OVER A COFFEE : Healing the open wounds — Dr Haider Shah
What is now important is to shift our attention to the burning issues of Pakistan and urge the new government to nurse the deep wounds of the state
The tastefully dressed ladies of the ‘dharna’ camp in many posh localities are perhaps the only women of the world who are complaining that Tsunmai missed their cities and instead hit the tribal society of a neighbouring province. Allegations and counter allegations of rigging are even common among Pakistani candidates participating in the British elections from various parties in Pakistani community dominated areas. What is now more important is to shift our attention to the burning issues of Pakistan and urge the new government to nurse the deep wounds of the state. We should offer unconditional support where the government takes difficult decisions. We should criticise it forcefully when we find the government dragging its feet over urgent issues.
More than a decade ago an elected Prime Minister was unceremoniously removed from his office by a bigoted general. The same commando later removed Chief Justice and put clamps on media. Frustrating the dictator, lawyers and general public achieved restoration of both judiciary and media. Today Nawaz Sharif, who was once handcuffed and exiled, is back in his office while the dictator is holed up in his farm house. At symbolic level this is a great boost for the democratic system in our country. The keenly contested elections also proved that Pakistani people did not pay any heed to the threats hurled by Taliban. So we saw double display of our faith in constitution based system.
No doubt challenges before the government are many and enormous. Yes we need to spend more on education and health system needs massive improvement. But when blood is oozing from an open wound we have to attend that first before we design a gym programme for healthy living. I believe there are four such wounds that need attention of the new government as a matter of emergency. Energy is defined as the capacity to do things. The energy problem has not only forced our 180 million people into the life of Stone Age but is also making our industry bleed profusely. I would be surprised if this problem does not top the list of the 100 days plan being prepared under the guidance of veteran strategist Sartaj Aziz. Second wound is Baluchistan where the three headed monster of nationalist rebels, sectarian hate mongers and Taliban is devouring peace and prosperity of the province. Nawaz Sharif has a historic opportunity to do healing of the wound that is fast becoming cancerous. By accommodating both Baloch and Pashtun leaders, irrespective of the seats won, in the national power structure, there is a good opportunity that Baluchistan stages a comeback in the federation. Development in the province can only takes place if peace is firmly established first. The friendly relations enjoyed by Nawaz Sharif with various leaders of Baluchistan now need to be put to maximum use. The third wound is of fragile state of economy which needs an immediate injection of about 8 billion dollars. The new managers of public purse will have to enter into negotiations with IMF to secure at least $5 million loan so that Pakistan is able to repay the outstanding debt on an earlier $11 billion package. As the previous government had missed performance targets agreed with the IMF, the new government will have to face tough conditions. The economic managers will have to seek help from other sources as well. The depleted foreign exchange reserves are barely sufficient for five weeks. Friendly relations with the U.S will therefore be an important policy objective for the new government.
The fourth open wound is of FATA where the militant extremists are entrenched and from where they have been challenging sovereignty of the state. In the past we have seen strategic confusion over the issue of extremism. Nawaz Sharif had been consistently heard in the past that there was a need for a national policy over this issue. At a pragmatic level there can be no denying the fact that political leadership, media and our military need to be on the same page if any anti-terrorism policy is to succeed. The lead role however must remain with the Prime Minister over this intricate issue. It is not just about facilitating safe and hassle free withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan but also about the home grown extremist outfits which threaten our civil liberties and scare off any foreign investment. The terrorism issue therefore sits at the very heart of economic revival. In a recent interview Nawaz Sharif stated that the negotiations offer of Taliban should be taken seriously. No doubt any gesture of peaceful negotiations should be reciprocated positively. When I compare Taliban with some other militant groups of recent past I struggle to understand the nature of representativeness of these militants though. For instance, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) was a guerrilla movement launched by revolutionary Sinn Fein member Michael Collins to champion the cause of Irish Catholics. Similarly Awami League of Sheikh Mujib was clearly a representative of Bengali population and the Baloch leaders can be linked with the disgruntled Baloch sections of Baluchistan. Whom do Taliban represent? What if negotiations fail? Have we planned for that scenario as well? Will the territories under Taliban control be ceded to them to buy peace or will force be used to reclaim those areas? The new government must be very clear with its options and should take the nation into confidence on this important issue.
Danish schools and bullet trains are important projects. But if these four wounds remain unattended they might cause death through haemorrhage. Hope these will figure prominently in the first 100 days of the new government.
The writer teaches public policy in the UK and is the founding member of the Rationalist Society of Pakistan. He can be reached at email@example.com