The rebuilding process must commence in earnest
The speech of the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) in Rawalpindi on the occasion of the Yaum-e-Shuhadda has elicited positive as well as negative response. The positive reaction primarily relates to the contents of the speech while the negative response questions the credentials of an army chief to lace his address with political insinuations.
Reiterating that elections will be held on May 11, General Kayani pleaded for the ushering in of an era of true democratic values in the country. He laid down three pre-requisites for eliminating the prospect of the traditional hide-and-seek between democracy and dictatorship: awareness and participation of the masses, rising above the ethnic, linguistic and sectarian biases and giving primacy and precedence to the larger public interest over personal interests. If this were not achieved, he warned, “be it democracy or dictatorship, governance would continue to remain a means of self-aggrandisement and plundering national wealth and resources”.
Seeking abnegation of the prospect of retribution, he pleaded for voting on the basis of honesty, sincerity, merit and competence for ensuring continuity of the democratic process. He said: “We must never forget that success of any system resides in coming up to the aspirations of the masses. The success of democracy is intimately linked with the well being of the nation”.
His right to make political comment notwithstanding, General Kayani has unequivocally drawn the broad contours of the way forward for Pakistan. In fact, it came as a timely reminder less than ten days from the national elections which are expected to be violent and divisive. Already, numerous gatherings of the political parties have been targeted by militants and there are un-abating threats for continuing the terror spree in the future. Some self-acclaimed ‘liberal’ political parties which remained coalition partners for five long years in the federal and provincial governments are exploiting the phenomenon alleging that they are being forced out of the election race. In the process, they forget that, for all the years that they were together, they did practically nothing by way of formulating a comprehensive anti-terror strategy and policy. Instead, through inaction, they pushed the country in the lap of the militants who continued to hit targets of their choosing including some highly strategic defence installations.
The Army Chief has also come against the use of the ethnic, linguistic and sectarian biases in the realm of politics. This signifies another step forward in eliminating the prospect of the division of society along these undesirable lines which has caused immense damage to the state in the past and, if not tackled, would continue to do so in the future also.
By embracing the war on terror unequivocally, the General noted: “The menace of terrorism and extremism has claimed thousands of lives. However, despite all this bloodshed, certain quarters still want to remain embroiled in the debate concerning the causes of this war and who imposed it on us. If a small faction wants to impose its distorted ideology over the entire nation by taking up arms and, for this purpose, defies the constitution of Pakistan and the democratic process and considers all forms of bloodshed justified, then does the fight against this enemy of the state constitute someone else’s war?” I believe this decisive declaration of ownership of the war on terror signifiers a strident step forward in combating the gruesome spectre of militancy in the country. I don’t remember a time in the past when a COAS took such an unambiguous and hard line against terrorism. This could only come about after extensive deliberations and gauging the damage that the deadly spectre has inflicted on the country and its people including the army and other security institutions. This could also be a timely comment on the lack of performance on this critical front by the last ‘democratic’ government and could spell a meaningful step forward in prioritising the components of the national paradigm in the future.
There has been much speculation, mostly motivated by the political pundits who had an axe to grind of their own, around the military’s perceived softness in dealing with the spectre of terror and that it stands for negotiations with the militant groups in preference to using force to eliminate them. This, in fact, has been a convenient means to hide their own weaknesses in the realm of policy-making and putting together a comprehensive anti-terror strategy. By reiterating the need to fight terror and owning up the war as Pakistan’s war, the army chief has banished the demons of uncertainty and has thrown the ball in the court of the politicians to devise an appropriate programme in this regard.
This also poses a serious challenge to the political parties, mostly right of centre, which have been advocating for the pulling out of troops from the restive areas in the FATA and elsewhere as part of their election campaign. This reflects a serious level of naiveté and an infatuation with a desire to succeed in the elections even at the cost of national stakes. Two things must end: one, the seeking of votes in the name of religion and two, determining the national policy paradigm that conforms to some self-righteous guidelines. If Pakistan is to rid itself of the spectre of terror, it has to come clean on the need to fight it to the bitter end. Pakistan’s survival lies in confronting the menace rather than embracing it under one pretext or the other.
Much has been ceded to the army voluntarily in the past by the political governments more out of incompetence than any other reason and much more may be ceded in the future. Faults cannot be picked in strategies that work for national betterment. If the civilian government lacks the will to undertake critical assignments like the war on terror, and if there is commonality of objectives between the civil and the military commands, there is no harm in handing over the charge to the one institution that has the resolve and the wherewithal to handle it. This would be well within the constitutional parameters. Not doing this out of fear that the army may move in to take over reflects a lack of confidence by the civilian administration in its own ability. But the country must not suffer because of this. Once the priorities have been clearly spelt out, the responsibilities should be appropriately assigned to organisations which are competent and equipped to handle them. Any further lack of resolve is bound to hurt Pakistan’s prospects of extricating itself from the demonic clutches of extremism.
The writer is a political analyst. He can be reached at [email protected]