By Najam Sethi
15 Nov 2013
Munawwar Hassan, head of the Jamaat-i-Islami, has outraged many Pakistanis by calling TTP leader Hakeemullah Mehsud, who was droned to death last week in the badlands of Waziristan, a “Shaheed” or martyr. Mr Mehsud was one of the world’s most wanted and dangerous terrorists, with a combined head-money of over Rs 50 crores for ordering the cold-blooded murder of thousands of innocent men, women and children, along with a couple of thousand soldiers.
The government’s response, as articulated by Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, the interior minister, has been mealy-mouthed, although Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister, has belatedly tried to make amends. Worse, Imran Khan, leader of the Pakistan Tehreek i Insaf, has tried to dog or confuse the issue by hiding behind countless “ifs” and “buts”. Worst, the media has taken perverse delight in sowing massive confusion by reading various shades of grey in a patently black and white matter.
All this has provoked the ISPR, the “spokes organ” of the Pakistan Army, to issue a terse statement reprimanding Mr Hassan for equating the heroic sacrifices of the martyred soldiers with the criminal deeds of their executioner. Mr Hassan has responded by criticizing the ISPR for “meddling in politics”. This is ironic. The Jamaat-i-Islami has been an integral element of the Mullah-Military Alliance since the time of General Zia ul Haq. Indeed, on the countless occasions that the ISPR has “intervened” in politics during civilian rule in the past, directly or indirectly, there has nary ever been a squeak out of the JI. But now that the boot is on the other foot, the JI is acting wounded and self-righteous.
Moving forward, it seems that the government and opposition are still weak-kneed, indecisive and confused. Chaudhry Nisar’s much-flaunted peace offensive has now been revealed to be a non-starter in the first place and all his talk of it being sabotaged by the drone strike to be a cunning smokescreen. The so-called three-member committee that was tasked by Chaudhry Nisar to nudge the TTP into a dialogue was whistling in the dark without any positive or encouraging signal from the TTP when the drone fell on Mr Mehsud. The PTI, in the meanwhile, still remains in party political– as opposed to national —interest mode. It is now banking on reaping political dividends from provoking people on to the streets to disrupt NATA supply lines after Moharram.
Tragically, only the TTP is thinking in a clear-headed and strategic manner. It has elected Maulana Fazlullah as its leader. This is a warning that, instead of suing for peace-negotiations that demonstrate confusion and weakness, the TTP will launch a relentless counter attack across the settled areas of Pakistan that shows its resolve and strength. Incredibly enough, the PMLN government and party are hunkering down for the TTP onslaught in Punjab instead of seizing the opportunity provided by the death of Mr Mehsud to launch a now-or-never military attack on its strongholds in the tribal areas. It seems as if elementary anti-terrorist logic – there is no personal or collective security against suicide bomber squads except that provided by preemptive strikes against them based on good Intel — has escaped the great movers and shakers in Islamabad who say they are equipped with lethal rapid-deployment forces and sweeping laws for preventive detention and summary conviction.
Meanwhile, disregarding the wretched hand wringing in some houses of power on the issue of combating the “existential” threat of terrorism, the clock is ticking away for two powerful personalities in the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi, leading to much hand-rubbing in other corridors of power. The army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, is retiring on 29 Nov and the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Mohd Chaudhry, on 11th December. Since their successors will hardly be in a position to call the shots in the same fashion, this moment presents a great opportunity to establish the writ of the civilian executive over the military and also to bring the judicial pendulum to an equilibrium point.
Both initiatives are necessary to stop the slide of Pakistan from a failing to a failed state. Both require courageous, visionary, selfless and efficient leadership in the ruling party and patient, mature, responsible and intelligent leadership in the opposition. This is, after all, a national moment of reckoning where truth (about where we went wrong and where we want to go) and reconciliation (between the military and civilians and among the civilians) have to pave the way forward to a viable state and civil society.
Unfortunately, if truth be told, the prospects of all that happening are not terribly bright. There is no concrete sign that the government or the opposition realizes the gravity of the situation even as each pays lip service to it. The tragedy is that some local and foreign forces are already smacking their lips in anticipation of the coming crisis of governance and national power.