In the wake of rising tensions between India and Pakistan, the central political leadership in Islamabad gathered together to express its collective resolve on upholding national security, thwarting aggression from India, and ensuring that any Indian adventurism would be met with a hefty response. This was a heartening development for most ordinary Pakistani citizens, given that the country’s political landscape has often been characterized by bitter rivalries, conflicts of interest, and disagreements over issues such as Karachi, the status of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, and the Prime Minister’s ongoing Panama Papers-driven controversy.
Political parties from across the spectrum, ranging from the progressive Pakistan People’s Party to the Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid), have called attention to the importance of protecting national sovereignty as well as continuing Pakistan’s advocacy for the Kashmiri struggle in international forums, which is a salient aspect of Pakistan’s foreign policy.
National cohesion was on display, moreover, when a joint resolution was endorsed by the civilian leadership, which stressed the importance of highlighting India’s stance on the Indus Water Treaty as well as its activities in Balochistan. In addition, the endorsement of the Prime Minister’s speech delivered at the UN General Assembly, as well as setting aside political differences with the ruling PML-N, allowed for a more constructive and conducive environment whereby the leadership united in the face of multipronged threats from India, which are diplomatic, economic, and cultural in nature.
Yet despite the positive optics, which can be drawn from the United Front, Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf boycotted the joint parliamentary session, which was a decision taken by the PTI’s central leadership. This is despite earlier comments that were made lauding the Prime Minister’s UN General Assembly speech by the very same leadership. The party’s stance and refusal to partake in discussions and deliberations of national importance against existential threats to Pakistan’s sovereignty is questionable and open to criticism, given the timing of the boycott and the rationale that was cited as well (namely, the prime minister lacking legitimacy because of the Panama Papers). The party, however, did witness an internal debate on whether to attend the session or not prior to the central leadership taking a decision, yet the PTI was adamant that the prime minister resign before the party would participate in any parliamentary sessions.
The PTI’s bizarre boycott notwithstanding, the joint parliamentary session, which unfolded on Wednesday, affirmed the resolve of all stakeholders to unite on national security and shun away differences at an hour where Pakistan continues to bear the brunt of castigation from India. This national unity also gains added relevance given that various narratives over the Uri attack and Indian “surgical strikes,” denied by Pakistan, are unfolding at an alarming rate.
Allegations leveled by both India and Pakistan at each other as well as questions raised over the nature of the Indian strike also requires collective decision-making from Pakistani stakeholders, with the civilian leadership taking the lead. For ordinary Pakistanis, many of whom wish to see a strong, mature civilian leadership that shuns away differences at an hour where war clouds loom large over South Asia, all this is a positive development.
Hamzah Rifaat was a 2016 South Asian Voices Visiting Fellow at the Stimson Center and has represented Pakistan as a member of the CTBTO Youth Initiative of 2016 in Vienna.