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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.

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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

PPP, PML-N ignoring devolution challenge

The PPP and the PML-N leadership fail to understand that the question of devolution of power to the districts and divisions, and further to the Tehsil and Union Council level, is attached with the legitimacy of civilian rule.

Riaz Missen

Senator Raza Rabbani, central leader of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), spelled down on July 5, in Karachi, the agenda of preserving gains of the 18th Constitutional Amendment 2010, most importantly the parliamentary form of government and the provincial autonomy.

An 18-member Constitutional Reforms Committee under Raza Rabbani, as per the part of commitment made through the PPP-PML-N Charter of Democracy (2006) had reviewed the constitution clause by clause so as to restore the 1973 Constitution in letter and spirit (parliamentary form of government, religious identity of state, and integrity of provinces) while fulfilling the promise of provincial autonomy and independent judiciary.

Provincial autonomy did mean devolution of more than a dozen ministries to the provinces besides a surge of their share in the federal divisible pool. The post-reform era is marked with freedom for provinces to utilize their human and natural resources for their socio-economic uplift; they have every chance to attract foreign direct investment by faithfully practicing the norms of good governance and rule of law.

Provincial autonomy had been a dream of the intelligentsia of the smaller federal units. Pakistan People’s Party did champion their cause and secured a sort of autonomy which no country in the neighborhood has extended to its provinces. “If provincial autonomy was reversed, the federation’s integrity will be undermined.” Rabbani warned.

PPP, the major force behind the gigantic task of building consensus, had been formed basically as a socialist party but soon reverted to opportunism by fusing religion into politics. The religious character of the Constitution carved out enough political space for the right-wing groups. Z. A Bhutto’s romance with religion as a means to achieve political ends ultimately led him to gallows.

PPP would never take up the issue of land reforms again; it would play the politics of confusion and deceit as is the case with the feudal mindset. Despite it suffered a lot at the hands of Islamists, PPP never came to the open, confess its mistake and urge on constitutional reforms to ensure separation of politics from religion. Babar Awan, who was also the part of Constitutional Reforms Committee, once told media with a great sense of pride that he played an active role in thwarting a political party’s bid ‘secularize’ the constitution.

The PML-N has steadily stolen the show from the PPP with the result that it has emerged as the largest political party of the country. The leadership of the PML-N and the PML-N after entering and sustaining a bitter struggle of 1990s with bad consequences and bitter memories  forcing them to strike a deal in 2006 for survival and co-existence. It is another matter as to whether this bonhomie has benefited the people at grassroots level or not, but the fact remains that democracy has got a chance to strike its roots in Pakistan.

During last half a decade, the PML-N and PPP have shunned confrontational politics and have not reverted to tactics of the 1990s to marginalize each other. PML-N actually stood magnanimous while accommodating the parties, which were not part of the CoD, while undertaking constitutional reforms, but it does not mean that it will not pass the cost on to the real beneficiaries of provincial autonomy.

The Constitutional reforms have changed the paradigm of politics. With the decentralization drive taking its course adding more funds to the provincial kitties and giving provinces freedom to chalking out their own development plans, the demand of making the benefits reach to the grassroots level has also become a reality.

The deletion of concurrent list and the resulting provincial autonomy though were big achievements but the same have brought new and old claimants to the limelight for just allocation of political and economic resources.  The PPP and its allies did not contest general elections properly due to the reason that they could not justify as to why the power should not be devolved beyond the provincial capitals.

The very first reaction to such a demand was ANP’s decision to handle the people demanding Hazara province with cruelty whereby police opened fire on a peaceful public meeting in 2010 and killed a dozen of innocent people.  

The PPP first distanced away from its promise to create a Seraiki province but later when it took up the issue it was late: it lacked majority in the Lower House of the Parliament. It got confused when the Punjab Assembly asked the centre to create not two but three provinces in Punjab (including Bahawalpur Province in PPP’s list).

Too, the ANP, refused to let its two southern districts to be part of the proposed South Punjab province other than the popular movement in Bahawalpur division for the restoration of its provincial status. The parliamentary system of government is something the provincialists of this country like to the core of their hearts.  It means prized ministerial posts, huge development funds and a strong, if not effective, say in the Upper House.

Parliamentary system is that must to preserve the gains of the PPP and its ethnic partners. The deletion of concurrent list and the resulting provincial autonomy though were big achievements but the same have brought new and old claimants to the limelight for just allocation of political and economic resources.  The PPP and its allies did not contested general elections properly due to the reason that they could not justify as to why the power should not be devolved beyond the provincial capitals.

Failing to achieve its goal PPP lost South Punjab in the following general elections, hence losing every reason to be national-level party. PPP and PML-N have respected the understanding, which they reached in 2006. And it is also a fact that they have resisted every move to decentralize power and resources further to the districts level. PPP wants in Sindh to revive the commissionarate system of the British era besides avoiding the question of local government polls; the same is the case with the PML-N in Punjab.

The PPP and the PML-N leadership fail to understand that the question of devolution of power to the districts and divisions, and further to the Tehsil and Union Council level, is attached with the legitimacy of civilian rule. Without letting the people taste the fruits of democracy at their door steps, every claim of democracy is merely rhetoric. PPP and PML-N are unwittingly flouting the constitution by not holding local government elections. The matter is urgent and it is what both can do it given their position in two leading provinces of the country.  

Defending the ‘geographical’ frontiers

Riaz Missen
The baton of command changing hands at General Headquarters (GHQ) has urged the commentators and analysts to highlight the challenges confronting the new army chief. The mixed legacy of the outgoing general, Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani,  whereby he endorsed the civilian supremacy over army but was also assertive on the freedom of choosing the time to act against FATA militants, is very much in the limelight.

