“That is beautiful that reaches its end” philosophises Iqbal in his poem Haqeeqat-e-husn (reality of beauty). The year 2015 began with celebrations all over the world and today, when it is embracing its end, festivities are underway to welcome New Year 2016. The departing year has been significant for Pakistan in many ways.
As an eternal optimist let me begin my analysis on a positive note. The year 2014 reddened the beginning of 2015 with the blood of the innocent victims of mayhem and murder in the Army Public School (APS), Peshawar. Ever since the country resolved to make a break with its legacy of confusion over the Taliban issue and vowed to eradicate extremist militants and their hideouts we have seen a significant fall in incidents of terrorism. Operation Zarb-e-Azb has achieved one of its fundamental objectives i.e. zero tolerance for ungoverned spaces as militants and criminal gangs thrive in such weak spots of a country. By taking physical control of Swat and FATA the ability of militants to freely plan, train, staff, finance and execute their activities has been cut down to size. Gone are the days when the likes of Hakimullahand Baitullahwould hold press conferences like thenawabs (princes) of a princely state.
On the economic front, the government has been lucky as record low prices in the international oil market have helped ease the pressure on the national kitty and inflationary forces consequently have been less bullish. The economic managers also seem to be enjoying good relations with the International Monetary Fund(IMF) as is evident from the following excerpt in the press release issued by the IMF executive board after it completed its ninth review under the extended fund facility for Pakistan:“Economic growth remains robust and near-term vulnerabilities have receded. The Pakistani authorities have taken corrective measures to foster the achievement of programme objectives. Prudent macroeconomic policies and sustained implementation of the reform agenda are important to reinforce gains in economic stability and generate a strong and sustainable growth.”The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has emerged as a potential game changer in the long-term macroeconomic future of Pakistan. Despite some criticism and reservations over the slow pace of developing a western route by nationalist politicians and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government the consensus over the project is good for the country. Like any long-term project it is too soon to predict with certainty if all rosy claims associated with the mega project will actually become real or not. But at the perception level it gives the country something positive to look forward to in the future.
If rays of hope have lit up a part of the sky, there are some dark clouds hovering over the country as well. The National Action Plan (NAP) that promised a comprehensive strategic level tackling of the menace of extremism is conspicuous by its lack of any sensible direction. Neither have we seen the launch of a single authority on the pattern of homeland security dealing with national security issues nor has there been any uniform action against the drivers of extremism. We forget that many prominent planners of terrorist incidents in the recent past were educated in mainstream schools and colleges. No sense of urgency appears to be operational at the policy making level. The syllabi of schools and seminaries remain unattended. What narrative is promoted in the universities is not an area of attention as is evidenced by the fact that the incumbent vice vhancellor of Punjab University continually preaches conspiracy theories about 9/11 and Osama bin Laden in his public addresses. In any war, symbolism and iconisation are very important. Maulana Abdul Aziz of Lal Masjid is promoting the discourse of militant extremism right under the nose of the interior ministry.
Extremists feel the pulse of glory by identifying themselves with those who, in their imagined world, cause maximum affront to their imagined enemies. If it was alQaeda in the past, now Islamic State (IS)rules the hearts of such brigands. One should not be surprised at how IS related identities are gradually emerging in the country. The state of denial in the ruling elite is a cause for great concern. The operation against criminals in Karachi was launched with the help of Rangers with clear strategic objectives. Of late, Rangers and the central government seem to be barking up the wrong tree. The Dr Asim case and related standoff between the Sindh government and Rangers are consuming time, energy and money, which could have been better spent on terrorism with an international nexus. No doubt, corruption is an important issue and must be dealt with an iron hand. However, mixing different issues would be detrimental to effective tackling of both terrorism and corruption. It is much better to leave institutional arrangements intact while we pursue important policy objectives.
The year 2015 saw a gradual decline in the power of civilian rule as not only foreign policy is being dictated by Rawalpindi butpolicing is also effectively in the hands of corps commanders. Perhaps now is the right time to ask the Prime Minister (PM) to be the PM. One good indication of this happening will be the use of his executive power in the appointment of a new army chief. We hope that the era of extensions is dead now and that the PM will strengthen the practice of institutionalism as we welcome the New Year.
Author: Dr. Haider Shah
Academic, Researcher and Writer