This is not Charlie Wilson’s, George Bush’s or Barak Obama’s war any longer. This is very much our war. And we have to win it, if we really want to survive as a nation envisioned by Muhammad Ali Jinnah.
Winning this war is absolutely essential if we want to send our children to school without worrying about their safe return, if we want to pray in mosques without fearing we would be bombed into pieces, and if we want to tell the world that our country is not the most dangerous place on earth without being ridiculed.
The war, undoubtedly, is unconventional and devious. The enemy is invisible and callous. We have run out of time. The confusion is detrimental, the delay suicidal.
On September 9, the government convened an All Parties Conference (APC) to develop political consensus for holding peace talks with Taliban militants. The APC appeased the Taliban by calling them “our own people.”
Just days later, “our own people” assassinated Maj Gen Sanaullah Niazi sending a brazen denial to the peace offer. They also bombed a Church in Peshawar killing scores of innocent worshipers.
The dreaded commander of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) Hakimullah Mehsud was at the helm of affairs. The government of Pakistan had already announced a Rs 50 million bounty on him. It was never retracted until he was killed in a drone attack on November 1.
The argument that the drone attack torpedoed the peace talks was simply preposterous. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan should have checked the facts before the chest beating. It were the Taliban militants who sabotaged the so-called peace process by killing senior military officers and civilians.
[quote]Leadership emerges in times of crisis[/quote]
Amid this confusion, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif held a meeting with Maulana Samiul Haq, known as the spiritual father of the Taliban. The Maulana claimed he was tasked to approach the Taliban and convince them to shun violence and start dialogue. The government never refuted his claim.
Recently, Samiul Haq embarrassed the government by disassociating himself from the process. That suddenly awoke Islamabad. The Prime Minister’s House issued a statement asserting he was never assigned any such task. The world laughed.
The Taliban’s real success is not in killing thousands of people, but in creating a strong ideological divide in the society, including the political elite. But the Taliban never realized their policies and tactics were self-destructive. The reaction was imminent. The patience was running out. The recent attacks on FC troops in Bannu and the Army Headquarters in Rawalpindi escalated the situation. The armed forces retaliated, bombing Taliban sanctuaries in North Waziristan.
With the recent firmness in the army’s stance against the TTP, the political elite seems to have started toeing the line. Particularly Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan pledged his support to the armed forces. The tone and tenor of the federal ministers changed as well. Information Minister Pervez Rashid and Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique warned the Taliban of severe action in case of future terrorist attacks.
The federal government amended the Protection of Pakistan Ordinance (PPO) conferring massive authority to security agencies and forces to “better fight the war.”
The ordinance incurred mixed reactions. Opposition parties and rights groups opposed the ordinance fearing the new powers might be used against political opponents and innocent people. The government dismissed the apprehensions.
It is important to understand that Pakistan is in a state of war which is shaking the foundations of the state. The writ of the state has vanished. From the lawless tribal areas to the coastal city of Karachi, the militants are running amok. A drastic situation requires drastic measures. Even at the cost of civil liberties. However, maintaining a balance is necessary. With an independent judiciary and strong media, it would be rather difficult for the government to victimize anyone on political grounds under the ambit of the PPO.
The ordinance allows the security agencies to detain anyone on suspicion of terrorism for 90 days. The period can be extended subject to the approval of a special review board. The government can forfeit the nationality of any person found guilty of terrorism or related crime against the state and the people. For the first time, the ordinance defines armed combatants.
India made stern laws to curb insurgencies in Kashmir and Nagaland. The United States established the Department of Homeland Security to avoid 9/11 like incidents. The National Security Agency spied on American citizens and foreigners violating their privacy and defying the constitution.
Senator Raza Rabbani of the People’s Party refused to agree. He said fundamental rights could not be violated or undermined on any grounds. He said the government should have developed a national consensus before promulgating the ordinance. Do we have time for a national consensus?
Shafqat Mehmood of the PTI feared the arbitrary powers might be misused. He said the detention period of 90 days was unnecessary.
But Lashkari Raisani of the PML-N said the people had mandated his party’s government to pull the country out of the crisis, and that the opposition could voice their concerns at appropriate forums.
It is said that leadership emerges in times of crisis. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has an opportunity to emerge as a statesman.
Shahzad Raza is a journalist based in Islamabad