Since this will be my last column for the year 2008, I feel it might be worth reviewing the year as we enter another. I can still recall the euphoria leading up to and following the elections in February. It was a throbbing, palpable feeling: we were returning to democracy. We were all conscious of the baggage that Asif Zardari, leader of the majority party, carried, and yet while there were pessimists, the vast majority was hopeful despite the ‘Zardari factor’.
Soon thereafter, the military dictator finally realised that it was time for him to go. However, the issue that had precipitated the downfall of Pervez Musharraf, the issue that had led the massive lawyers’ movement and had, for the first time in our history, united the small and usually lifeless civil society — restoration of the CJ — remained unresolved. Perhaps when, reneging on his given word for the third time, Zardari announced that such agreements were ‘neither Quran nor Hadith’, people began to realise that Zardari had not changed much. Thus began the decline of the euphoria.
We witnessed an increase in acts of domestic terrorism and the restarting of another military operation in Swat, which had been called off at the behest of the provincial government.
We also witnessed an increase in unilateral US incursions into our tribal areas, including one with ground forces. We witnessed our military respond to a repeat of another attempt, forcing both US drones and ground forces to retreat. We saw the resultant surge of nationalism in the tribal belt, with the insurgent tribes promising to stand alongside the military to defeat any future incursions by US troops.
We witnessed that trillion-dollar fleeting opportunity offered by this one act of defending our territory from incursions by the all-powerful US to bring the insurgent tribes back into our fold and, perhaps, dramatically reduce the threat to our western borders squandered by a policy of ‘no response’ to US incursions.
Emboldened by our lack of response, we witnessed an increase in US incursions. Our military response to the domestic insurgency was forced to increase in tempo and we continued to suffer the domestic consequences.
With the rest of the world, we awaited hopefully the result of the US elections and, alongside the entire world, celebrated Barack Obama’s victory in the hope that it will usher in a new era, just as the world had hoped when the United States elected John F Kennedy to the Oval Office.
Then came the tragic and most unfortunate attacks in Mumbai, for which the incumbent Indian government continues to accuse Pakistan. At one stage it seemed that the possibility of an imminent war between India and Pakistan, as a result of these attacks, had been averted, but then it appears that war clouds are still visible, though only on the horizon, despite, or perhaps because of, Pakistan’s persistent policy of appeasement.
Having said as much, it is also necessary to state that at least one party must demonstrate sanity to avoid a futile war that is in the interest of neither country, serving only the purpose of those responsible for this dastardly act.
During this entire year, governance was typified by a lack of policy in any field, and let me clarify that to me a policy begins with a clearly stated aim, a duration for the achievement of that aim, and a wholesome methodology that will get us there within the specified period of time.
We witnessed our political leadership return to self-serving policies. We learnt of the alleged misuse of power by our sitting CJ, his refusal to step down and the refusal of the political leadership to do anything about it.
We have also witnessed increasing differences between members of the ruling coalition, within the largest party of the coalition, and with the opposition, an erstwhile member of the coalition. However, the fortunate part is that despite increasing differences, the opposition is avoiding brinkmanship and appears determined to ensure that the treasury benches get every opportunity to complete their tenure.
The International Republican Institute Survey of Pakistan says it all. From euphoria to despondency, from hope to near despair: 77 percent of our population thinks the government is headed in the wrong direction; surprisingly, more than 50 percent believe that their economic situation has improved this year, but even they believe that the next year will be far worse.
So, where are we headed? Even as we are drenched in gloom, the new year also brings with it fresh opportunities. As the elections in India climax, the Congress party having milked all the domestic support it could from the Mumbai attacks, the next government in India is likely to back-pedal, even though the peace process will suffer a longer setback. The incoming US government will give Pakistan’s government some breathing space and will formulate a more wholesome policy towards the entire region; including a better, more balanced programme of economic assistance.
If our current political leadership takes the opportunity and begins to steer our ship, which has appeared rudderless so far, we can begin to slow the downslide before beginning to climb back uphill. Remember, the forces of inertia will take time — but if, I repeat if, we begin, there might still be hope.
The challenges are enormous but they can be overcome even by modest beginnings if we persevere — even though I have little hope that will happen.
“Pity the nation that welcomes its new ruler with trumpets, and farewells him with hooting, only to welcome another with trumpets.” — Khalil Jibran
The author is a retired brigadier. He is also former vice president and founder of the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI)
Reproduced by permission of DT