Editorial: General Kayani’s pivotal statement
Speaking at a meeting of top military commanders — including those directly dealing with militancy in FATA and the NWFP — at the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi, the army chief, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, has said: “the army never has and never will hesitate to sacrifice, whatever it may take, to ensure the safety and well-being of the people and the country’s territorial integrity”. He explained that the “operational pause” in Swat was to give talks and reconciliation a chance; but that could be rescinded and “victory against terror and militancy will be achieved at all costs”.
The army chief “acknowledged that doubts were being voiced about the intent and capability of the army to defeat the militants”. The Friday statement will no doubt stop this trend from growing and bolster the civilian governments in Islamabad and Peshawar in their heretofore unconvincing resolve that they will “not allow any parallel government to emerge on Pakistani territory”. The army chief has also included some references in his statement for the satisfaction of those who bemoan foreign interference in Pakistan and the negative assessments of Pakistan being issued from foreign capitals. But more importantly his message will shore up the declining “economic will” of the country.
It is true that the army cannot act in a political vacuum at home. It cannot fight a war on which there is no national consensus, and politicians are scared of losing popular support if they stand up to the Taliban challenge. But there is one factor that has nothing to do with politics — unless the politicians make it their main plank — and that is the factor of the national economy. It has gone belly-up since 2007, the year of political and constitutional crises that tended to obscure its true significance. The oil price hike and a sudden but colossal energy shortfall dragged down its macro-indicators and made it totally dependent on external assistance.
That crisis is not over but has in fact been compounded by the global crisis of the capitalist system. The terrorists in Pakistan have endangered the national recovery from the political crisis of 2007. Finding himself defenceless against suicide-bombers and their manipulators in the tribal areas, the economic actor is mentally crippled and is thinking of not starting new ventures if the country is going to be virtually dictated by kidnappers. If despair reaches a critical point, the industrialist class, already forced to cut down the size of its undertakings, will simply leave the country and take its capital with it. Given this situation, it is not democracy and its niceties that need to be focused upon but a voice of confidence and assurance from the army, which will finally stand between the people and the terrorist.
When dangers are multiple and resources are limited with which to confront them, one must choose among the enemies one has perceived. The immediate danger to the sovereignty of the state flows from the rise of the Taliban with enormous financial resources at their disposal, in addition to the thousands of foreign terrorists who train our youths in methods of killing our innocent people. The army has limited resources — most of them being supplied by the United States — with which to mobilise against the Taliban. It simply cannot hang on to its traditional perceptions of threat from India; it must rely on the civilian government in Islamabad to defuse tensions with India in order to neutralise the perceived threat on the eastern border.
Whenever someone has come to the defence of the exposed population of Pakistan, the people have applauded him. In Lahore, the Manawan action against the terrorists evoked spontaneous admiration of the people. The confidence of the people has been shaken in Swat and FATA and they are teetering on the edge of their loyalty to the state of Pakistan. When surrendered completely to the cruelty of the terrorists they tend to join them too. God forbid, if the people cross over to the side of the terrorists, it would be useless to still defend Pakistan on its eastern border. *
Second Editorial: An APC of all and sundry
The PMLN leader, Mr Nawaz Sharif, has written to Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani to convene a grand national conference to discuss the problems the country is facing. Political parties, Baloch leaders, intellectuals, the army, civil society and all stakeholders have been invited by him “to sit together and evolve a national agenda”. Mr Sharif has talked about the problem of terrorism and the law and order situation in general, but wants the conference to be a “hold-all” affair. He says: “access to speedy justice, load shedding, unemployment and inflation should also be discussed” in the conference.
In Pakistan the record shows that when a solution becomes hard to conceive, people recommend the holding of an all-parties conference or APC. If the APC is a single-item affair, it has chances of actually throwing up a solution. This happened when, for example, Republican President George Bush got the Democrats in the US Congress to give him a bipartisan permit to invade Iraq in 2003. But in our parts, the idea is actually not to find a solution but listen to voices often lost in the noise of the main stakeholders. APCs don’t offer “actionable” solutions because they are not proportionally represented and the big parties are equated with the small parties. The big national decisions have to be made by the ruling party or, if that is possible, the ruling party together with the main opposition party. But any “consensus resolution” after an APC may actually put before the nation an agenda that is impossible of realisation.
The last time a “national consensus” was expressed in a joint session of the parliament in Islamabad it caused more harm than good. Everyone went in with his point of view and insisted on its inclusion instead of agreeing on one point. The session was “successful” because everyone found that the resolution contained their point of view, little realising that the resolution was in fact self-contradictory. Needless to say, the “national consensus” was finally not found “actionable” on ground. An APC today will multiply contradiction and confusion. What is practicable is a jointly resolved stand between the PMLN and the PPP to stand up to terrorism. On the other items mentioned by Mr Sharif, the two parties must ensure the enforcement of the Charter of Democracy. *