Jan 6, 2010

Successes and failures

Ikram Sehgal

The National Finance Commission (NFC) Award constitutes a major success for the PPP-led coalition. Singularly most important for the integrity of the country, for the first time in living memory, all the provinces of the federation are in absolute agreement about something. Given the terms of previous NFC Awards, the smaller provinces were aggrieved because they thought it favoured Punjab at their expense. This time they were all praise for the magnanimity shown by Punjab. This resulted in a much-needed show of unity by the federation. Notwithstanding additional funds flowing to the deprived provinces from the federal revenue cake, the real plus point is that a feeling of togetherness and goodwill fostered by the manner in which the negotiations were conducted. There was genuine give-and-take and this united Pakistan for change. Given all our problems, that is s satisfying feeling.

We decry Asif Ali Zardari and Yousuf Raza Gilani for various reasons. Often, that criticism is well deserved. One must also give credit where credit is due. History will record the NFC Award as a crowning achievement. Had the same award been worked out during the Musharraf regime, it would have lacked the credibility the democratic umbrella provides right now. The NFC Award was worked out by the peoples' representatives without coercion or else no one would have accepted it. Let us not forget the man made it possible: Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin. Instead of media-grandstanding that seems to afflict some of his cabinet colleagues, this man did his homework, quietly working with each province to allay their reservations. Of special importance was Balochistan. Its mineral resources were being utilised by other provinces without proper compensation. Why should they accept their rightful share as mere hand'outs being bestowed by the federal government? Meanwhile, Sindh and NWFP felt they were being short-changed by the federal government in the formula apportioning the revenues. This perception was also quietly corrected by Shaukat Tarin. Sane counsel and concerted logic as well as optimum use of credible back channels saved the day.

The finance minister was given an awful economic mess but he still managed to contain the situation, no thanks to the IMF. Presently, however, his austerity measures are a failure. They must go hand in hand with effective implementation of a coherent economic plan otherwise the goodwill fostered by the NFC Award will disappear in the fog of economic uncertainty that seems to envelop Pakistan.

The PPP has reason to be proud of forming the Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) province, a long-standing demand of the people of northern areas. It is incongruous that while demanding freedom for Kashmir, we failed to give right of adult franchise to a part of the territory on our side of the Line of Control (LoC). Similarly the Balochistan package is now a fact of life and may isolate separatists in the province. However, the fate of the package will depend upon its implementation with sincerity and in letter and spirit. The fact remains that it will go a long way in unifying the federation.

The army paid quite a price for the successful counter-insurgency campaign in Swat and South Waziristan Agency (SWA). We have heard only a torrent of criticism and only occasional but tepid praise from our partners in the war against terrorism. Thus, the recent plaudits from the blunt and no-nonsense General Stanley McChrystal, was well deserved. With only 25 per cent of the optimum effort necessary, the going was tough in the mountainous terrains in the face of dogged resistance in Swat. The army's performance was nothing short of magnificent. The application of overwhelming force with sound battlefield tactics was handicapped by a strict time-table. A record million-plus refugees needed to return quickly to their homes and the rebuilding of infrastructure was imperative. This race against time meant the officers had to lead from the front, reflected in the officer-to-men killed ratio that was quite high. That the refugees returned in 60-90 days is no mean feat. The precision strikes carried out by the PAF avoided collateral damage as much as they could, despite the militants using the civil population as human shields.

The terror campaign against Pakistan is (or was) based in the South Waziristan Agency (SWA). Logistics and on-going operations in Swat took time to launch an offensive in SWA. The foreign militants comprising Uzbek, Chechens and Arabs had nowhere to go so they decided to fight. However, the outer core of Mehsuds, mostly mercenary, chose to disappear. Several militants have been killed, vast amounts of arms and ammunition captured, and their logistic infrastructure destroyed. The Al Qaeda leadership mostly managed to get away by re-locating to Yemen. Rooting out the remaining recalcitrants may take time but at least the SWA base for terrorist operations has ceased to exist. The terrorist infrastructure along with a loose association of like-minded terrorists still remains a problem through mainland Pakistan. Military operations must have popular will of the masses behind it. The Musharraf regime could never get public support because of its lack of democratic credentials. The success of the counter-insurgency was the democratic cover given by the Zardari-Gilani regime.

The government has been a major failure in countering terrorism despite the military destroying their mountain bases. The tragedy is that the local Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) have tried their best, giving many sacrifices, particularly in the NWFP. They have unfortunately been hamstrung by atrocious leadership at the federal level. Rehman Malik is good at politicking and squirrelling his way into the position he presently occupies. . His SHO mentality believes that Pakistan is one big thana (police station). In a macabre way, the hapless public laughs at his incredibly inept performance and gross incompetence highlighted by his constant media-posturing. Being indispensable to Zardari, Rehman Malik should be placed in some other post, may be commerce. After all, he is good at making 'oil for food' type of deals. Why is the Zardari regime putting to test Murphy's Law by putting the worst possible person in a critical slot of vital national importance?

Terrorism constitutes an immediate threat to the people of Pakistan and the sudden violence a hindrance to our lives. Zardari is good at 'Pakistan khappay' so why doesn't he reinforce success keeping in mind the NFC Award, counter-insurgency efforts and creation of G-B? To convert their failure into success, the Zardari-Gilani duo must use the formula that works, select the best person to lead and give him (or her) a suitable team.

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