Analysis: Pakistan's Parliament Takes Stand on US Ties
April 16, 2012
Gary Thomas | Washington
Relations between the United States and Pakistan have been in a downward spiral, reaching a low point after U.S. warplanes mistakenly attacked a border outpost in November, killing 24 Pakistani soldiers.
Now Islamabad is calling for specific conditions on security cooperation from U.S. agencies.
The new demands, unanimously approved in a nonbinding parliamentary resolution last week, include an end to drone strikes in Pakistan, a bar on unilateral U.S. military operations -- such as the Abbottabad raid that killed Osama bin Laden -- a ban on U.S. intelligence operations, and indefinite suspension of visas to U.S. intelligence operatives and security contractors.
Parliament is also demanding an unconditional apology from Washington for the November airstrike that mistakenly killed Pakistani troops on the Afghan border.
Uncommon Parliamentary Act
What makes the call for new conditions unusual is that it comes not from Pakistan's federal government, but from parliament.
- Immediate end to U.S. drone strikes
- Cessation of all overt, covert U.S. incursions
- Unconditional apology for NATO airstrike that killed 24
- Justice for those responsible
- U.S. restriction from territorial, airspace transport of weapons to Afghanistan
- Restriction of all private security companies, operatives in Pakistan
"There is not any precedent in Pakistan for parliamentary determination of this kind of a foreign policy issue," says Teresita Schaffer, former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for South Asia. "And the reason that the parliament was asked to take this action was basically that both the government and, perhaps more importantly, the army, wanted cover. Whatever they decided, they wanted to have as much political cover as they wanted. And I think that neither one was averse to parliament taking a pretty hard line."
US-NATO Supply Routes, Drone Strikes
After November's border incident, Pakistan barred re-supply of U.S.-NATO troops in Afghanistan via Pakistani land routes. These supply lines, which carry only non-lethal materials, could be reopened if Washington and Islamabad reach agreement on the new demands.
But some analysts say the U.S. does not necessarily need Pakistan's supply routes.
Christine Fair, a South Asia specialist at Georgetown University, says U.S. and NATO forces have learned to live without the land routes since Pakistan shut them down.
"We’re paying a higher price because we’re moving things through the air," says Fair. "But even though we’re moving them through the air at a higher price, we’re not having to worry about blockages, we’re not having to worry about pilferage. We’re paying more, but we’re actually getting what we’re paying for. So the big issue for the United States will be the drones."
Pakistan has repeatedly called for an end to U.S. drone strikes on suspected Taliban sanctuaries within its borders, but the strikes continue, causing some analysts to question whether the government of President Asif Ali Zardari is secretly acquiescing in the attacks.
Secret Agreements Eyed
Intelligence operations are by nature secret, often quietly allowed through quiet agreements. Schaffer says President Zardari and his Pakistan Peoples’ Party may have gotten some political traction by pushing parliament to make such stiff demands, but that the government could be seriously damaged if any secret agreements between the U.S. and Pakistan come to light.
"You’ll notice that not only did the parliament say 'hell no drones,' but also specified in their resolution that there can be no secret or verbal agreements touching U.S.-Pakistan relations, and that any previous ones hereby stand canceled," says Schaffer. "Clearly what that means is that the kind of handshake agreements that we’ve often operated on in the past become very vulnerable to sudden scandal and exposure."
But according to Fair, the military, not parliament or even civilian government, will decide how U.S.-Pakistan security relations will be shaped.
"I think that, on the main, it’s a good thing that the parliament’s being involved in these issues," says Fair. "And a corollary is that the Pakistani population is also being involved in national security issues -- I don’t think that they've ever really been, to this extent, galvanized on political issues of national security. But in the end it’s going to be the army that decides how much they’re going to enforce what the parliament says."
U.S. officials say they look forward to discussing the parliamentary demands with the Pakistan government to build a very constructive relationship based on mutual understanding.
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