on Pakistan.
When speaking to reporters on the fast changing situation in Afghanistan, she said that although Pakistan had the most invested in the country’s stability, the geopolitics of increasing violence next door suggested that peace could be a long way off.
She said that in this situation, clear and targeted domestic policies would have far-reaching advantages for the country’s security and economic stability.
“Clarity and consensus are needed for any foreign policy to be successful, especially if policy agendas are focused on protecting a country’s interests and people, which involves managing competing interests and ideas,” she said.
“In times of crisis, leadership is crucial to policy formation as well as its smart articulation,” she said.
“Unfortunately, at key inflection points for the country, the prime minister, who should have the convening power and accompanying goodwill to ensure unity and consensus via political parties and parliaments, is absent. “It’s as if he believes he can delegate crucial choices that will put Pakistan to the test to other cabinet members and the security community, who shouldn’t have to go it alone while attempting to set a course for the nation in the institutional vacuum he’s created.
“In war or peace, a country needs a leader who can speak with moderation and intellectual integrity with parliament in order to manage crisis or create new paths for development. Pakistan seems rudderless at the moment, with the PM only using his office to swing from one extreme position to another,” the PPP leader said.
Asked what the PPP would have done had it been in power, she said: “We would have to reinvent no wheel. We already have a framework in place through which the National Security Committee of both houses of parliament came into being as a result of consensus resolution to defeat extremism and terrorism in 2008. This resolution was framed as an outcome of a joint session of parliament which took place after a series of bombings, including the attack on Hotel Marriot, and this very resolution authorised the National Security Committee of parliament to continue meetings, briefings, deliberations and decision-making which reflected the shared stakes of parliament, which represents all of Pakistan.
“When confronted with a difficult policy choice, for instance what to do with existing American bases leased out covertly in 2001, this committee was able to draft a joint agreement for Pakistan to go forward with closing bases, but opening the Ground Lines of Communications for Nato forces bringing equipment and arms out of Afghanistan, not allowing anyone into the country via Pakistan’s air or ground space. Because we were able to use our government’s convening power and across-the-aisle goodwill in parliament, with all key ministries and [then]president (Asif Ali) Zardari and PM (Yousuf Raza) Gilani playing key roles in tandem with other offices, the agreements were publicly acceptable in Pakistan; they were also accepted by the US and Nato entities as consensus agreements. Pakistan was able to not only launch anti-militancy operations in 2009 via the mandate of the Parliament Resolution of 2008, but also virtually eliminate Al Qaeda from its border regions by 2013, and come out of this tough period of sacrifice and national trauma by the ability of its leadership to work together and to carry parliament and people with them.
Foreign policy, according to Ms Rehman, should not be based on mood-swing comments or personal preferences. “It is pure statecraft which must reflect the institutional expression of state interests as well as the political will of the people of Pakistan. Big decisions need big leaders who can sublimate their ego to public interests and institutional tradecraft, not just reach out to mass media via tweets and TV addresses. As Pakistan faces one of the worst emerging regional situations in decades, the first test of its foreign policy is to not lock itself into policy straitjackets, but to be able to navigate a fine balance between friends and frenemies.
“There is a tightening of the international community circle around Pakistan with reference to FATF, GSP-plus benchmarks, among other multilateral exposure windows, and despite the volume of our messaging, India will not be put to the same standard. In a non-level global playing field, Pakistan will need maturity and political depth to manage best outcomes. We also need to utilise the CPEC opportunity better and move forward with our all-weather friends with greater consistency and stability in our responses. No friend, no matter how supportive they are, should be taken for granted.”