The fear of Afghan instability in post-2014 scenario has turned the realist stock of strategist and the new chief has been courted loudly by the right-wing elements urging him to essentially win peace with local Taliban through talks rather than military offensive. There is nothing to be decided by the army chief alone. Ultimately, it is the civilian government which has to respond to varying nature of threats, arising out of socio-economic structure of the society (which is simultaneously sectarian as well as ethnic) and the strategic environment to chalk out a middle course.
The western media, while reviewing Kiyani’s tenure, has stuck to the line that Pakistan could not come up to the expectations of the US, which was spearheading the War on Terror, as for as playing it’s frontline state role was concerned.

For seven long years, including the extended tenure of Kiyani, Washington continued demanding more but only meeting a cold response.
In early 2010, the Obama administration passed “Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act 2009” pledging $ 1.5 billion annual assistance to Islamabad in a hope that it will reciprocate and help it turn tables on militants in the areas around Durand Line but it could not secure any assent till monsoon came roaring in and flash floods displaced 20 million people across the country. 

But the US did revive its demand for all out military operation along the Durand Line after extended full-fledged help to the victims of natural disaster.

“What could be more appropriate time after the 33,000 surge forces had landed into Afghanistan in late 2009 and ready to wipe out militants on that side of the border,” the US Chairman of Joint Chief of Staff Mike Mullen, wondered as he shuttled between Washington and Islamabad urging Kiyani, who got 3-years extension in his tenure in October 2010, to move army into FATA but met only a cold logic, “We have our own time to choose”.

While Pakistan showed no willingness to accept and meet deadlines, the growing American frustrations ended up in Salala incident of November 2011 and finally closure of its airbases by Pakistan and suspension of every operational links with the NATO for seven months. Mistrust between Islamabad and Washington grew further after US unilateral military operation against Al-Qaeda chief, who was found and killed by US SEALs in Abbotabad in May 2012 at a walking distance from a military academy.
Actually, military’s experience with FATA had started long before the PPP-led regime came to power or Kiyani was promoted as army chief from his top position in the country’s spy agency. Pakistan’s frontline state role, which had qualified it for a $ 10 billion favor from the US, had required it to renounce, first of all, the militancy as a tool to advance political ends in the neighborhood and deny sanctuaries in FATA to the militants fleeing the haze of the War on Terror.

The US military strategists had relied heavily on Islamabad’s role in establishing a constitutional government in Afghanistan, after the overthrow of Taliban regime, and undertaking necessary rebuilding and rehabilitation work. What they had missed was Indian viewpoint on the War on Terror and its ability to divert Pakistan’s attention that it did through mobilizing and stationing its troops for one long year on its western borders following attacks on Indian Parliament.

The war hysteria, fuelled by religious right not only delayed military action in FATA but also, due to religious rights forming government in the-then NWFP after 2002 elections and its opposition role in Parliament as well. When Musharraf-led regime got a space to take on FATA, it was too late. Here came 2004 when US launched drone strikes inside FATA, as the only way to secure foreign armies from cross border attacks. The drone attacks continue to hit militants in the regions which the military has yet to clear off militants.
By the time General Kiyani took charge of the army chief, militants had become a force to be reckoned with. They moved into Swat, under the banner of Tehrik Nifaz-e-Shariah Muhammadi (TNSM) in October 2007 commanding a prompt reaction from the Army but no significant breakthrough could be made for 2 years of battle. The civilian government sealed an agreement with the militants to put the region under Shariah rule. However, the TNSM backed out due to President Zardari’s insisting on the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction in Swat.

Military launched Operation Rah-e-Raast in May 2009; it was an all out assault which broke the backbone of the TNSM. The process did not stop and was later extended to other tribal agencies as well, where Tehrik-e-Taliban, patronized by Al-Qaeda and having cross border ties, particularly, with notorious Haqqani group, had established its rule of terror.

The drive against militancy remains half the way. Though army has suffered huge losses in the war against militants, whether to negotiate or fight, remains the prerogative to decide, not the army chief.

The PML-N, before taking up reins of power had believed Pakistan had been dragged into an American war, which had brought in the drones and suicide bombs. The best national interest, to the party’s leadership, had constituted pulling out of war as early as possible; it was in favor of ending drone attacks and starting peace negotiations with militants so as to get rid of suicide attacks.

While in power, the PML-N, shown interest in having negotiated settlement of militancy in FATA while it has shed its rhetoric over. At the same time, the regime doesn’t find an alternative means to fill its budgetary gaps and equip its military with modern weaponry except the US.
Pak-US relations are at the cross roads, indeed. The US is willing to renew its pledge for economic and military assistance but doesn’t want to see Pakistan as a reluctant partner.  The Enhanced Partnership Act offers hope for civilian control over army as well as reviving economy through multipurpose engagement through Strategic Dialogue.

The new army chief is the choice of the premier Nawaz Sharif. The government policy to deal with the militants will reflect in army’s strategy. No army chief can do wonders if the civilian government stands confused on a point (whether to act against militancy on the urge of US or to have its own policy to this end).

There are pressures on the PML-N government, from within and without, and there is still a lack of clear vision on its part as to how to get Pakistan free of unauthorized and illegitimate violent groups using sectarianism and ethnicity as their shields. As per the rule of the game, it is the only the civilian government which has to succeed or fail on the question of militancy.

Army, on its part, has to be efficient and effective; it has, for sure, to pass through massive re-organization drive given the changed nature of threat to the country’s existence; reorientation of jawans and officers constitute the focal point of reforms. Also, the army’s first and the foremost responsibility is to defend the territorial frontiers; if made free of ideological burdens, the handful militants will find no place under the sun to disturb the peace of the land anymore.