Posts Tagged ‘ Pakistan Parliment ’

Pakistani Parliament Approves Proposals on US Ties

As Reported By The Associated Press

Pakistan’s parliament on Thursday unanimously approved new guidelines for the country in its troubled relationship with the United States, a decision that could pave the way for the reopening of supply lines to NATO troops in neighboring Afghanistan.

The guidelines allow for the blockade on U.S. and NATO supplies to be lifted, but also call for an immediate end to American drone strikes against militants on Pakistani soil.

However, the lawmakers did not make a halt in the CIA-led missile attacks a prerequisite to reopening the supply lines, as some lawmakers had been demanding. The government and the army will use the recommendations as the basis for re-engaging with Washington.

Ties between the U.S. and Pakistan all but collapsed in November after U.S. airstrikes inadvertently killed 24 Pakistani soldiers on the Afghan border, after which Islamabad blocked the supply lines in protest. Washington wants the relationship back on track.

The U.S. State Department expressed respect for the Pakistani parliament’s decision. “We respect the seriousness with which parliament’s review of U.S.-Pakistan relations has been conducted,” said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland. “We seek a relationship with Pakistan that is enduring, strategic, and more clearly defined. We look forward to discussing these policy recommendations with the Government of Pakistan and continuing to engage with it on our shared interests.”

About 30 percent of supplies used by NATO and U.S. troops in landlocked Afghanistan are transported through Pakistan. Washington also needs Islamabad’s cooperation to negotiate an end to the Afghan war because many insurgent leaders are based on Pakistani soil.

The drones are a source of popular outrage in the country and have fueled anti-U.S. sentiment, although Pakistan’s powerful army has tacitly aided the missile attacks in the past, weakening Islamabad’s official stance that they are a violation of sovereignty.

Washington has ignored previous entreaties by the parliament to end the strikes, and is seen as unlikely to change its policy now.

Despite calls by Islamists for a permanent supply line blockade, few inside the Pakistani government or the army believed this was desirable, given that Pakistan relies on the U.S. and other NATO countries for its economic survival and diplomatic and military support.

Soon after the deadly airstrikes on the border, the Pakistani government called on parliament to draw up new guidelines for Islamabad’s relations with the U.S. The government’s move was widely seen as way to give it political cover for reopening the routes.

The national security committee presented a first set of proposals last month but opposition parties riding a wave of anti-American sentiment rejected them, seemingly unwilling to share any fallout ahead of elections this year or early next.

But on Thursday the opposition voted with government lawmakers to approve a revised set of guidelines, which differed little from the original ones. Opposition lawmakers didn’t explain why they had dropped earlier objections, but they could have come under pressure from the army or extracted other, unrelated concessions from the government.

The guidelines call for NATO and the U.S. to pay Pakistan more for the right to ship supplies across its soil and stipulate that no arms or ammunitions be transported. Western forces have only ever trucked fuel and other nonfatal supplies across Pakistan because of the risk they could fall into the hands of insurgents.

“We believe that the world has heard the voice of the people of Pakistan,” Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani told parliament. “I would like to assure the house that our government will implement the recommendations that have been made in both letter and spirit.” Gilani did not say when the supply lines would reopen.

Western officials have said Pakistan would come under intense criticism if routes remained blocked during a NATO conference in Chicago on May 20-21 where more than 50 heads of state will discuss progress on ending the war.

Washington’s public line has been that it is waiting for the parliament to finish its review before calling for Pakistan to reopen the routes. It has refused to apologize for the border incident in November, and last week put a $10 million bounty on the head of a militant leader believed close to Pakistan’s security forces.

Behind the scenes, however, negotiations have been going on between the U.S. and Pakistan over the supply line issue and drone strikes. It was unclear whether there has been any new agreement on the strikes, which Washington believes are key to keeping al-Qaida on its back foot.

U.S. officials had said they had offered Pakistan notice about impending strikes and new limits on which militants are being targeted. For most of the Afghan war, 90 percent of the supplies came through Pakistan, but NATO has increased its reliance on an alternate, so-called “northern” route, through Central Asia in recent years.

Increased use of the northern route has removed some of the leverage Islamabad had over the West, but at a cost to the coalition.

Pentagon officials now say it costs about $17,000 per container to go through the north, compared with about $7,000 per container to go through Pakistan.

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Early Elections Seen as Possible Solution to Pakistan’s Political Crisis

By Saeed Shah for The Miami Herald

Pakistan’s political crisis, which pits its president against determined opponents in foes in Parliament, the Supreme Court and the military, is likely to reach fever pitch on Monday with a confidence vote scheduled in Parliament and hearings scheduled in two critical court cases.

The crisis is so intense that President Asif Zardari’s administration may be willing to call elections for as soon as October, according to members of his ruling coalition and its advisers. But that may not be enough to mollify the opposition, which wants earlier elections, or the country’s powerful military establishment, which is believed to be trying to force a so-called “soft coup,” under which Zardari, a critic of the military’s traditional dominance of Pakistan, would be forced out by Parliament or the courts.

