Editorial: American ‘interference’ and our rage
The visit to Islamabad of the US Deputy Secretary of State Mr John Negroponte and Assistant Secretary of State Mr Richard Boucher even before the installation of a new government has enraged the media in Pakistan. Throwing all care for objectivity to the winds, TV anchors and editorial writers have vented their anger at the “hegemonic pressure tactics” of Washington and rebuked those Pakistani leaders who met the two Americans for having no concern for the “sovereignty of Pakistan” which was being thus violated. There was almost a negative consensus on the precipitate visit among those who rushed to comment.
This “consensus” is backed by the lawyers’ movement which has already declared its perception that the US administration has been working against its cause. The leader of the movement Mr Aitzaz Ahsan has politely told the US to stay out of the matter of the restoration of the judges and not take sides in favour of President Pervez Musharraf. The old opposition consensus against Pakistan’s policy on terrorism has also sharpened the emotion against the United States. And the media has once again reflected this widespread feeling that Pakistan is in the wrong war fighting Al Qaeda and that it needs to get out of the compact made by President Musharraf with President Bush after 9/11.
As if on cue; the establishment, if it was half-irritated earlier by America’s refrain of “do more”, has now begun to pronounce negatively on the foreign policy plank which binds Pakistan to America’s goal of eliminating terrorism and confronting Al Qaeda in our region. Retired foreign secretaries, now free to speak according to their consciences, have advised Pakistan to get out of “the American war against terrorism”. One retired foreign secretary went so far as to call the Negroponte-Boucher visit “crude diplomacy” on the part of Washington and accused it of making a desperate effort to “save the job of President Musharraf” (naukari bachana). Known moderate political commentators have joined in to say that the visit was ill-timed and the two officials could have waited for the swearing-in of the new government.
TV anchors have weghed in with bitter criticisism of the time Pakistani leaders and the army chief gave to the two visitors. Satirical formulations relating to the “pride and honour of Pakistan” were applied to the new prime minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani and to the leader of the PPP Mr Asif Ali Zardari for having agreed to meet the two in “unholy haste”. The rage did not hide the fear that the US might be conspiring to prevent Pakistan from changing policy in line with the mandate of the people which is interpreted as being against the war on terrorism and against President Musharraf’s staying on as president. One TV anchor even latched on to the name “Pervez” as bait for special American kindness because it occurred in the names of the president, the army chief and ex-chief minister of Punjab.
But interestingly enough the media had no reason to complain about the PMLN leader Mr Nawaz Sharif, who actually met the American visitors only to tell them that their line would no longer be followed and that the parliament would lay down its own independent policy in light of its electoral mandate to undo the one-man policy adopted after 9/11. As Mr Sharif briefed the press he was flanked by an ex-foreign service officer who claims to have already defied the “American diktat” in the past in his own way. The former US Deputy Secretary of State, Strobe Talbot, writes in his book Engaging India: Diplomacy, Democracy and the Bomb (2004) about what this Pakistani diplomat did during a meeting at the Islamabad Foreign Office: “He rose out of his chair and lunged across the table as though he were going to strangle either [Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence] Bruce Reidel or me, depending on whose neck he could get his fingers around first. He had to be physically restrained”.
The visit was “cushioned” on Wednesday by President Bush’s sanction of a new tranche of millions of dollars of grant to Pakistan. America is worried about the war against Al Qaeda that, in its view, the Pakistan army is ill-equipped to fight. It is already footing the bill of the deployment of a hundred thousand Pakistan army troops along the Afghan border. The missions in South Waziristan and Swat — the latter has 30,000 of them to prevent the Taliban from coming back — are expensive and will drain the national treasury. Deployments have hurt the economy in the past. For example, Kargil ruined the budget of the Nawaz Sharif government in 1999; and the post-2001 face-off with India on the border squeezed President Musharraf and made him more vulnerable to external pressure.
Al Qaeda however has its own manner of speaking to Pakistan. In its chessboard moves against America it uses the diplomacy of suicide-bombing and is more successful in its persuasion than Washington. These days it has switched off its assault on the poor and innocent Pakistani citizens to see how the politicians behave. The Zardari-Sharif consensus is that Pakistan will “negotiate” with Baitullah Mehsud who is already wanted by an anti-terrorism court in Rawalpindi after the gang he had sent out to kill Ms Benazir Bhutto confessed to the assassination.
This is unfortunate. The new government must assume ownership of the war against terror even if it means reformulating its tactics and strategy which has to be a combination of political and military means. *
Second Editorial: And ‘power signals’ from the national grid
People in most parts of Punjab and some areas of the NWFP suffered on Tuesday as they experienced possibly Pakistan’s biggest electricity breakdown ever. All work came to a standstill for seven hours. The cause was the sudden tripping of the 500KV Gatti-Muzaffargarh transmission line at about 9am. The tripping was caused by a sudden removal of load and absence of a back-up line on the section.
The signal is clear to the new elected rulers of the country. Not only is the electricity going to be expensive because of the rise in oil prices at the global level, its production is going to be problematic too. Already sensitive sections of the export-oriented industry are in a state of slump. Lack of electricity is going to push them into terminal crisis. And, as the summer approaches, the domestic user will have his patience tested during long hours of load-shedding. *