Pakistan Politics: An open declaration of war

By Mohammad Malick

Oh what a session, it’s been a while since I was last confronted with the difficult choice of where to start. Do I begin by the irony of a cancer stricken Syed Allaudin forcing the house to discuss the equally lethal suffering of the living-dead of Swat? Or do I start with the war between Nawaz Sharif and President Asif Zardari finally being made official by the leader of the opposition? Or should my opening question be why Rehman Malik while being present in the House did not speak on the Swat issue and instead passed the buck to government’s perpetual fall guy (or person) Sherry Rehman? Or should my first words deal with the last ones of Muneer Aurakzai, who shredded the government claim of meaningful actions by the much trumpeted and officially celebrated House Committee on national security?

The war drums couldn’t have rolled louder, or the gauntlet thrown with anymore disdain. And trust Ch Nisar Khan to play the aggressor with that extra panache. It’s obvious that the fiery leader of the opposition relishes a good old power fight and boy, did he take it to the presidency. Clearly, Nisar was smarting from the latest remark of President Zardari, who himself irked at his government’s being described a continuity of autocracy by Nawaz Sharif, had mocked the ‘democratic hardship credentials’ of certain leaders (unnamed) who had bawled their eyes out when faced with harsh treatment at the hands of their khaki tormentors. President Zardari never took any names but everybody knew that he had been referring to Mian Nawaz Sharif & co. So all Nisar wanted was an opening to close the book on Mr. Zardari and when he finally got one because of an impromptu debate on Swat forced by the ailing Syed Allauddin, the opposition leader latched on to it with both hands.

“If a political blow comes from the presidency then we will react accordingly if one man’s ego (direct reference to president Zardari) is allowed to misuse the presidency then we too reserve our right to respond in the same coin”, and he also went on to add in a rather contemptuous tone that PML-N had always warned against the perils of allowing the presidency to become a hub of partisan politics. Simply put, he made it abundantly clear that his party had had enough of the president’s style of politics and if there was ever an open declaration of war, this was it.

But an aside prior to reverting to today’s proceedings; one would have to be politically naشve to treat this latest blasting of the president as a mere tit-for-tat response by a miffed opposition, as even a cursory look at the developments (or should I say deteriorations) of the past few weeks will reveal a trend of the PML-N making a deliberate distinction of behaviour and intensity while criticizing the president’s person on one hand, and the Gilani led PPP government on the other. Why and for what, is an interesting discussion in itself. Then there is the intriguing timing and tenor of the Saudi intelligence chief’s recent visit to Pakistan. There are quite a few related matters as well which may not seem related at a first glance, such as the coincidental timing of Senate elections and March 9th approaching agitation but fate may tie some interesting knots here and there. Are things really as divorced from one another as they may appear at first glance? But let’s keep all that for some other day.

Nisar’s open declaration of war and the involved serious future ramifications notwithstanding, he did have some very pertinent points to make about the real and present immediate crisis of Swat and other terror plagued parts of the country. He rightly questioned this ongoing practice of “high sounding unanimous resolutions followed by fiery speeches” but then ultimately it all dissolving into nothingness. The leader of the opposition had taken this line as he was already aware of the treasury’s desire to adopt a unanimous resolution condemning the Taliban decree of banning female education in Swat. Interesting enough, this issue had been raised by none other than Ahsan Iqbal of the PML-N last week and at the time PML-N had also indicated its willingness to adopt such a resolution. But that was last week, and a week is a very long time in power politics to force change of hearts and priorities.

Nisar was right on dot when he asked the government to eschew shooting off one high flying resolution after another and to first explain its actions, and non-actions on Swat as the in-camera session had been informed by government that by December 2008, Swat would be firmly under government control and even the army would be pulled out by then. And we all know the reality, which is quite the opposite. As he put it sarcastically, “do they even remember what they say in their briefings?” He echoed the majority sentiment when he expressed his indignation at never ending resolutions, fiery speeches and implored the government to “stop playing this cruel joke and start taking actions. It’s time to act and not resolve”. Tell me whatever happened to that all-important War on Terror resolution, he asked bitterly, and all that was to happen consequently. But we already know the answer to that, don’t we?

Earlier the prime minister had assured the House of his government being alive to the seriousness of the issue and even hammered on the necessity of finding alternative non-military resolutions to the Swat situation in particular. He spoke of his earnest desire of taking initiatives in this regard and talked about his meetings with the governor and the chief minister of NWFP and his scheduled ones with the COAS and other agency officials. But hold on here Mr. prime minister if you may. If all that is happening now then just what has the government been doing for the past seven months or so? Wasn’t this precisely why the joint House Committee was formed to give recommendations to the government on various steps needed to combat terrorism?

And which governor is the PM talking about anyway? The same governor who according to Muneer Aurakzai has not even bothered to discuss the law and order situation of the restive province even once, I repeat, even once with a single MNA or senator from the NWFP. This is not just ridiculous but outright criminal. How on earth can the governor brief the prime minister of ground realities when he is not even talking to those elected representatives who have their ears to the ground?

Which committee recommendations are we talking here, whose sessions are not even being summoned despite repeated requests? As lamented by Muneer Aurakzai who trashed the earlier claim by Information Minister Sherry Rehman who had claimed that the committee members had expressed satisfaction with the working of the committee and that in fact it had been working at “too fast a pace”. I could only feel sorry for Sherry Rehman because for some inexplicable reason she was made to carry the cross the counter-terrorism cross for the government, which was Rehman Malik’s to bear. Heck, the poor soul was not even invited to the earlier in the day exhaustive briefing given to foreign ambassadors on the Mumbai issue and here she was in the House expected to hold the fort on Swat and Mumbai crises. God knows why the interior advisor was not summoned by the PM to inform the House about all that has been done (or mucked up) by the government on this front. Surprisingly no one seemed to remember that he had also promised the House last Friday that he would brief the House on Swat issue on Monday. But no one pointed out this omission.

Does anyone really care about Swat? Do they all really care about Pakistan? I dare not ask these questions, because the answers are simply too painful.

Source: The News, 21st January, 2009

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