OVER A COFFEE : Of Sikandar, the PM and Hamlet — Dr Haider Shah
If we wish to secure our western borders against the onslaught of militant groups, we need to find a way of easing the pressure on our eastern border
In his determination the lonely attacker, Sikandar, looked like his namesake, the legendary Alexander the Great. After winning the attention of entertainment-starved Pakistani TV viewers for a few hours he, however, discovered painfully that mere crazy idealism is not sufficient to become Alexander.
In many ways Sikandar can be seen as an epitome of our social reality. He had demanded removal of a democratically elected government and implementation of shariah at gunpoint and used his two innocent children as hostages for pursuing his Utopian idealism. This madness has all the methods that characterise the ideology of extremist groups. Like Sikandar these groups also espouse imposition of shariah by use of force and intimidation. To his credit, Sikander did not kill anyone and spared even Zamurad Khan who was hopelessly at his mercy once the spirited Khan’s bold attempt to overpower Sikander went astray. Political parties, from left to right, media personalities and the Supreme Court have all condemned the fallen desperado who has been dubbed mentally ill and a user of drugs. On the other hand, the militant groups behead innocent hostages, deride the writ of the state day and night and boastfully take responsibility for their daredevil actions of brutality through public messages. Neither the Supreme Court ever found any of these attacks worthy of a suo motu notice nor a majority of our politicians found the courage to even name them, let alone condemn them. It is not difficult to conclude that if one is acting alone all fingers will point at him. But if many like Sikandar act in an organised way then they not only earn respect from all organs of the state but also receive passionate appeals for dialogue and negotiations.
With Sikandar dominating the news, the Prime Minister (PM) of Pakistan made his much awaited televised speech. Three reactions can be identified with regards to the PM’s speech. For the critics of the PML-N the speech was long on words and short on substance. They point out that the PM did not specify his anti-terrorism policy and kept moving in circles. For those who are sympathetic to the new government, the speech made a very sincere diagnosis of the malaise that afflicts Pakistan. They would argue that the PM correctly emphasised the need for revising our foreign policy if we wanted to become an economic tiger. A third possible reaction can be comparing the PM to the troubled Hamlet. As I have mentioned on a few earlier instances as well, Nawaz Sharif was likened to Hamlet by Bruce Reidel, the strategist of President Barack Obama. Once again, Sharif was seen painfully suspended between his desire to disentangle Pakistan from the jihadi course and his inability to deal with the powerful status quo of the establishment. In his speech he was quite clear about the interaction of foreign policy, extremism, development, and exercise of our basic rights. He made all the right comments and his earnestness was also noticeable. But when it came to outlining of his anti-terrorism policy he was wanting in making a clear pronouncement. “To be or not to be” remained the question that summarised his whole speech. Sometime ago, I wrote about the missing E of extremism in the priorities of the PML-N’s blueprint for Pakistan’s future. The economy, education and energy issues can be tackled with good planning. But the issue of extremism not only needs clear strategic level planning but also requires determination, motivation and leadership. The PM in his speech did not give an impression that he has been able to embrace the message of the lines of Hamlet that follow the ‘to be or not to be’ line:
“Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles.”
Sleeping over the problem of extremism is not a policy. During the first two months all possible forms of extremist attacks, from killing of foreign mountaineers to brutal murders of high-ranking police officers have been witnessed. The federal government now needs to come up with a clear and unequivocal policy.
A more cautious analyst may find a special meaning by joining the dots if the announcements in the speeches of the interior minister and prime minister are read together with the announcement of the Cabinet Defence Committee (CDC). It can be contended that Chaudhry Nisar and Nawaz Sharif were paving the way for a policy announcement by the CDC, which had the stamp of the collective approval of the security establishment as well. The declaration that the government will negotiate with those groups that unconditionally lay down their weapons is a step in the right direction. But mere declarations are not enough. In order to take proper action against miscreants, the state needs to reappraise its friends and foes. We are already overstretched in terms of our military spending. If we wish to secure our western borders against the onslaught of militant groups, we need to find a way of easing the pressure on our eastern border. For that we need to forge relations with India on a new footing. Here the clear-headedness of PM Sharif is worth appreciating as he refrained from issuing any provocative statements despite heating up of the LoC situation. The new security paradigm should see India as a friend that can help us in our economic progress while radical militants pose an existential threat. Hope actions will match words when the anti-terrorism policy gets implemented.
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