Pakistan: The Taliban on our doorstep

By Kamal Siddiqi
Times for us are troubling. The violence in the bye-elections have once again shown us that our politicians are still not as mature as we make them out to be. There is hope in some and disappointment in others.
At the same time, the arrival on the political scene of Hamza Shahbaz, the star son of Punjab chief minister Mian Shahbaz Sharif, is an amusing development. It is hoped that the next generation of Sharifs is able to improve on the politics of the old.

One cannot forget the antics of a young Hamza when his uncle, then former prime minister Mian Nawaz Sharif, was sentenced in the hijacking case at a court in Karachi. Not able to contain his frustration at the verdict, young Hamza attacked and abused journalists who tried to approach the family for their comments. Time, hopefully, has matured this angry young man.

It is the angry old men, however, that we need to worry about more. For example, the signals from the Sharif camp are mixed. One day, Mian Shahbaz Sharif told the media that his brother and he would rather be “cut into small pieces” than appeal the judgement of the Lahore High Court in the Supreme Court. Within 24 hours, however, there was a change in stance. An appeal was lodged by the Sharif family lawyer and bye-elections in NA-123 came to a grinding halt. The questions before us are now whether the Sharifs will come before the PCO judges or not. It is an added pressure on the PML-N. And a new front has been opened in the war. But is this really an issue or a diversion?

In all this, the lawyers’ movement has again decided to work out a strategy over how to work towards the restoration of the judges sacked by President Musharraf in November 2007. One group within the lawyers is convinced that they blew a golden opportunity at the end of the long march in Islamabad when Aitzaz Ahsan decided to call it quits.

Others, however, are of the view that Aitzaz Ahsan did the right thing since the idea was to show the level of popular support. There were, however, many in the massive gathering of people that day who were convinced that sooner than later President Musharraf, in seeing this show of strength, would throw in the towel. These people have been disappointed. However, Aitzaz and company should also have mercy on the people of Pakistan. The self-righteousness of their claims and the manner in which they have continued to agitate is wearing down the patience of the people. Maybe it’s time for some change in strategy.

This week, the media quoted Transparency International, a Western NGO, as saying that President Musharraf has sold his Islamabad farmhouse and has made a tidy profit in the process. For his part, President Musharraf has said that he has no intention of leaving his position, or the country. Musharraf sees himself as a voice of sanity and continuity in a sea of confusion and chaos.

We need sanity and continuity in these uncertain times. There are theorists who are arguing that the arrival of the Taliban on the doorsteps of Peshawar is in fact part of a larger American policy to break Pakistan and hand over Balochistan and the NWFP to international control.

The “Pakistan-will-break-up-soon” school of thought is in overdrive. One can only hope and pray that they see some sense. It is their talk and their negativity that causes more harm to the country than a possible breakup. We have been hearing predictions of Pakistan breaking-up further since long. Possibly our scarred history, when we lost half our country, may have something to do with the willingness of people to believe this.

As a result, we see a rise in the number of advertisements being shown on TV and in newspapers for properties in the Gulf, particularly the UAE. More than a billion dollars are estimated to have been remitted through the kerb market to the Gulf. Several million continue to be remitted every month to pay instalments on properties booked and bought. Pakistanis are keen to have some nest overseas to which to fly away as things get worse.

And by all accounts, there are fears that things would indeed get worse. There are fears of the Taliban overrunning the country and taking over everything. Many Pakistanis have said some strategy should be in place to deal with a Pakistan under Taliban rule. What will happen to us? Will we all wear beards and burqas?

At the same time, those in power do not consider this to be the most pressing issue. It was educational to hear PML-N supporters and leaders question the motives of the government once their leader was disqualified by the Lahore High Court. The somewhat sensible Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan asked the most pertinent question. He wanted to know who is in charge and who is running the government. It seems Pakistan is being run by a collection of people who are ideologically and politically at loggerheads. How long can this arrangement last?

The wrong person flew off to Turkey. Asif Zardari went to Ankara even without the Pakistani foreign minister. But, then, it was a private visit since Zardari holds no government office. In his spare time, Asif Zardari seem to get his pleasure by issuing threatening statements against the president and then sitting back and seeing the reaction.

At the same time, he seems to be the only one who has some idea of the larger picture. The manner in which he has accommodated and accomplished shows, dare one say, some sort of political farsightedness? For all practical purposes, this is the man of the moment. Or is he?

The never-ending talks between the coalition partners are to continue in July. One can only wonder what happens in these discussions that last for several hours. How long does it take to decide whether or not to reinstate the judges and, if so, how? How long does it take to evolve a consensus on the removal of President Musharraf or otherwise?

Our most pressing question as Pakistanis, and one that almost no one seems to be debating, is the situation in the tribal areas and the NWFP. Who is responsible for breaking the agreement between the militant groups and the elected representatives of the people? Why does it come across that an agreement was signed that was not honoured by either side? Could there be more to it than this? The NWFP government has been trying to implement key points of the agreement. Why does this put the government in danger of being dissolved? So much for us to consider.

The News, 30/6/2008

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