Aug 2, 2009

Try peace

By Zafar Hilaly

The Army finds itself under strength and unable, for the moment and, one suspects, for the foreseeable future, to undertake the operation against Baitullah Masud and Al Qaida in Waziristan. It is guarding the border with India and cannot spare troops, at least not in the quantity required for the Waziristan operation. The two-front threat--the Taliban in the west and India in the east--which had earlier been discounted is now upon us. And by the looks of it the Army has decided that it cannot denude the Eastern front any further. Suspicion is rife whether the Army has its heart in taking the fight to the Taliban. The Washington Post quotes an Awami National Party politician as saying, "It is insane to expect anything different from the Pakistani government. The Taliban are the brainchild of the Pakistan Army for the last thirty years. They are their own people. Could you kill your own brother?" To many, talk about the "major threat being terrorism" is mere idle prattle, the stuff for speeches in international fora to drum up support for greater assistance; and meant for the ears of the West rather than the public at home who, encouraged by a wink and a nod, a la Musharaf, know better. Actually, the military is being sensible. Better not to start an operation and fail then to start at all. Unlike Musharraf, today's generals do not fire first and then look for targets. Besides, doubting the Army's resolve to take on the Taliban after the sacrifices rendered in the Swat operation is an undeserved and gratuitous slur on heroic officers and men; and of a well conceived and bravely executed operation. In any case, the battle in Swat is far from over. Much remains, like flushing out of the Taliban remnants from the mountaintops and ravines; the capture of the first tier Taliban leaders, especially Fazallulah, the protection of returning IDPs, over- seeing the creation of local militias, shepherding the police and restoring the civil services and ancillary organisations. All of which are vital if the success of the Swat operation is to endure, and none of which would be possible without a strong Army presence. The fact is that an enduring victory in Swat is as yet some time away. But we would be living in a fantasy world, a world of illusion, if we continue to shirk the reality of having to decide, and soon, what are our priorities. We cannot afford to remain stranded with a divided Army at opposite ends of the country. We do not have the luxury of becoming engaged simultaneously on two fronts regardless of what spokesmen claim. The Sharm el-Sheikh Joint Statement offers an opportunity to engage with India. However, India has made engagement conditional on greater cooperation with investigations concerning the Mumbai attack. Ordinarily, Pakistanis should have been no less concerned that its territory had been used to mount a savage and senseless attack on India. However, cretins handling such matters at home have done such a job on the critical faculties of this nation that these go into an instant lockdown when it comes to India. It was, therefore, refreshing to note that according to press reports Pakistan has now admitted officially and categorically that the attacks were "planned, funded and facilitated" by activists of the Laskar-e-Taiba and that Pakistani investigators "unanimously agreed that substantial incriminating evidence was available on the record directly connecting the accused with the commission of the offence." The earlier denials now stand exposed. In an establishment where there has always existed a scarcity of prudence, moderation and sense, so too predictably there is one of shame. Dissembling is second nature to Indian and Pakistani establishments, hence differentiating between them is like trying to distinguish between six of one-and-half-a-dozen of the other. Mr Gilani, who has covered himself with self-praise for getting Manmohan Singh to agree to a wording of a Joint Statement that has as much value as a paan wrapping, should now go about trying to live up to his own plaudits by taking an initiative. The 1,000 or so babus who man the Foreign Office could suggest one. The reason is the pressing need to get India off our backs in the East to allow us to deal with the Taliban in the West. However, the likelihood of India pulling back its forces from the border is unlikely. India takes a perverse pleasure in saying "no" to sensible proposals when they emanate from Pakistan. There too exists a horde of self-defeating pundits whose main claim to fame thus far has been to ensure the creation of Pakistan and who since then have spared no effort to undo their error. But, as the wise Vajpayee realised and conceded, it is now too late, although in the hearts of some Indians hope springs eternal. Manmohan Singh and Mrs Gandhi, a savvy duo, have a good idea how adversely instability on India's borders impacts on India. Thus, while no one expects India to make things easier for Pakistan, perish the thought, what one can hope is that India will display an element of good sense and see the writing on the wall. A continuing military stand-off is not in India's own interest. There is just so much elasticity in a rubber band. And a point has been reached when another terrorist attack will cause it to snap. Between now and when that almost inevitable attack occurs, India and Pakistan have an opportunity to so order their relations that they will be able to withstand its fall out and not allow their traditional antipathy to be manipulated by terrorists for their own ends. They fell into this trap after Mumbai and would be foolish to do so again. There are many in India who spend an inordinate amount of time designing imaginary mausoleums for their enemies and at a time when Pakistan is mired in woes they have become quite busy. Lest they find their own bones interred in the mausoleum with those of their enemies it would be wiser to design other structures and none is more beautiful than that of peace. Why not try it? After all we have tried everything else.

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