The threat of an outright coup also hangs over the crisis, if the politicians cannot find a way out or the court proceedings reach absolute stalemate.

Whether the government can reach agreement with opposition leader Nawaz Sharif is unclear. Zardari’s Pakistan Peoples Party doesn’t want to announce elections until after voting in March for a new Senate, which the PPP is widely expected to win. But Sharif would like the new elections to be in the summer, perhaps June, which would require an earlier announcement.

“There is no other option for the government to come out of the current crisis without elections,” said an adviser to the PPP leadership, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, as did the other coalition members. “It is in the interests of the PPP to reach an agreement with Nawaz.”

The PPP rules with three major coalition partners, but the alliance is looking shaky. Two of the parties, the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, have distanced themselves somewhat from the government.

A senior member of the coalition said the parties so far have agreed internally only to a general election to be held in October. That would be just a few months before the February 2013 date when Parliament would complete its five-year term and elections would have to be held anyway.

An early election should also placate the courts and the military. A supposedly neutral caretaker government would have to be installed to oversee a three-month electioneering period.

Another coalition member said: “It is 100 percent certain that there will be elections in 2012. The only solution is elections. It doesn’t matter whether they are held in June or October.”

Zardari’s coalition itself brought Monday’s confidence vote resolution to Parliament, cleverly wording it so that it asks for support not for the prime minister or even the government, but for democracy. That makes it difficult to oppose.

But the PPP’s troubles in Parliament are only one of the fronts in its battle for survival. The courts and the military are both maneuvering against the party’s leaders, with two explosive cases coming up for hearings Monday.

The first stems from a 2007 decree by President Pervez Musharraf that granted immunity from prosecution to Zardari and other exiled PPP politicians in an effort to persuade them to return to Pakistan to participate in elections that Musharraf was being pressured by the United States to hold.

The Supreme Court later ruled, however, that the decree was illegal and demanded that the government reopen corruption charges against Zardari stemming from the time when his wife, the assassinated PPP leader Benazir Bhutto, was prime minister.

The government declined, however, and now the court has summoned the government to explain its actions. The court could declare Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani in contempt of court, which would in effect remove him from office.

The other case involves the the scandal in which a judicial commission is investigating allegations that Husain Haqqani, a close Zardari adviser and former ambassador to the U.S., wrote a memo that was passed to U.S. officials in May. That memo offered to replace the Pakistan military’s top officials in return for U.S. support should the military attempt to push Zardari aside.

Haqqani, who was forced to resign, says he had nothing to do with the memo, which the military has said amounted to treason.

The judicial commission may take testimony this week from an American businessman, and occasional news commentator, Mansoor Ijaz, who claimed that he had delivered the memo to U.S. officials, in a column that appeared in the British newspaper the Financial Times in October. Ijaz has said he will show up as a witness, though he apparently has yet to receive a visa to enter Pakistan.

Pakistan’s Political Crisis

Reported by Farhana Bokhari for CBS News

Pakistan’s pro-U.S. ruling coalition on Sunday night battled to restore calm across the country’s political landscape after a regional political party allied to president Asif Ali Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) quit at short notice, leaving the PPP in minority in the lower house of parliament, the national assembly.

The Muhajir Qaumi Movement (MQM), a political party mainly representing Pakistanis who migrated from India to Pakistan when the country was created in 1947, withdrew its support to the PPP, reacting to the government’s decision on Saturday to raise gasoline prices.

The move marked the first major upheaval over gasoline prices since they were raised, mainly to be kept in line with global trends. Western diplomats based in Islamabad, reacting to the latest political developments, warned it was still early to tell if Zardari or his handpicked prime minister, Yusuf Raza Gilani, were in danger of being forced out.

There were warnings that the split with the MQM may in the short term completely paralyze the government. Long term consequences are harder to predict. Pakistan has been ruled by its army for more than half the of country’s 63-year existence. Some previous periods of heightened uncertainty have been followed by the military stepping in to fill the void.

General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, Pakistan’s present military chief, is widely known to be an apolitical figure. A western ambassador based in Islamabad, speaking to CBS News on condition of anonymity, said, “While there are no signs of the military stepping in, you have to remember that previous [military] takeovers have been preceded by fast growing turmoil. Much depends on the way things happen in future.”

For the U.S., mounting political uncertainty in Pakistan is potentially worrying. This has to do with the support that Washington receives from Pakistan in its campaign to defeat Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, as well as periodic worries in the western world over Islamic hardliners making inroads into Pakistan’s politics.

A minister from the PPP who spoke on condition of anonymity to CBS News Sunday said after the split with the MQM was announced, “If a government is weak and struggling for its own survival, how will it be able to pursue interests of other countries, including the U.S.?” The minister added, “Unpopular steps like petroleum prices are forced upon governments through circumstances which are beyond their control.”

A second western diplomat in Islamabad who spoke to CBS News on condition of anonymity said while Islamic politicians have only pockets of support across Pakistan, “You can never rule out the dangerous possibility of a ground swell in their favor, especially if governments from the political mainstream become weak and unpopular.”

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