OVER A COFFEE : Will Nawaz Sharif be checkmated again? — Dr Haider Shah
PM Sharif seems to be genuinely desirous of rewriting the paradigm for Pakistan on her 66th birthday. But the disablers in the system are quite powerful and too many
Even before assuming office as the Prime Minister (PM) of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif began issuing sensible statements with regards to South Asia policy. The recent uproar over the alleged killing of some Indian soldiers across the Line of Control (LoC) has however thrown a spanner in the works. While our media, national leaders and parliament have all felt obliged to play the ‘tit for tat’ blame game, a bit of déjà vu can also be sensed. A dispassionate and rational appraisal may lead a few to think if a mini-Kargil is again being played with Sharif?
Whether the Indian soldiers were killed by some non-state actors/terrorists or by Pakistani soldiers, we are hopelessly unable to verify the claim and counterclaims for want of access to the actual facts. Popular sentiment is generated by perceptions, which in turn are shaped by past experiences. In 1999 we had brushed aside Indian allegations about our army’s clandestine operation in Kargil as untrue. From the then Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz to our media analysts, we saw all pooh-poohing Indian claims that Pakistani soldiers had violated the LoC. In the case of the Mumbai attacks we found our analysts ridiculing the claim that the attacks were planned and controlled by rogue elements working from Pakistani territory. Similarly, the same analysts, including a few with posh English accents, were seen stubbornly questioning that Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan. Beginning with the use of tribesmen as an irregular army from 1948, we have been lying so frequently and so unashamedly that now even when we are not a party to any terrorist mischief in any part of the world, we end up as the prime suspects. In all fairness, one shouldn’t rule out the possibility of India getting it wrong at times. For instance, the Samjhota Express explosion was the work of local Hindu extremists but Pakistan was initially slandered for that incident. However, unlike ours, the Indian investigators and media don’t feel shy in naming the groups and suspects once their involvement becomes known to them. We unfortunately seem to have perfected the art of hiding skeletons in the cupboard.
PM Sharif seems to be genuinely desirous of rewriting the paradigm for Pakistan on her 66th birthday. But the disablers in the system are quite powerful and too many. The opinion makers and those who call the shots belong to the generation that was taught the jihadi syllabus of Ziaul Haq. Indoctrination, therefore, runs deep in the power structure of the country. Just imagine how easy it is for any mischief monger to derail any peace process. All he has to do is to wink and an incident happens across the border. The hawks in Indian society seize upon the incident and Indian media also joins the fray. Our point scoring jingoists also open their salvos and media gears into action as well to establish its patriotic credentials. Governments in both India and Pakistan are put on the defensive and the peace process gets torpedoed by one or a small group of adventurists.
This structural weakness in Pak-India relations is known to the terrorists’ ideologues. When Pakistani forces launched military operations against al Qaeda affiliated groups in FATA, the terror network felt squeezed. The jihadi leaders in other groups came to the rescue of their brothers and in order to force the Pakistani security agencies to release pressure on their cornered comrades, attacks were executed inside India for attainment of this strategic objective. The jihadi strategists were not wrong in their assessment as they achieved their objective very skilfully by forcing the Pakistani government, army and media to divert their attention from the terrorists and instead waste their energies in a standoff against India. It is, therefore, less important to engage in futile ‘whodunnit’ debates. Instead we should worry more about the distraction that such incidents cause from the existential threat posed by terrorist gangs in Pakistan.
I have been reiterating the need for a comprehensive anti-extremism national policy in my earlier writings. Finally, the interior minister, on the eve of Independence Day, has announced the contours of a national security policy. Naming the policy a security policy takes some gloss off the new initiative. The grand madness that afflicts the affairs of the state needs a proactive national anti-extremism policy, which should address both the soft and hard sides of extremism. On the softer side of the scale, all those factors that sow seeds of extremism, and possible militancy, should be tackled. For instance the syllabi of schools, colleges, universities, madrassas and training academies of civil and military officers need significant changes. Media also needs to play its role in de-radicalising society. On the hard side of the scale, the full might of the state needs to be employed for suppression of militancy. Chaudhry Nisar did not do any service to the grand cause by employing a discourse that has a stamp of Imran Khan on it. The anti-terrorism initiative not only needs right measures but also the right discourse. I wish he was as explicit as his other cabinet colleague was a few days ago in Quetta. Lt General Abdul Qadir Baloch had, very categorically and unequivocally, declared in a press conference that we had no other option but to fight against terrorists, as it was a question of life and death. One hopes that the new policy is spearheaded by the spirit of Abdul Qadir and Zamurad Khan. The time for too many ifs and buts and windy speeches has long gone.
The writer teaches public policy in the UK and is the founding member of the Rationalist Society of Pakistan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org