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.


Related Publications

Could Pakistan’s Protests Undercut Taliban and Extremism?

Could Pakistan’s Protests Undercut Taliban and Extremism?

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

By: James Rupert

Tens of thousands of ethnic Pashtuns have held mass protests in Pakistan in the past three months, demanding justice and better governance for their communities. The largely youth-led protests forged an organization, the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (“tahafuz” means “protection”), that has broadened its goals to include democracy and decentralization of power in Pakistan. The movement reflects demands for change among the roughly 30 million Pashtuns who form about 15 percent of Pakistan’s population, the country’s second-largest ethnic community.

Conflict Analysis & Prevention; Nonviolent Action; Violent Extremism

Devolution of Power in Pakistan

Devolution of Power in Pakistan

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

By: Syed Mohammed Ali

Passage of the eighteenth amendment to Pakistan’s constitution in 2010 was rightly hailed as a major accomplishment. Not only did it devolve significant powers from the central government to the provinces, it also mandated the formation of local governments to bring government closer to the people. It took half a decade for the provinces to set up local governments—and real decision-making authority and financial resources have been even slower to arrive. In this Special Report, Syed Mohammad Ali takes stock of Pakistan’s devolution process and why its success is critical to the long-term prospects of democracy and the cultivation of new generations of democratic leaders.

Democracy & Governance

View All Publications