Karachi’s tough cop Chaudhry Aslam Khan, a leader of the terrorist-battered Awami National Party (ANP) Mian Mushtaq, several security personnel guarding the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Amir Muqam and, of course, the hero of Hangu, young Aitzaz Hassan were all martyred at the hands of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in the past several days. Elsewhere in the world such attacks would have triggered a swift and befitting response by the state, but not in Pakistan. Why would it be any different now?
Had this country not opted for inaction when Benazir Bhutto was martyred? Did it move at all when the lionhearted Bashir Bilour was slain? Before that, did the state not fail to budge after the deaths of the Inspector General Police (IGP) Malik Saad, Superintendent Police (SP) Khan Raziq and scores of ANP workers in one bombing? Pakistan, it seems, has a remarkably high pain tolerance. Every time agony is inflicted on its people by the terrorists, the Pakistani leadership squanders the opportunity to build consensus for decisive action. Choosing dithering and confusion over resolve and clarity has become the hallmark of the Pakistani state.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s timely but tepid recognition of the sacrifice rendered by the 15-year-old Aitzaz and Mr Imran Khan reprimanding his own government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for failing to reach out to the young hero’s family is somewhat of a departure from the past but why could Mr Sharif not be his usual magnanimous self in honouring Aitzaz? The boy rendered the ultimate sacrifice — his conscious decision by all accounts — laying down his life to save his schoolmates from a terrorist maniac. What more could he do to earn the Nishan-e-Shujaat, the top civilian award for gallantry? Why did the prime minister settle for the third highest award, the Sitara-e-Shujaat, is better known to him and is his prerogative. However, he may wish to consider that if only the Pakistani state had the guts to grapple with terrorists like Aitzaz did, things may have been different today.
Mr Imran Khan’s statement is welcome but, yet again, he condemned only the murder and not the murderers whom he calls his brothers and ‘our people’. His coalition partner, the Jamaat-e-Islami’s (JI’s) Liaquat Baloch called Aitzaz a shaheed (martyr). Just months prior, the JI’s chief had called the TTP ringleader, Hakeemullah Mehsud, a martyr. Mr Khan and his JI partners cannot have their jihadist cake and eat it too. They will have to choose sides. Aitzaz is a martyr and Hakeemullah was a merciless killer and thug. The TTP may be Mr Khan’s ‘own people’ but they are enemy number one of the Pakistani people. Mr Khan and the JI types cannot have it both ways — they must come clean on terrorism. The opium of negotiations that they have been peddling has paralysed the Pakistani state. Mr Khan, with massive help from the media, has reduced the complex issue of jihadist terrorism to merely a reaction to the drone attacks. His solution is fantastically simple too: talk to what is the lunatic fringe even among the terrorists. The Pashtuns are facing an existential threat: families are moving out of Peshawar in droves, the jihadist extortion is rampant and the TTP is encroaching upon the outskirts of the city. It is no different in Charsadda, Mardan and Nowshera. The people do not have the luxury to wait for Mr Khan’s experiments in governance.
However, the ultimate responsibility to pull the country out of this morass still rests with Mr Nawaz Sharif. His interior minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, has been shooting — or more accurately talking — in the dark. It seems that he has ghost emissaries reaching out to ghost Taliban and conducting ghost negotiations. The process that Chaudhry Nisar has been promising for six months never did take off. There were no talks before the TTP honchos Wali-ur-Rehman and Hakeemullah Mehsud were killed and none whatsoever afterwards. The interior minister owes the people a candid explanation. Someone recently wrote that the interior minister is leaning towards a Plan B, i.e. military action against the TTP. The fact is that the PML-N government is merely plodding along and has no comprehensive plan whatsoever to tackle the militancy nationwide.
Whatever the PML-N’s understanding with the Punjab-based jihadists is, it seems to be working. Nawaz Sharif’s government appears in no hurry to take the terrorism bull by the horns so long as the beast remains in FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The PML-N’s cavalier attitude to even its preferred solution of talks is reflected by reportedly asking Maulana Samiul Haq to act as an intermediary with the Taliban. It cannot be lost on the government that, as recently as a few weeks ago, the Haqqani network men were conducting prayer services for their assassinated leader Nasiruddin Haqqani in the vicinity of Maulana Samiul Haq’s Haqqaniyah Madrassa in Akora. The PML-N has to get its act together, and soon. Relying on Samiul Haq types is a recipe for bigger disasters.
The Taliban are trying to project power but, by all accounts, still remain on the ropes. There is bickering among various TTP factions and with their transnational jihadist cohorts. A spike in extortions — including in Islamabad — and new recruitment videos indicate an element of desperation in the TTP. The Mehsud faction apparently is refusing to share the kitty left behind by Hakeemullah. This is when the state has its chance to assert its power instead of the interior minister’s wishy-washy statements about how difficult it is to fight terrorism. Mr Nawaz Sharif must put his house in order if he wishes to do something meaningful about the TTP hordes. Given the abysmal performance of some of his lieutenants, he may even have to consider a cabinet reshuffle. He simply cannot afford to have his ministers waffling at such critical junctures.
The military seems inclined to take on the TTP and General Raheel Sharif’s tribute to the hero of Hangu was perhaps the most unequivocal one in Pakistan. Whether the military will abandon its Afghan proxies is highly suspect but, unless it cuts them loose, it may just be chasing its tail. However, for all of that to happen, the narrative has to be wrestled back from the jihadists’ advocates in the political parties and the media. This is where Mr Sharif will have to take charge, pronounce his vision clearly, set the goals and cut through the confusion spread by TTP apologists. Things as they stand are untenable but is Mr Sharif up to the task? Unfortunately, his tepid outrage over terrorism suggests otherwise.
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