Amateur MNAs take up foreign policy casually: View from the Gallery

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by Fasihur Rehman Khan

For the second day running, many of the unprepared National Assembly (NA) members were engaged in a foreign policy issue, and that too, in an unusually casual, and general manner. Rarely one sees foreign policy ‘domesticated’ in such a crude way by our legislators as one did on the opening day of this new session.  In Tuesday’s session, a private members’ day, the treasury front rows looked almost deserted — and two/three ministers on the front rows were seemingly tired of the long duty. Opposition benches displayed a different body language, tone and tenor. Legislators were sitting casually on their seats, busy in small group chit-chats, having a good time.

It was up for grabs for everyone. PTI, PPP, JI, and MQM members discussed the foreign policy in general terms, coming up with their own versions of international intrigues on country’s eastern and western borders, ending up on the issue of non-appointment of a full fledge foreign minister. As if it is the real cause of all the troubles and remedy for all the solutions to rectify policy lapses and loopholes in the foreign policy being pursued by the foreign office bureaucrats, under strict guidelines of the military establishment. Elected governments of the day have their share too. That is definitely not Lion’s share.

In Tuesday’s proceedings, PTI’s Shireen Mazari was quick to snatch the chance to come hard on Defense Minister Khawaja Asif charging that the minister had hidden on Monday information that Pak-Afghan border is being opened for a two day period, thus committing contempt of the Lower House. “Or, he was not privy to the information,” she believed. Khawaja Asif, who landed minutes into Ms Mazarri’s high on voice tone and low on substance points, didn’t bother to respond.

All she wanted to highlight was that the defense minister didn’t spell out two days’ Pak-Afghan border opening in his speech on Monday. So she thought he misled the house or he was not aware of the development at all. Perhaps, this cannot be the case after the last November change of guard at the military. Asif has survived through thick and thin, leaving behind the bad patch, testing times.  Now he is believed to have developed a close liaison with the new military leadership. On this day, however, Asif wanted to stay away from unwanted controversy, especially when it concerns locking horns with Dr Mazarri. The duo often brings some comic relief cum amusement to the legislators. But situation could turn tense at any given moment, keeping in view ‘temperaments’ both of them have.  So staying true to their aggressive defense policy, befitting was an equally causal policy statement by Safron Minister Abdul Qadir Baloch.

So intermingled and overlapping are the affairs of Foreign, Interior, even Safron or Kashmir affairs ministries under the current PML-N dispensation that any minister can be used when Mr Sartaj Aziz and Tariq Fatemi have other pressing engagements to attend to.  This gives a good opportunity to every other opposition legislator to complain absence of a full fledge foreign minister, repeatedly and without fail. As Premier Sharif himself holds the foreign affairs charge, and opposition often complains of his scarce presence in the Parliament throughout his third stint in power.

The other day, it was defense minister Khawaja Asif who explained Afghanistan-India nexus which has compelled the government to close down the Pak-Afghan border for the last many days now. In actual terms, as far as the two-day random debate on country’s foreign policy is concerned, it was nothing more than a stop-gap arrangement, fill in the blank of sorts activity, to carry out business at the Lower House of Parliament till a consensus of sorts is reached between the government and PPP on the final shape the 23rd Constitutional Amendment. Till then, all the treasury-opposition legislators anxiously observe the government moves, counters by real PPP supreme, Asif Zardari. Former President is not ready to let go easily. He is in for a bargain on military courts, coming up with his 9 points on the issue as his scheduled All Parties Conference fizzled out, compelling him to gather many second-third tier politicians, some of them having one or two seats in the Parliament.  And brand it as nothing more than a multi-party conference. As his points put a check on functioning of military courts, his aides say the former president is not ready to hand over sweeping powers to the military courts in the election year. Courtesy Zardari’s hard intervention on Monday through a press conference, the government delayed parliamentary leaders’ moot till March 9. But all was not lost as some invisible forces prompted PML-Q Chief Ch. Shujaat Hussain to hold a four party moot on Tuesday to back government’s proposal for a two years extension of the military courts.

Monday’s first sitting of the new session saw some fireworks from Defence Minister Khawaja Asif on Pak-Afghan border closure issue, and then the PSL cricket match final held in Lahore this Sunday. The success of the event on sporting and security charts, gave Asif and his PML-N colleagues enough space to take on PTI chief’s zig-zagging on the issue. Many of our PTI walas would not like this comparison. But, like US President Donald Trump, PTI Chief Imran Khan likes to tweet on every issue under the sun. And as Trump finds himself in hot soap in post election scenario due to his often unguarded tweets, Imran is these days undergoing a similar yet lower intensity feud for his tweets on PSL cricket match controversy that is considered his strongest area. The unprecedented cricketing fame turned Imran into a non-traditional politician. Though, his rising popularity bagged him over 7 million votes in elections 2013, but some untimely twists and turns since then, have acted as a dampener for his political struggle, stature. And Premier Sharifs’ ministers are happy Imran being pulled down on his own turf, courtesy his unguarded outbursts (tweets). These are strange times for PTI chief as he anxiously awaits the apex court decision on Panama case. Lately, his statements on holding PSL final match in Lahore and regarding the foreign players have gone astray, difficult to defend for saner party cadres. And now the closure of Afghan border issue.

On the PSL final issue, PTI legislators and leaders till date struggle with an effective defense points – in the National Assembly as well as television talk shows. On the Pak-Afghan border closure issue, PTI has some valid points on humanitarian grounds. For now PTI walas choose these points for political discourse as they anxiously await Panama case verdict by the apex court. Spirited defense of party chief Imran Khan’s zigzag on PSL final in Lahore, and then the chorus to open Pak-Afghan border on humanitarian grounds is the sum total of PTI activities these days as they employ offensive-defense approach. Gone are the days when Imran Khan’s PTI would discreetly and passionately toe every guide line of the establishment. courtesy The News.

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