A disaster in the making

Addressing the ‘National Seminar on De-radicalisation’ held the other day in Swat, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani made some interesting remarks. Prime Minister Gilani said that cooperation in counter-terrorism warrants a partnership approach that fully accommodates others’ interests and respect for the clearly stipulated “red lines”. Mr Gilani was obviously referring to Pakistan being the frontline ally of the US in the war on terror. “There is a need to bridge the trust deficit and allow Pakistan space to manoeuvre and contribute significantly without international pressure,” said the prime minister. Mr Gilani assured that Pakistan is committed to eliminate terrorism but he criticised drone strikes by saying that they impact “negatively on our efforts in controlling radical trends”. Maybe our premier has forgotten how WikiLeaks revealed the Pakistani military and government’s tacit approval of drone strikes, which began under General Musharraf’s regime and have continued since. When Mr Gilani talks about respecting “red lines”, he should also keep in mind why these lines are being crossed by the US. Pakistan promised its full support in the war on terror, which is not just the US’s war but our own. More than 35,000 Pakistani lives have been lost in terror attacks and this should make it clear to all and sundry that we are fighting a war for our very survival. After Osama bin Laden was found hiding on our soil, international pressure built up on us to do more or else there could be more such unilateral raids to take out high profile terrorists operating from Pakistan. Pakistan’s contradictory policy is at the heart of this renewed pressure. It supports the Afghan Taliban while fighting against the local Taliban who have declared war on the Pakistani state. Exporting jihad to Afghanistan and India has to stop. Deaths of countless innocent people across the borders at the hands of the terrorist networks operating from Pakistan have turned our country into a pariah state. On top of that, some of our so-called ‘assets’ have turned against their mentors (read the military) and are now attacking the security forces as well as civilians. This is the result of our skewed policies.

General Kayani said that the army derived its strength from the people of Pakistan and was answerable to them and their representatives in parliament. In principle this is correct, but in practice it is far from the case. So far we have seen that the military establishment is a law unto itself. There has been no visible shift in the military’s posture post-Abbottabad raid. The attack on PNS Mehran and the murder of journalist Saleem Shahzad may have led to the public and mainstream media challenging the military’s cultivated image of infallibility and self-anointed immunity, but we have yet to see any accountability. If we look closely at Prime Minister Gilani’s speech, it seems he is submitting the country’s foreign and security policies to the military willingly. Arguably, the army has dictated these terms to the incumbents but that a democratically elected government willingly chooses to toe the military’s line shows the complicity of our politicians with the ‘mother of all power centres’ for the sake of clinging to office by hook or by crook.

What both the military and civilian leadership have so far ignored is the grim fact that a very grave crisis is looming over Pakistan. If we do not abandon our distorted policies of harbouring terrorists, a disaster may soon overtake us. Are we ready to pay the price for our quixotic policies is something that those in GHQ and the government must answer. The people of Pakistan are waiting.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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