Figuring it out- By Ghazi Salahuddin

“There’s a new government in Pakistan who is working its way through figuring out how to get at the extremist challenge”, said top US military officer Admiral Mike Mullen during his visit to Kabul on Thursday. The focus, of course, was on the continuing and increasingly ambivalent struggle against Al Qaeda and the Taliban militants in the tribal areas.
But the scope of challenges that our new, though more than one hundred days old government must figure out is much wider. Meanwhile, we have the tough task of figuring out our present rulers. They have this capacity of confounding even their loyal supporters with their deeds and their style of governance.

Consider, for instance, the bizarre imprudence of holding apparently crucial discussions in Dubai that necessitated Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani to make an unscheduled stopover, with his large entourage, on his way back from Kuala Lumpur. In addition, important ministers, burdened with multiple ministries, had to leave their desks unattended for a stretch of time.

It would be interesting to learn the details of the discussions that were held in Dubai and if they did seriously try to figure out the challenges they confront. Perhaps London, the other designated venue for meetings on our national issues, would be climatically more conducive to an analysis of our flaming issues. Nawaz Sharif is in London at this time and it is still possible that Asif Ali Zardari would meet him there for another location ‘shoot’ in our long-running political serial.

In any case, Yusuf Raza Gilani, on his way from Dubai to Islamabad, told journalists on board his special flight that the federal cabinet would soon be expanded after consultations with coalition partners. Again, he temporized, leaving questions about the health and future of the coalition unanswered. On Thursday, lawyers revived their movement for the restoration of the deposed judges and reminded the nation that the Pakistan People’s Party’s prevarication on this seminal issue has certainly undermined the government’s ability to deal effectively with all other challenges.

These challenges, to be sure, are daunting. It can be argued that even if the present coalition had survived and if the judiciary were restored, the spectre of militancy and terrorism, with its present manifestation in the tribal areas, would pose the same threat that it has now assumed. At least on this front, considerable responsibility lies on the national security establishment and how it has made a mess of the situation – before and after 9/11.

This is particularly the week in which the battle against militants in the tribal areas has risen to an alarming level of concern. US commandos, reports say, are likely to launch raids against Al Qaeda and Taliban targets within Pakistan’s tribal belt. Coming back to Admiral Mike Mullen, press reports in Washington have said that he will now travel to Pakistan to “read the riot act” to the government and express his country’s frustration with Islamabad’s lack of ability – or willingness – to move decisively against militants in the tribal areas.

Much is being made of the redeployment of an aircraft carrier and its escort vessels from the Gulf into the Arabian Sea. A report published in The Australian on Friday has said that this significant military movement has come after US intelligence officials had recorded an increase in the number of foreign fighters travelling to Pakistan’s tribal areas to join with local militants. These officials have told the media that Pakistan, not Iraq, is now the preferred destination for “Sunni fighters from the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia seeking to take up arms against the West”.

American pressure on Pakistan to do more to contain militancy in the tribal areas has been there for quite some time and a number of attacks on alleged terrorist targets have certified US intentions to take unilateral action against what it sees as insurgent safe havens in the tribal areas. But Washington’s frustration now seems to have reached a point that, according to media reports, its patience with Pakistan is “very close” to running out.

Against this backdrop, the suicide bombing outside the Indian embassy in Kabul on Monday has confronted Pakistan’s policy makers with some new predicaments. Irrespective of who sponsored and made this attack, it is bound to have some impact on relations between India and Pakistan. On the other hand, Afghanistan’s ties with India are likely to expand. India is deeply involved in Afghanistan’s reconstruction, committing large amounts of money and people. The policy debate that this attack has set off in India has also raised the option of Indian military intervention in Afghanistan.

On Friday, The New York Times wrote an editorial titled: “The Taliban’s Rising Tide”. It notes that “Pakistan’s new military and civilian leaders, caught up in their own power struggles, have been dangerously derelict in acknowledging and confronting the threat”. But the newspaper wisely argues that sending US troops into Pakistan’s border regions is not the answer.

One obvious reason for US annoyance is the lack of a sense of direction in the policies of the present government. The ruling coalition is in a state of disarray and it is hard to guess as to who is calling the shots. No one knows what kind of working relations this government has with the military high command. Leaving the judges’ issue unresolved for such a long time has left the country in a confused state of mind. In more tangible ways, economic hardships of the ordinary citizens raise the prospect of a socio-economic meltdown.

Pessimism at the popular level is rising and is palpable. There is a growing fear that the very existence of the country may be at stake. It is becoming more and more difficult to comprehend the reality of power politics in the country. Asif Zardari, who did make some statesman-like moves after the February elections, is now losing credibility. There is a leadership vacuum. No one is there to respond to questions that are rising in the minds of concerned Pakistanis.

Management guru Stephen R. Covey of ‘7 habits’ has emphasised the importance of character in the lives of leaders. In his opinion, “character (what a person is) is ultimately more important than competence (what a person can do)”. Obviously, both are important but “character is foundational”.

We had to make do, intermittently, with charismatic leadership that usually emerges in a state of crisis. For the time being, however, we have leaders who have no charisma. And they have neither character nor competence. So, where do we go from here?

The writer is a staff member.

Email: ghazi_salahuddin@hotmail.com

Source: The News, 13/7/2008

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