Feb 15, 2009

Writ of the state

THERE is no percentage in talking to people who despise the values one holds dearest and are committed to inflicting death and destruction aimed at overthrowing the state of Pakistan. There is no scope here for negotiation until — and that time is still distant — the Pakistan government and military can dictate terms and talk to the Taliban from a position of strength. The deals cut in the past in sheer desperation encouraged the militants. They sent a signal that the Tehrik-i-Taliban was in the ascendancy and could call the shots as it pleased. They allowed the militants to regroup and recruit more unemployed, brainwashed young men who have been led to believe that the West (all of it, without exception) is evil, that democracy is abhorrent and Pakistani political leaders who espouse secular values and enjoy popular support are worthy of death. Gen Musharraf did us no favours by playing a double-game: keeping the threat of militancy alive while claiming to tackle it. If it weren’t for me, he was telling the neocons in Washington, Pakistan would fall to the Taliban. Nothing could be further from the truth. He was part of the problem, not the solution. Gen Musharraf was interested only in his personal survival and the fate of the country was secondary.Control of the army is now in abler hands that are not distracted by politics. The government and the security forces seem to be on the same page for the most part. Some gains have been made in parts of Fata and the militants there appear to be on the back foot for now. But the situation in Swat is still dire. President Zardari hit the nail on the head on Friday when he said that “the absence of options makes the choice abundantly clear”. There can be no let-up in military operations until the obscurantists have been routed, and dictated to in a manner supported by the majority of the nation. Friday’s security meeting, chaired by the president, also expressed satisfaction with the way operations are proceeding against militants. This is an optimistic view, to say the least. There have been gains, yes, but the situation in Swat is deteriorating by the day and the Taliban now control most of the valley.Scores of policemen are deserting. Locals are demanding an end to a military operation that is killing more civilians than militants. The security agencies, wanting to avoid their own casualties perhaps, have been reluctant so far to put boots on the ground and take on the Taliban one-to-one. They have resorted to indiscriminate artillery shelling that results in ‘collateral damage’. These are civilians, human beings, who are dying, partly at the hands of the Pakistani state. The fight must go on but the tactics have to change.Daily Dawn Lahore

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