Monthly Archives: December 2014

Pakistan up against terror

Though Taliban’s militant agenda and the brutal means they have employed to advance it merited stern action by Islamabad, the difficulties of terrain and laxity of legislators let them shed the blood of innocent people for long.</em

By Riaz Missen

Government and opposition resolve to scrap decades old distinction between good and bad Taliban as nation burns in rage and protests over the massacre of 132 children at Army Public School Peshawar on December 16.

At a time military offensive to clear FATA off the local Taliban and their foreign associates was on the way, the Peshawar tragedy prompted Premier Nawaz Sharif to lift moratorium on the execution of the convicted terrorists ending the saga of jailbreaks and the prospects of any deal to release the hardheaded criminals.

Peshawar tragedy has pushed Pakistan into its final phase of conflict with Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, which right after its formation in December 2007, has denied the writ of the state in FATA and violated every norm of civility to execute its anarchist agenda.

Though Taliban's militant agenda and the brutal means they employed to advance it merited stern action by Islamabad, the difficulties of terrain and laxity of legislators let them shed the blood of innocent people for long.

Parliament could upgrade anti-terror law and military moved into the hub of terror, North Waziristan, only this year.

Though the previous government did a lot to restore the writ of the state in restive FATA and the nearby districts, the anti-terror bill rotted in a parliamentary committee and the Musharraf era policy to treat some Taliban as strategic assets continued.

Confusion in Islamabad only helped extremists to consolidate their position in FATA and expand their network across Pakistan to the extent that they could influence the results of last general elections whereby the PPP and ANP, openly opposing their agenda, could not campaign properly.

Besides the deep roots of the sectarian groups, understood to be the mentors of Taliban, in the media and state institutions, ethnonationalism can also be held responsible for Islamabad being soft at predominantly Pushtoon Taliban.

A major part of efforts by successive governments have been directed at the point to pitch good Taliban against the bad ones rather than subjecting the region under their control, to a full scale military assault.

Parliamentary parties unanimously backed the renaming of NWFP with Khyber-Pukhtoonkhawah through 18th Constitutional Amendment of 2010 to prevent militants exploit the ethnic sentiments of Pushtoon, who constitute the second officially recognized ethnolinguistic group in Pakistan.

That the Durand Line runs across Pukhtoons community has made decision-makers in Islamabad to take this fact into consideration while dealing with Afghanistan.

Whether it was the matter of hosting millions of refugees fleeing war or providing territory to train and equip youth for guerilla war against the Soviet forces Pakistan stood by the Pukhtoons of the other side of the divide,

Pakistan supported Taliban of Afghanistan to occupy two-third territory of their homeland in 1990s and it was only the might of the US that made Musharraf regime to abandon them after 9/11.

Even when the US-led coalition had overthrown Mullah Omar regime, Pakistan's backing of Hamid Karzai as the presidential candidate was also a continuation of the policy of, quoting General Musharraf, not abandoning Pukhtoons of the other side of the border.

Not strangely enough, Islamabad remained indecisive for long whether to take stern action against the militant outfits when they found safe havens in the border regions of Pakistan and, later, regrouped under the umbrella of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan.

The Musharraf regime, which had accepted the role of 'frontline state' for Pakistan under international pressure, could not clear FATA off Taliban and their Al-Qaida collaborators partly due to India's amassing of its troops on eastern borders and mainly for the reason that Islamabad tended to differentiate between 'good' and 'bad' Taliban.

Given the fact that Pakistan's major ethnic groups stand divided among the neighboring countries, Islam has been projected by Islamabad as the common bond among them.

Ethnonational movements have been sternly dealt with by Islamabad, as the case of Bengal and Bloch insurgencies suggests, but the ones like TTP using Islam as a shield have been treated leniently.

Pakistan has undoubtedly got its society militarized due to an expanded network of militant Islamic organizations collecting funds and recruiting youth for jihad in Afghanistan and Kashmir.

Islamabad is subjected to mounting international pressure, particularly, after September 11, to stop using religion as a means to advance political ends in its neighborhood.

Jandullah has disturbed Iran while the footprints of the militants seeking independence of Sinkiang have raised eyebrows in Beijing, the most trusted Islamabad's ally.

Pakistan has been publically denouncing terrorism in all its forms and manifestations since Musharraf era but no policy framework could be developed till the passage of anti-terror bill this year.

Even after Pakistan moves to develop a comprehensive anti-terror policy there is dearth of paradigm to eliminate distinction in 'ethnic' and 'religious' versions of militancy.

The very fact of its ethnic groups stand divided among its neighbors requires an unparalleled commitment by Pakistan to discourage primordial and divisive ideologies by officially endorsing pluralist vision of the society.

Of course, overhauling the Constitution is the need of the hour to fulfill the pledge of the founder of Pakistan to treat citizens equally rather regardless of their religious or ethno-linguistic identities.

