For a brief moment faith in the workings of our democracy was restored with the passage of the unanimous resolution on terrorism. Despite inadequate briefings where nothing confidential was revealed; despite foreboding news about a lack of interest being shown by legislators on this most critical issue; despite a suspicion that the government was seeking to use parliament as a mere rubber stamp to claim the American war on terror as our own; despite all these fear, the unanimous fourteen-point resolution that was passed reflected the sense of the nation across the board – barring a few die-hard American apologists. For those of us who felt the government would push its US-focused agenda through, it was a pleasure to eat humble pie.
The 14-point resolution restored faith in the workings of parliament and in the elected representatives for they provided the state with a national consensus that was truly reflective of the people. It focused on dialogue with all stakeholders – and the Pakistani Taliban are also stakeholders – without the preconditions the rulers had been harking on earlier; it sought to kept he army in the background as a policy tool of last resort while reasserting the civil authority of government and law enforcement agencies and recognised to enhance the capacity of the latter; and, perhaps most important, it sought to reassert the sovereignty of the country and its territory and called on the government to take measures to ensure this. Finally it sought parliamentary control for supervision and oversight of the policy to be formulated on the basis of this resolution.
But what has happened in the wake of the passage of this historic resolution? American drone attacks have increased with a vengeance – as if to deliberately spite the Pakistani parliament and thereby Pakistan’s return to democracy. Worse still, our rulers chose to maintain a silence till sufficient time passed to make their verbal protest irrelevant. Now the Senate has passed a resolution condemning US bombings and asking the government to take action to ensure these strikes end. What is required is resoluteness by the government on multiple fronts. First of all, it has to play the diplomatic card over and over again in terms of protests; but these have not proven effective in the past and clearly the Americans are not interested in upholding the Pakistani democratic consensus. So, in addition to the diplomatic route, the government has to issue orders to its military to take whatever action is needed to show by intent that Pakistan intends to implement the parliamentary resolution’s sovereignty protection demand. In addition, an in-between step can be the temporary withdrawal from the tripartite Commission to convey the point forcefully to the Yanks. Also, it would do us no harm – in fact our commitment and determination would be conveyed unequivocally – to temporarily suspend US/NATO supplies going through and also suspend the twenty-four hour overflight permission in Pakistani air space, for tactical missions. It is now abundantly clear that unless we create the space between ourselves and the US, we will never rid our country of extremism and militancy.
However, parliamentary resolutions are simply a beginning. What follows depends on the actual intent of the government. Is it simply busying the legislators in parliamentary discussions and resolutions which it has no intention of implementing? That is certainly the impression being given so far. After all, if the speaker can find time to grace passing out parades of female cadets, can she not find time to put in place the committees and so on that are needed to fulfil the demands of the 14-point resolution? Talk and verbal commitments come cheap to the present set of leaders – as just so much “politics”, to quote the president himself. Be it the restoration of the judiciary or the Constitution itself, words and actions are totally at variance with each other. It appears there is a general assumption that all the people, including the legislators, can be fooled all of the time if conciliatory declarations, without substance, are made periodically by the leaders!
Now there is talk of having an in-camera session on the economy but again to what avail? The government seems to have decided to take the US-favoured route of the IMF. Already the IMF has sought to fire the first salvo by stopping the $300 million World Bank loan. Let us be clear that if we go to the IMF, this country will be rocked by further instability and violence. This will play into the hands of the US which eventually seeks to undermine the state in its present form – especially in terms of its nuclear assets. Already the government is playing a strange game on the waters issue with India. By the time the Indians undo their illegal actions on the Chenab waters the damage will be done in terms of an inability of the farmers to sow the wheat crop. Meanwhile, President Zardari’s love fest with the Indians will have allowed them unprecedented access to our markets and to the much-coveted land route into Afghanistan – all unilateral concessions as it turns out. Incidentally, if this government is really intent on cosying up to India, it should first focus on the energy sector through joint nuclear energy generation. This is the only sector that has immediate benefits for both countries which can also jointly control the civil nuclear technology. But every time I have suggested this to the Indians, they balk. Why, if they really do want to go fore the peace and development dividend?
But coming back to agriculture, already there are problems because of the over 12-hour power blackouts in the rural areas – including of southern Punjab, no matter what the Punjab chief minister may claim in terms of aiding the farmers. After all, providing tractors when there is no water to sow the crop and no electricity to run the tube wells is a bad joke on the farming community. It seems that the state is seeking to destroy the country’s agricultural potential altogether so that Indian wheat and sugar may takeover the market. Incidentally, as happens every time there is some economic crisis or crunch, agriculturalists are targeted. Well, I think it is time to have agricultural tax based on production rather than the abiana and land tax we pay now which is based on holdings regardless of actual yield or production – that is, treat agriculture like industry with the same laws regarding labour and insurance. Perhaps it is also time to ensure that professionals like doctors and lawyers also pay their due share in terms of income tax, so that indirect taxation is not constantly upped to the detriment of the poorer classes of society.
As for the IMF, the US will undoubtedly seek this as a tool to target state institutions like the military but the issue of the IMF goes far beyond since the record on what the IMF does to developing states is clear for all to see – political instability and greater polarisation. And when will Pakistan’s ruling elite learn that bankers have not done much for the country’s long term economic health. So why do we continue to depend on them for formulating our economic policies in alliance with what friend Imti calls “the retired and serving Gurkha fighters of the IMF”. Here it would not be amiss to remind ourselves that regardless of their fighting skills and bravery, the Gurkhas were a mercenary fighting force for the British colonisers. Mosharraf Zaidi’s argument for defaulting (The News, October 28) need to be seriously considered (I find myself agreeing with him for once!) by our leaders and parliamentarians before another banker entraps this country into the IMF trap. Can they not follow the example of the passionate overseas Pakistani, Dr Yasir Khan from Australia, who has remitted to Pakistan $ 1000 for each member of his family and suggests others send at least $350 per head. Again, what a contrast between the rulers and the ordinary Pakistani wherever he/she may be. The latter acts to save his/her country while the former are full of hot air and dubious intent.
Finally, how long will the state allow women to be murdered by the powerful? A few brave souls expose these ills and then all is quiet again. While reading the horror story of young Taslim Solangi, one wonders what has happened in the case of the murdered Baloch women? Have the powerful succeeded in getting away again with such dastardly deeds?
The writer is a defence analyst. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The News, 29/10/2008