Bring the people into confidence on national defence

National Assembly

With its 436 elected members representing every corner of Pakistan, Parliament is the voice of the people. As such, it has the constitutional as well as the moral authority to tackle the most serious issues facing the nation. For this reason, the bill moved by MNA Khurram Jahangir Wattoo to require all defence-related agreements to be ratified by parliament is a much needed improvement to the democratic process.

Actually, this bill comes at an important time. During the past weekend, President Obama broke the silence on American’s drone programme and finally admitted what has been an open secret for several years. This was followed by an acknowledgement by the Foreign Ministry that drones do provide tactical advantages, but are nevertheless considered ‘unlawful, counterproductive and hence unacceptable’.

There’s reason to hope this is not more of the same talking past each other that our two country’s have been doing since the past few years, but the beginning of a new dynamic. Is it mere coincidence that this new openness of dialogue about drones comes as parliament revisits past arrangements with the US and seeks what Ambassador Sherry Rehman terms as a reset of ties on an equitable basis? Or is it a sign of positive changes taking place – greater respect from the Americans as demanded by our MNAs?

In the past, arrangements with the Americans have largely been handled by the military. Most of the policies are leftovers from the dictatorship of Gen Musharraf. It has only been since the democratic elections that the tide has begun to turn. This fact does not downplay the very important advice and perspective provided by the current military leadership who have managed to win important victories in the nation’s security. But the tradition of secrecy has been hard to shake, and many decisions continue to be made behind the scenes causing confusion and frustration among the masses. It’s time to end this flawed policy leftover from a dictator and bring the people into confidence on matters of national security.

Obviously, the best way of doing that is through the elected representatives of the people. In other words, the parliament. This gives the people the ability to decide for ourselves what policies we want to take in the national defence. Most importantly, though, it gives us the opportunity to hold accountable those who we trust with these decisions. If the elected officials let us down, we have the opportunity to elect someone else to take their place. Democracy will be stronger, and so will the nation.

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