USIP's Moeed Yusuf looks at Pakistan's Parliamentary Review of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship.

By Moeed Yusuf

The Pakistani Parliamentary review of the terms of the Pakistan-U.S. relationship is set to drag on. Ironically, this is the first time in decades that we are witnessing the Pakistani civilian enclave take charge of an issue of national security and dictate terms on what has traditionally been the military’s exclusive domain. For some, the experiment has gone horribly wrong, but for others, this is a major victory for Pakistani civilian authority.

Both views are well founded. But it depends on whether one chooses to focus on the procedural or the instrumental aspects of the review. Procedurally, I would take a moment to laud a precedent-setting process. A young Parliamentary committee representing both houses of Parliament and with all parties represented has taken up the single most critical foreign policy question – the country’s relationship with the United States. True, they got this chance because no one, including the military, wanted to address controversial issues like the use of drones or NATO supply routes. But be that as it may, there is no evidence that the Parliamentary review has been manipulated in any way. The deliberations were genuine, and, ultimately, they have come out with a detailed set of recommendations -- however troubling they may be for the relationship.

Take a long-term view, and this is a fairly remarkable development that civilian leaders can use as a precedent any time they want to stamp their authority in the national security arena in the coming months and years.

Now to the substance of the recommendations. Those who see problems with what has come out of the committee are correct. The product is a hawkish set of suggestions that essentially seeks to convert the relationship into a transactional one and gives no leeway on issues like an official apology from the U.S. for the NATO strike, say, or on drones. A bit of politicking was to be expected from such a multi-party committee – don’t forget this is likely to be an election year in Pakistan.

But that said, committees of such high authority must balance between political expediency and demands of statecraft. Pakistan (and the U.S.) cannot afford a ruptured relationship at this point – and if that were to happen, it is only academic to determine who will lose more. The fact is that both will hurt enough not to make this option a desirable one – and yet were the recommendations to be followed in letter and spirit, one can foresee a breakdown on several issues. The opposition parties in the Parliament are going one step further by digging in their heels and demanding a total cutoff of NATO supplies, among other measures that would be tantamount to calling it quits with the U.S.

One can expect the Pakistani government and military reengaging despite continued opposition from its rival parties in the Parliament. But the issue is going to remain emotive and politically charged in Pakistan and this will keep the government hamstrung in how far it can go in putting the relationship back on track. Washington should be prepared for downgraded, transactional dealing with Islamabad. Even with that, it will have to tread carefully and maintain a lower profile than before and focus only on getting the most important aspects of the partnership (at least from its perspective) back on the rails. And by the way, the partnership won’t be able to sustain another major crisis -- especially if is caused by a U.S. action.

 

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