Feb 21, 2009

State of confusion

Sunday, February 22, 2009It is kind of reassuring to know that our government is not the only one capable of putting out diverging views on the same issue and thereby adding to the overall sense of confusion. While US Special Envoy on Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke rejected the peace deal being attempted in Swat and told President Zardari so over the telephone, the country's defence secretary, in Warsaw, told reporters on the same day that a Swat-style truce with the Taliban in Afghanistan could be acceptable. The mixed signals have brought a few sniggers in Washington and indeed in Islamabad as well. They have also added to the sense of confusion that already exists over the peace deal welcomed widely in NWFP but rejected by liberals elsewhere in the country who maintain it amounts to giving in to the militants.This reading is shared by Mr Holbrooke. He is said to have made it clear to Mr Zardari that a surrender to militants is unacceptable. So far the tough-talking ambassador has shown no signs of satisfaction with Pakistan's assertion that the truce is intended to buy a little time, give respite to people and allow them to rise up against militants. The issue of Swat will come up again when the Pakistani foreign minister and some key military officials visit Washington in a few days time. They are unlikely to find the going easy. In Washington, the view is that the scenario in Pakistan, combining extremists, nuclear weapons and political instability, amounts to a nightmare and that there seems simply to be no solution in sight. There is also a feeling that impatience is growing.Islamabad is of course aware of the mood and of the fact that in every decision it makes, Washington will be peeking right over its shoulder. It must decide how to handle the situation, capitalizing on the confusion that seems to exist in Washington. It must put forward its own case firmly and convincingly; President Zardari for instance must decide if he opposes or backs the Swat peace deal about which he has so far been rather ambiguous. Our leaders must speak with one, united voice with the ANP, at the fore-line of the battle, included in negotiations. We must make it clear we know what we are doing and why; that we are confident of good results in the future. Only by putting out our own strategy can we hope to resist the pressure from Washington and avoid caving in to demands that are often intended to serve interests other than those of Pakistan.

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