Will Mr. PM stand up? By Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi

One of the objectives that should be pursued by a vibrant media is to educate people about policies, performance and efficiency of the government. In Pakistan unfortunately a large segment of our media especially Urdu newspapers and electronic media is more interested in misguiding through fictional stories and dramatizing important national matters by focusing on frivolous issues. As the day approached for the Prime Minister of Pakistan to leave for the working visit of USA, the media started raising an unnecessary concern that PM of Pakistan may not be able to stand up to President of USA. I don’t know whether these writers are really unaware of how a state or a government functions or are they deliberately undermining the government before an important foreign visit.

Prime Minister of Pakistan, or any other head of government, in a democratic setting is not a monarch that he/she will make decisions on policy matters single handedly. For each policy, especially foreign policy, there is a machinery in place to prepare reports, briefs and policy options for the government. The Prime Minister of Pakistan does not prepare the policy options but it is the responsibility of the foreign affairs ministry. Prime Minister has to choose from the policy options given to him to reflect their party’s ideology and preferences. Even that is done after debate and discussions with all stakeholders especially military establishment because security is one of the two objectives pursued by a foreign policy the other being trade.

This idea that somehow PM of Pakistan is going for a gladiator fight with US President and he has to stand up and fight it out is preposterous. Our real focus should be how the government prepared for the visit and what objectives they plan to achieve during the visit. There seems to be less focus on it. One mistake government has committed is that it did not engage with parliament especially opposition parties to prepare for this important visit to USA. There were no meetings held between PM and heads of other parties to brief them on the trip and form a national consensus about the objectives to be achieved. PM also did not held any consultations with intellectuals and think tanks to prepare for the visit. There was also no conference of former ambassadors, foreign secretaries or foreign ministers to pick their minds. This lack of inclusiveness provided the opportunity for opposition parties to raise questions.

Media is also projecting that the real and substantial foreign policy visit will be held later when General Raheel Shareef will be visiting USA. There is no doubt that it will be an important visit but the decisions on larger policy is still the domain of the civilian government. General Raheel cannot give any commitments or understandings on behalf of the nation because it is not his constitutional role. He can advise the government upon his return but the final nod has to be and will be given by the civilian Prime Minister. Military as an institution has resources to prepare regional and bilateral scenarios. But they will always have a bias towards preference for security and less preference for social, cultural and trade initiatives if they consider it detrimental to security. Trade with India is one such example.

Prime Minister of Pakistan is not going for a gladiator fight or for a competition about who will blink first. There will be extensive discussions on nuclear situation in the region; Afghan civil war; dangerous of instability introduced by non-state actors including ISIS; and Middle East. We have to keep close eye on the progress of the talks but trust our team that they will safeguard national interest in developing this important bilateral relationship. If they fail on some key benchmarks then we all will take them to task just like we did in case of preventing military support to Saudi Arabia in Yemen. A democratic government is answerable to people while a military dictator is not. It was for that reason both General Zia ul Haq and General Musharraf engaged Pakistan in a foreign war without fear of a public reprisal.

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