Panic is the order of the day
Nawaz Sharif seems to be losing the gamble.
At first, it seemed he had given it lots of time and due diligence. But as always, when push comes to shove, he is seen buckling.
Leaking the story to Cyril Almeida was a deliberate attempt on the part of Nawaz Sharif to make room for the civilian authorities in policy making, particularly in foreign and security matters. It was clearly aimed at setting the tone for future civil-military relationship at a time when a powerful army chief is about to leave his seat and a newcomer enters the office and gets busy in establishing his authority within his own organisation.
At the heart of the matter, initially, was the presence of the non-state actors – whether the story was based on facts, half-truths or it was an ‘amalgamation of fiction and fabrication’. Why were they here after the start of the final operation – Zarb-e-Azb – against ‘terrorists of all hue’ about two and a half years ago? What was their use now? What was the cost? And who, ultimately, can be held responsible for allowing them to not only be there, but thrive?
At first, things appeared to be moving fine. Or as the originators – the civilians – wanted them to move. Non-state actors (NSAs) became the buzzword; and their presence here, the freedom they enjoy, and how to deal with them overtook the grapevine overnight. Politicians started talking about them. Foreign Office bureaucrats (or was it just one?) started complaining about them. And articles started appearing in the press which didn’t just object the continuation of the obsolete policy of pampering them, but also tried to construct public opinion about the possibility of accommodating them into the mainstream (as they can’t just be made to disappear into the thin air with a magic wand).
But then cracks started appearing in the government’s resolve to reclaim some of its lost political territory. It started issuing clarification after clarification, visibly under duress. Meetings were held to ‘clarify’ things and absolve the government of any wrongdoing. And, lo and behold, the reporter who had committed the crime of reporting something unusual – apparently at the behest of the government – was put on the Exit Control List.
And everything went helter-skelter.
The discussion in the country isn’t about the need to change the security-centric policies of the past that have played havoc with country or the unjustifiable presence of the non-state actors anymore. It is now about scandalising the army at the most crucial of times. It is about disclosing state secrets and deliberately compromising ‘national interest’. The debate is now also about the freedom of the press and the ‘universally acknowledged principles of reporting’.
Now this is the situation in which we are inching towards the retirement of the incumbent army chief on November 29, and the dreaded lockdown of Islamabad, announced by Imran Khan to start from October 30.
The government is giving that impression that nothing unusual has happened; there was an irresponsible report in the newspaper, but we have taken serious notice of it and have placed restriction on the movement of the reporter till the ‘responsible’ are identified for stern action. It also shrugs off the incoming PTI ‘tsunami’. But the propriety of this approach of the PML-N government is being questioned by many.
To some, the government has used vital national issues for petty political gains. Highlighting the non-state actors’ presence and the policy behind it at this crucial juncture is the greatest disservice that someone could do to his country, they say.
But that is not all.
The reported remarks of Shahbaz Sharif are seen not only damaging to the army’s image internally but when seen in the larger context of the war against terrorism, it is fatal for it internationally. Some interpret this as presenting the army (and hence, the country) on a platter to western allies – as well as India.
Keeping this context in view, many of the observers believe that the coming days may not prove to be as smooth a sailing as Nawaz Sharif believed it would be. This time around, they’re seeing a great danger to his government.
On the other side are analysts who are of the opinion that by locking horns with the all-powerful army over a matter that enjoys unmatched international sensitivity, Nawaz Sharif has put the army in a predicament. That in his estimation, the army would certainly not move in a blatant matter to dislodge his government over something that is considered politically correct and extremely necessary for regional and international peace. And that its coincidence with the retirement of Raheel Sharif may act as an impediment in the way of the army even if it has some designs against him. Retirement of the chief just round the corner also makes a room for hope that the army may not be able to plan the next phase cohesively. Dislodging a sitting government is comparatively easy; panning and ensuring a friendly one after, is the real and difficult part that needs time.
But having said all this, Nawaz Sharif doesn’t appear confident about what he is doing. The government seems to have panicked with just the first reaction from the other side. And it started making mistakes; it didn’t manage to give the debate the desired direction, and it made itself appear weak and indecisive by issuing one clarification after the other. And it shot itself in the foot by putting the name of Cyril on ECL, calling into question the integrity and professional competence of one the most credible newspapers of the country; thus dragging the matter into the realm of freedom of speech and freedom of the press.
This development is depriving it of the goodwill of the democratic lot and the press – who may have otherwise proven to be its ardent supporters in its struggle to strike a healthy balance in the prevailing civil-military equation. As for Cyril, he will be hard to swallow, DAWN even harder, and freedom of the press almost impossible – especially when the army says it has no problem with the reporter or the newspaper; it just wants the culprit, the one who has leaked the story.
But, frankly, who can that be? Well, your guess may be better than mine.
Pak COAS is always a pain in Indian necks. Lets stop showing lost sleep for the neighbours and better find those who embarrassed the Indians with a Surgical Strike drama.
Pakistan says it extends moral and diplomatic support to Kashmir militants but denies India’s accusations that it arms and trains them.
Nawaz Sharif has passed bigger turmoils and would survive prospective conspiracies hatched by anti nationalists like Imran Khan and media tycoons. I wonder who in his rightful mind would try to derail this Govt. making Nawaz a martyr once again. Except for traitor Cyril Almedia, no one from media talked of highs and lows between Govt and Military. And its not simply acceptable that Govt. wanted to act against certain groups and military stopped it, because it was Army that forced government to initiate and implement NAP. Long live my Pakistan and its armed forces. May the curse of Allah be upon liars.
Just one small surgical strike… India did not even use its smallest missile… and Pakistani Generals, PMs and reporters pile on each other… a pathetic Kabaddi match
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