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June 7, 2015



Fewer APCs and more action

In the aftermath of the Mustang tragedy, yet another all-parties conference was been convened by the chief minister of Balochistan which was chaired by the prime minister with the COAS and DG ISI in attendance. Earlier on, in May, an APC was held after a brutal attack on a bus carrying members of the Ismaili community near Safoora Chowk in Karachi.
In the various attacks since the Peshawar tragedy, terrorists have clearly demonstrated a departure from the past tactics of striking well-guarded targets which required lengthy planning, greater resources and consumption of foot soldiers. Those attacks would make headlines but also unite politicians for an appropriate response in which the terrorists would suffer significant erosion of their fighting potential.
The latest attacks on transportation used by lower income groups in relatively less populated areas – with perpetuators getting away from the scene of the crime – are planned and executed relatively easily. Since it is virtually impossible to guard every bus across the length and breadth of the country, the obvious implication is that the enemy can continue to bleed us for as long as it wants. For some time after the Peshawar attack it seemed that we had checked the dastardly and spiralling incidents of violence but now it appears that they have again got the initiative. This will test our counterterrorism strategy to the limit.
The Karachi and Mastung bus attacks have another dangerous and wider dimension of disrupting cohesiveness of the people of Pakistan. Admittedly, ethnic issues do surface across the land from time to time, but they rarely boil over. The Ismailis are a peace-loving community, and Baloch and Pakhtuns in Balochistan have lived in harmony for decades.
These attacks have coincided with other disturbing developments like, the ‘thorny’ statement of Indian defence minister, and reported allocation of sizeable funds by the Indian government to derail the China-Pakistan

Economic Corridor (CPEC). There was a time during the Kargil misadventure when some in the military mistakenly boasted that we have the Indian neck in Occupied Kashmir under our knee. Now it seems the shoe is on the other foot.
If these are not acts of war by a neighbouring country, one wonders what else is. Pakistan must, therefore, seek clarification from India on these counts and if it fails to assure respect for our sovereignty and hostility towards genuine aspirations of its people for their future economic prosperity, then it should seriously consider recalling its ambassador in New Delhi for consultations as a first step and later downgrade diplomatic relations if India chooses to continues on a path not consistent with good and friendly relations between two countries.
If news of India allocating funds to derail the CPEC is correct, then it is more than likely that the thrust of this effort will be from the north-west. It is, therefore, important that gains made with the new Kabul regime are not squandered. There can be no genuine and long-lasting peace in the region till the last terrorist cell is uprooted from both Pakistan and Afghanistan; for this sincere cooperation between the two countries is absolutely crucial.
Holding high-level consultations such as APCs and apex committee meetings after such heinous incidents to take stock of the situation and chart out appropriate measures for the future are in order. But there is now growing public perception that it is becoming rather too frequent and more of an exercise to divert public attention. The perception arises out of the failure of the government to make discernible headway on the National Action Plan on which there is a consensus of all the political parties but their enthusiasm (including that of the ruling party) is waning with the passage of time.
After the Quetta APC, the prime minister stated that his government would not hesitate to take tough decisions but this has now become more and more frequent rhetoric as the situation on the ground with respect to implementation of decisions taken while formulating the National Action Plan remains more or less static. The NAP was adopted after weeks of consultation with all political parties and gives the government a mandate to act decisively and swiftly. A prominent journalist recently pointed out in this space about the lack of progress in various areas of the NAP.
One doesn’t have much sympathy with former president Asif Ali Zardari or the chief minister of Sindh who, between them, have brought the governance issue in this province to rock bottom. The octogenarian CM is simply not capable to rule while Zardari, even if we ignore all the fulminations of Zulfiqar Mirza, will just not change his stripes. But it does not seem fair to make them punching bags during the apex committee meetings in Karachi. The government, for the sake of its own credibility, should also take off its velvet gloves in other provinces when dealing with law and order situations.
The prime minister’s concerns at the political level, which could be coming in the way of fuller implementation of the NAP, are understandable. For one, he is keen on completing the full five years term of this government, which in all fairness, is doing a lot better than the disastrous tenure of Zardari. Completion of a five-year term for a democratic dispensation is no doubt a laudable objective but it needn’t be an end-all purpose if tough decisions threaten to rock the boat. In fact, if Nawaz has a gambler streak in him, he could well consider calling early elections sometime in the not too distant a future and rule another term while he is on a high and his political foes are in disarray.
Nawaz also wants to be remembered in history as the chief architect of the CPEC and wants to give a decent forward momentum to various projects therein before the next elections. The Indian posture along the Line of Control in Kashmir and the Working Boundary to create instability at a time when we are intensely engaged against terrorism internally calls for a cautious approach for which the government deserves credit. But at no point should it ever lose sight of its fundamental constitutional duty to protect the life and property of Pakistani citizens.
On another tack, no visit to my village is complete without a stopover at the ‘hujra’ of an old saint who is in a class of his own when it comes to wisecracks. After the usual warm-hearted welcome, he ordered the tea boy to serve us ‘kehwa’ – and added with a naughty wink, ‘yo putey da posto doda hm pakey wachawa’ (add a dried out poppy bulb to the water at the boil). The concoction was absolutely refreshing.
Just then a middle-aged man with a strange stringed contraption over his shoulder passed by which the old man explained as something producing a rhythmic ‘dohn dohn dup’ sound when operated to recycle soiled cotton in the beddings of villagers before the onset of winters. For want of a better name for his trade, the man carrying out this function is lovingly called ‘Dohn Dupp’ by the people.
I didn’t know where this was heading till the old man perked up and said, ‘Your government in Islamabad is much like this Dohn Dupp’. He went on to explain that no matter where this man sits in the room, the fluffy flakes of recycled cotton always fly off towards the same corner of the room. To clear any doubts he added that whatever the prime minster says about the western or the eastern routes of the CPEC, the economic benefits of it will always fall east of River Indus.
The message is very clear – in the public mind all economic development in Pakistan starts in Punjab and ends in Punjab. This is a dangerous perception and must be corrected by the government through actions not words.
The writer is a retired vice admiral.
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