For Pakistan to realize its potential of becoming a peaceful, stable and prosperous nation, political parties need to make the Quid's address to the 1st Constituent Assembly on 11th August as the Preamble of the Constitution.

Devolution of power from Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar and Quetta down to divisions and districts is yet another obligation of the political leadership to involve the people in the process of building a peaceful and prosperous Pakistan.

PPP victim of its own initiatives

Parochial ethnic interests fail to see the binding linkage between devolution and socioeconomic development

Mr. Asif Ali Zaradari is hopelessly trying to get back PPP’s share in Punjab, but luck does not seem to be smiling at him. Circumstantial evidences suggest that it will not be this province that will favor his party to take high seat in the federal capital, again. Why? It is a big question for him to answer.

The PPP, under Asif Ali Zaradari, owes the credit of changing the content of political discourse of Pakistan through ‘politics of reconciliation’ and the restoration of the Constitution, but has unfortunately become the victim of its own initiatives.

Mr. Zardari’s conduct, after the assassination of his spouse and the lifelong chairperson of PPP, Benazir Bhutto, was exemplary: he raised the slogan of ‘Long Live’ Pakistan when Sindh was high in rage and refused to accept the logic that general elections of 2008 for the reason, whatsoever.

During his tenure in presidency Mr. Zardari’s performance was miraculous, indeed.  By taking along other parliamentary parties, through the ‘politics of reconciliation’, he not only got the constitution clipped off the anomalies introduced by wild and vile dictators but also delivered to the ethnonationalists the kind of provincial autonomy they had not even dreamed of.

Mr. Zardari’s politics of reconciliation strengthened the stakes of the likes of Jamat-e-Islami and the JUI-F given the fact that the constitution, after its para-wise revision, became more religious in character as sovereignty continued to be a heavenly concern.

Four years after the Constitutional reforms, the PPP has lost power in the Centre and confined to the hinterlands of rural Sindh. The party has been banished from Punjab wherefrom it had been getting strength to rule in the Centre.
In South Punjab, the PPP had raised the issue of ‘Saraiki province’ but after the ANP snubbed it fearing to lose two of KP’s southern districts to the proposed federal unit and Punjab Assembly passing resolution for restoring Bahawalpur province as well, the PPP turned to ‘South Punjab’ mantra, alienating both nationalists  and the MPs of the region.

The constitutional reforms actually brought forth some complicated, if not intriguing questions, that required necessary legislation. Police massacred in Abbottabad a number of people demanding new province, for they did not adhere to the new identity of the province, which had been named Khyber-Pukhtoonkhawah on the demand of ANP, a coalition partner of the PPP.

Actually, the Constitutional reforms committee, headed by PPP’s Raza Rabbani, had closed the chapter of creating new federal units by retaining a Zia era provision, which sought the approval of the concerned province to redraw its boundaries.

Zardari’s unflinching belief in the founder of the PPP, which urged him to confine the process of constitutional reforms unto its restoration, must not be taken as unusual a trait, for loyalty means so in this part of the world, but it is also fact that he miserably failed to see Pakistan beyond the 1970s.

The PPP, under the pressure of the ethnonationalists had scrapped the district government system of General Musharraf era in Sindh, enthusiastically followed by other provinces, and has yet to fulfill the constitutional responsibility to devolve power to the grassroots level.

Needless to say, the devolution plan, despite all nobl intentions of its authors, has fallen victim to the parochialism of ethnic lots, who fail to see a binding linkage between devolution and development.

The 18th Constitutional Amendment was a major breakthrough as far as alleviating the sense of deprivation of the smaller provinces was concerned but the opportunity seems to be lost given the reluctance of the provinces to take the benefit of devolution to the grassroots level — the point where it is linked with the socio-economic growth.

Asif Zardari may ceaselessly talk about the party’s sacrifice for the sake of democracy to console the disgruntled souls within his party, particularly belonging to Punjab, but the fact of the matter is that he fails to understand the ‘spirit’ of devolution and foresee the consequences of not  sticking to reason and rationality.

Mr. Zardari’s obsession with ‘political actors’ should not end up in becoming a political actor himself. The first test for him is that PPP should not stand for the status-quo. Politics of reconciliation should now be directed at efforts for further Constitutional reforms keeping in mind what Benazir Bhutto meant by suggesting ‘new social contract’.

Mr. Asif Ali Zaradari should come out of oblivion and speak his soul.  Failing to justify his party’s stance on devolution makes his ‘reconciliatory’ politics as a deceitful move to serve the vested interests. Democracy, which he often talks about is meaningless if it does not empower people at the grassroots level; the people must be empowered to decide themselves how they will like their children to be taught and their hospitals be run.

Pakistan Observer
December 17, 2014