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April 30, 2019

Critical truth

Opinion

April 30, 2019

The recent criticism towards Prime Minister Imran Khan’s ‘confession’ regarding the presence of anti-Iran groups on Pakistani soil is unfortunate. Instead of lambasting the prime minister, critics should have discussed if Khan was right or wrong. There is no harm in admitting the bitter truth. After all he is not the first Pakistani prime minister or politician to have said this.

The N League unwisely tried to exploit this statement but it should remember that its leaders have made similar confessions in the past. What the N League needs to realise is that these elements do not only pose a grave threat to the democratic system of the country but also work against the regional cooperation and development that Nawaz Sharif’s party has been seeking since the 1990s. In fact, Imran Khan’s statement vindicated Nawaz Sharif’s position and as such this statement should have been appreciated by the Punjab-based party.

The PPP also tried to create a nationalistic frenzy over this statement. While it may have a right to mock the prime minister’s knowledge of geography, it should have avoided settling political scores on this serious issue. Making a hard-hitting statement, former foreign minister and current PPP MNA Hina Rabbani Khar said that she was worried for the country because it had, according to her, continually become a laughing stock; she also warned the prime minister that he could not play with the destiny of the country anymore.

It is difficult to understand how saying there are anti-Iran groups on Pakistani soil amounts to playing with the destiny of the Islamic Republic. Can the PPP deny that such groups exist? What are the defunct outfits that Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has been talking about for months? Are sectarian outfits that target a particular religious community here not part of these defunct extremist groups? Instead of lambasting Imran Khan, the PPP should have piled more pressure on the government to carry out a genuine crackdown against extremist outfits, including sectarian groups.

Every sensible person would agree that Pakistan’s security chief should sit with his Iranian counterpart – as Prime Minister Imran Khan suggested – and discuss ways of cooperation on how to deal with the menace of terrorism. The prime minister is right in saying that the two countries should ensure that their soil is not used against one another. Both states want regional cooperation. Both have heavy Chinese investment and are trying to redefine their ties with Moscow, which they viewed with suspicion in the past. There cannot be any regional connectivity if the two neighbours have sour relations.

States have diverging and converging interests but that should not necessarily be translated into animosity. Pakistan may be wary of Tehran’s proximity to New Delhi. It may have some apprehensions regarding the operation of the Chahbahar Port by India but New Delhi also enjoys close ties with the kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the UAE. India has been the largest importer of Russian arms. Now, the US is trying to replace Moscow in the arms business but we want to have good ties with all these states. So, why can we not have cordial ties with Tehran? After all, Iran was the first country to recognize Pakistan soon after its creation and we have deep cultural ties with the Islamic Republic.

Bilawal is right in pointing out flaws in our policy regarding sectarian groups. Like him, every Pakistani is concerned that their presence and activities have defamed Pakistan at the international level and that if they are not checked, the country could face catastrophic political and financial consequences. Therefore, there is a need for political parties to evolve a joint strategy. Political parties should focus on this important issue. Instead of taunting the PTI, they need to join hands with Prime Minister Imran Khan as well as pile pressure on him to carry out a genuine crackdown against groups that have been creating problems for the country.

The next meeting of the Financial Action Task Force is not very far. India will try to use its influence to put Pakistan in the black list, something that may have very negative impacts on our economy which not only needs foreign investment but bailout packages from international monitory institutions as well. More so, after the Sri Lankan attacks, pressure will be placed on states where extremist groups may be present. Therefore, it is important that the political parties of Pakistan evolve a consensus over this issue. They should rather go for a charter that could provide them a mechanism to eliminate extremism and militancy.

Self-serving politics on this issue will not help the country. The government should come up with an education policy that could rid the books of Zia’s legacy. Cooperation by the opposition will only be to the benefit of a nation that has been plagued by sectarianism, religious bigotry and obscurantism.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

Email: [email protected]