Mar 6, 2009

Such a shame

Dr Masooda Bano
Cricket a much-loved sport in Pakistan is no more the same. The attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team that left five players injured is extremely sad for the pain it caused to those harmed in the attack. More saddening are the broader consequences of such an attack for Pakistan. An incident like this one presents an extremely negative perception of Pakistan; a perception that compels increasing number of people not to engage with it. The news items in western papers about rising presence of Taliban in Pakistan indeed build a negative perception of the place in the minds of many. But, still in that case there is room for argument that the Taliban or militants are mainly focused on domestic concerns and are in struggle with the state. With attacks like these, or those on foreign consultants and UN diplomats, it becomes much more difficult to salvage Pakistan's image. When foreigners have no security left in the country it becomes very difficult to argue with them that they should still care to engage with it. That the Sri Lankan team should have been better protected is obvious. That the PPP government is completely failing on all fronts is also undisputed. The law and order situation continues to deteriorate. Just when one thinks, things could not get worse than what they are another incident happens to make one realize that even worse scenarios still await the Pakistani public. The situation in Swat has been a proof of the failure of the sitting government to deal with issues of militancy. Despite excessive use of military force, the once serene valley had become a stronghold of those resisting the state, with the state losing its writ in the area. If the solution to the whole resistance was as easy as accommodating demands to establish some version of Sharia courts, which the government seems to have managed quite comfortably now, then the question is that why did this decision have to be taken after creating so much chaos? Why so many military operations, why so many deaths on both sides when other solutions seemed to be available? It is still early to say whether the Sharia regulation will solve the tension as the current calm could be just a short lull. But, the whole mess in Swat shows the government incompetence is running the affairs of the state. The attack on the Sri Lankan team also demonstrates a similar failure of the state. Why is President Zardari or one of the sitting ministers not so easily targeted as the Sri Lankan players were? Clearly, the level of protection they were provided was no match to the threat they were exposed to. Rehman Malik was quick to declare that the country is 'at war' after the attacks. But, the question is that why did he and other senior government officials not judge beforehand this threat and provide better protection to these players. To declare the country to be at a state of war does not help matters at all. Rather it creates an even worse image abroad. It shows that the government is admitting that it is clearly losing control. Further, it does not help Pakistan's image at all to have the interior minister so keen to take on responsibility for all negative actions. Rehman Malik in his press conference took on much more responsibility for Pakistan's involvement in attacks in Mumbai than the evidence could support. Similarly, to blame these attacks on Sri Lankan cricketers on militant groups prior to any evidence shows a strange keenness on the part of the sitting government to implicate Pakistan in serious cases of militancy. Such behaviour is very strange because even a very incompetent political regime has this much sense that international diplomacy is about defending your turf at all cost. You put blame on the others till the evidence is indisputable. Which country's international policy is made on moral principles? International diplomacy is about strategic play and negotiations. Pakistan on the other hand has a strange sitting government, which is keen to take on blame even when they can be refuted on basis of weak evidence. At the same time it is a government, which is keen to centralize all political power and is bending all rules to consolidate that power. Such behaviour is a recipe for disaster. But, the silver lining is that such behaviour is also eventually the cause of downfall of these governments. PPP cannot sustain a government with such poor performance for too long. Even US backing can only give life support to Pakistani government for limited periods. Eventually, a government, which is a failure, has to face the music.

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