Jan 12, 2010

The parallel 'battle'

S Khalid Husain

In the eyes of the world, in no other field has Pakistan achieved a pre-eminence such as it has in producing terrorists. Out of "modesty," perhaps, no government of the day has tried to usurp "credit" for this singular achievement. All incoming governments of the country have either "invited" their predecessor governments to take the bow, or conceded the "credit" to the army.

There has not been a calculated, sustained effort to crush terrorism. The present effort has come just in time. But the question is how effectively the democratic government can continue to back the army in face of its other deep concerns, such as living with a free judiciary, keeping the parliament hinged to the 17th Amendment, living with a free media.

Wherever the "credit" for the world's view of the country as the leading producer of terrorists may lie, the army is now in the serious business of clearing the terrorist-infested territory, with the people backing it fully. As the army clears the terrorists' stomping grounds, the people are bearing the brunt of desperate and barbaric last-ditch acts of the terrorists as they launch suicide bombers with indiscriminate spitefulness against men, women and children, in marketplaces, in schools, on people on duty at their posts, in offices, and wherever.

Where does the democratic, PPP-dominated government of the day, stand on all this? It is backing the army all right, as it battles the terrorists in Waziristan, and the backing has undoubtedly helped merge public opinion in favour of the army's campaign. To that extent the PPP government's backing of the army has been useful.

However, the PPP government, by its words and deeds, has shown its focus is more on elements it regards as "terrorists" in new form, and deems as dangerous for its rule as the real terrorists. The top three on the list of such "terrorists" are plainly the independent judiciary, an unencumbered sovereign parliament, and the media. Especially the "fearsome" threesome from a particular media group who, judging from the fury vented on them by the president, and the enfant terrible twosome of Qamar Zaman Kaira of the government and Fauzia Wahab of the party, must symbolise "Baitullah Mehsud," "Mullah Omar" and "Hakimullah" of the media.

The army, for now, is not seen as being high on the list, despite the reference to "tenure" positions in the appalling speech in Naudero by the co-chairman of the PPP, who also happens to be president of Pakistan, on the second anniversary of Benazir's martyrdom. The Sindh home minister's scathing rant on Pakistan having only just been saved in December 2007, seemed a menacing way to threaten that it may not survive another "conspiracy" against the PPP and its top leader, the threat could not have been conveyed, and in the manner it was, without forethought and agreement.

It is doubtful if the clumsily hidden inference, some say it is blackmail, that the country's welfare and that of the president are "indivisible" found any takers, except the known elements close to the presidency who make up the post-Benazir new-look PPP's "Arthurian Camelot," where "Arthurian" is spelled with "Z."

The PPP and its coalition partners in the government, the MQM and the ANP, probably represent the strongest political force against terrorism in the country, and this has helped rally the nation behind the army as it battles the terrorists, except the religious parties, whose support is muted, and subject to riders.

The government, however, instead of devoting its constant attention to the fight against the terrorists, elected to open a second front against the very institutions it was pledged to strengthen. Now it is the case of the army battling the terrorists, while the government is "battling" the democratic institutions to minimise their relevance.

The parliament, despite the PPP's commitment for a repeal of the 17th Amendment of the Constitution even before it formed the government nearly two years ago, continues to be encumbered with it, and which impinges on its sovereignty. Attempts were made, and continue, to "discredit" the restored chief justice, including through using the disgraced and dethroned twosome, the ex-"chief justice" and the ex-attorney general, as Don Quixotes to invent, and charge "chinks" in the restored chief justice's armour. The chief justice and the judges were restored, after every hoax used by the PPP to back-pedal on its commitment for their restoration was thwarted by the lawyers, backed by civil society and the media.

The political parties owe their leaders' return to Pakistan, from "exile" in the lap of luxury, to one man – the present chief justice, who stood up to the dictator and defied him walking alone on the street. The lawyers first, then the civil society, the media and the people, rallied around him, and the movement snowballed.

The dictator was forced to cut a deal with Benazir Bhutto for her return, hoping to use her to contain the tide against him. This he may have been able to do under the deal, and especially after Benazir's martyrdom when the PPP acquired a new look, except for the lawyers' movement, joined by the civil society, the media and the people. All the rest followed, including the present PPP government's attempt to renege on the judges' restoration until, like the dictator, it too had to throw in the towel.

The most effective contribution the democratic civil government, and the politicians, can make in the fight against terrorism is to cut the comedy, cut the high jinks, cut the shenanigans, and get down to the serious business of good governance, and to building democratic traditions and institutions, not subverting them.

They must understand that the sacrifices of soldiers and people alone, in the battle against terrorism, will not result in its enduring end. For this fight to be won as a finality, conditions nurturing terrorism have to end. That is the job of the politicians.

If the PPP government and politicians are ignorant of the conditions that nurture terrorism, as their mind-set and conduct suggests, they can read the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy adopted by member-states on Sept 8, 2006, which states:

"We resolve to undertake the following measures aimed at addressing the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism, including, but not limited to, prolonged unresolved conflicts, dehumanisation of victims of terrorism in all its manifestations, lack of rule of law and violations of human rights, ethnic, national and religious discrimination, political exclusion, socio-economic marginalisation, and lack of good governance, while recognising that none of these conditions excuse or justify acts of terrorism."

They will not fail to notice that the counter-terrorism strategy of the UN seems to have been formulated with Pakistan used as case study. There is not one condition "conducive to the spread of terrorism" stated in the Strategy which is not present in Pakistan.

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