IT is rare for high officials in Pakistan to publicly criticise ‘friendly’ and ‘brotherly’ countries over foreign policy differences. However, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s recent blunt criticism of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation — in fact a thinly veiled critique of Saudi Arabia — has raised eyebrows.
Speaking to a TV channel recently, Mr Qureshi expressed his frustration with the multinational bloc of Muslim states, which is headquartered in and largely controlled by Saudi Arabia. He “respectfully” told the OIC to convene a Council of Foreign Ministers over the burning Kashmir issue, or else Pakistan would “call a meeting of the Islamic countries that are ready to stand with us on … Kashmir”. The foreign minister added that Pakistan pulled out of December’s Kuala Lumpur Summit on a Saudi “request” but now it expected Riyadh to “show leadership on this issue”.
The fact that this reflects state policy and not just the foreign minister’s personal feelings was reiterated by the Foreign Office on Thursday. The FO spokesperson said Pakistan expected “forward movement” from the OIC on the Kashmir issue, though she also highlighted the “fraternal relations” between Islamabad and Riyadh.
It is a fact that no past government in this country has ever criticised the Saudis in this manner. The long-standing economic, political and military ties between the two countries go back decades, even though the relationship has been tilted in Riyadh’s favour. However, it appears that the Saudis’ lack of interest in resolving the Kashmir dispute has touched a raw nerve in ruling circles, and the government expects our Arab brothers to do more to help end the suffering of the India-held region.
This paper has long pointed out that the OIC has become an antiquated talk shop, which does little of substance to address the key issues of the Muslim world, though the state has always contested this view. Now it appears the ruling elite has come round to the fact that playing second fiddle to Riyadh won’t do; Pakistan must explain its priorities — “our own sensitivities” as Mr Qureshi quaintly put it— in a clear and frank fashion.
While this country has always spoken up for Palestine and Kashmir, many of our Arab friends have scrambled to improve or establish ties with India and Israel.
Perhaps the prime minister needs to explain in detail the road map that Pakistan now intends to follow. As it is, there are several geostrategic blocs in the Muslim world; the Gulf Arabs and Egypt are aligned with the US; Qatar and Turkey are charting their own course, while Iran, Syria and the Hezbollah in Lebanon form yet another axis.
Does Pakistan intend to ally with any of these formations, or does it aim to create a new bloc with like-minded states? Foreign policy goals must be clear and must ensure that Pakistan takes a moral stand, while not annoying our friends and benefactors.
THE decision of the Council of Common Interests to constitute a committee to “look into the issue of fair distribution of water among the provinces” recognises the inherent weaknesses and inadequacies of the Water Apportionment Accord signed back in 1991. Often hailed as a landmark agreement on the distribution of the waters of the Indus River System among the provinces, the accord lacks a clear objective. If the purpose, as is widely accepted, was to resolve the long-standing interprovincial disputes — particularly between Punjab and Sindh — on the sharing of waters, it has utterly failed to do its job. Some would go so far as to blame the accord for having accentuated tensions between the two provinces in its nearly three decades of operation. The ambiguities in the provisions of the agreement, according to numerous research studies carried out by experts, also let the stakeholders interpret the document variously to suit their own interests and perspectives.
The agreement assumes that 117.35MAF of water will be available in the system for allocation to the provinces according to their share agreed under the accord. But in reality the actual system supplies have always been much lower than the assumed volumes. More problematic is the ambiguity or lack of a clearly defined mechanism for sharing the shortages — the differential between the assumed and actual volumes in the system. The provision that the record of the actual average system uses for the period between 1977 and 1982 would form the basis for sharing water shortages and surpluses has intensified the dispute between Punjab and Sindh, instead of ending it. Punjab remains adamant on interprovincial water distribution on the basis of historical uses. However, Sindh insists on the allocation of its share on the basis of the supplies assumed in the accord. Sadly, Irsa, which oversees the operation of the water accord, is not seen as an impartial arbitrator and, for various reasons, has failed to resolve the disputes over the formula for sharing the shortages. The formation of the CCI committee has spawned hopes that the centre and the provinces are now ready to discuss the contentious provisions of the accord and tackle them sooner than later. In spite of its shortcomings and ambiguities, the water accord is considered an important milestone towards the resolution of interprovincial tensions over the water-sharing mechanism. The CCI committee needs to only bring clarity to the vague stipulations of the agreement.
Buzdar’s NAB moment
ELEMENTS opposed to Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar may be deriving satisfaction from what they have just been served up. NAB announced it would go hunting inside the government camp after Eidul Azha, and Mr Buzdar has now been summoned for allegedly giving an under-construction hotel in Lahore licence to sell liquor. Apparently, not only has the chief minister violated the law laid down in 2009, but a ‘relative’ of his has also allegedly received a bribe of Rs50m for extending favour to the hotel’s ‘influential’ owner. The expectation of a swift conclusion would be far greater here in comparison to many of the old cases that NAB is investigating and where evidence gathering is that much more difficult because of the time that has elapsed.
The probe against Mr Buzdar could well be the high-profile stimulus which will enable NAB to take a close look at the working of PTI members for any suspicious signs. The PML-Q leaders, who are key PTI allies, are already facing NAB’s wrath and at least three other PTI members have been marked for inquiry by the bureau following the Buzdar affair. These facts could well be used to counter an opposition that has also fallen foul of the accountability body and has been alleging political victimisation. But this drive to appear unbiased on NAB’s part may have come a little too late in the day. The valid observations of rights organisations, such as Human Rights Watch, speak of the serious erosion of NAB’s credibility. Politically, the timing of the case is important. One question that has popped up time and again during all the debate over Sardar Buzdar’s fate has been about his boss Prime Minister Imran Khan not having a good enough reason to accept that his Punjab experiment is not working. Legal aspects apart, this NAB case against the chief minister will require some fundamental fixing within the PTI in Punjab. A rearrangement at the top could well be unavoidable this time.