Pakistan is facing an existential threat and our confused leaders seem to have lost their ability to understand and process the information being given to them by national security institutions. Or so it seems at least.
PTI leader Naeemul Haq’s tweet immediately after the all-party conference, which was briefed by the army chief then and the ISI chief last year, that his party had been told there was only a 40pc chance of success of any military operation in North Waziristan, didn’t trigger much controversy at the time.
But when the same statement was repeated by PTI chief Imran Khan in a television interview this week it raised serious concerns about how weak the government’s hand would be at the negotiating table. After a few days’ silence, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan denied the statement that Imran Khan attributed to the prime minister and the former army chief.
This intriguing difference of opinion on such a key issue at a time when the slightest sign of weakness will be pounced upon by the already belligerent and bloodthirsty Taliban makes one wonder if the military said anything at all like this or was this a misinterpretation or misunderstanding of what was said.
My conversations with some military sources suggest they have no doubt they have the capacity to regain control over North Waziristan and deny the terrorists space within a few months of the commencement of any military operation. However, these percentages are mentioned more in the context of the impact of any such exercise on the overall terrorism picture across the country.
These sources say it is already apparent that the terrorists have spread their tentacles well beyond their safe havens and now operate at will in many parts of KP and the country’s commercial hub, Karachi.
“What we have been saying is that the counterterrorism capacity, especially in the police forces, in these urban, semi-urban areas has to be built up rapidly. Equally, we feel all intel needs to be funnelled through one hub and shared by all involved wherever they may be,” one source said.
“Any realistic, professional assessment of the situation on the ground has elements of a whole picture selectively plucked out and presented out of context to suit one school of thought or the other. Anyone who believes that surgery on this fatal, festering wound will be pain-free and without risk must be foolish or naive. But can we survive without it or find a way around it, is a question for the government not us.”
Perhaps, this is where the confusion is creeping in: whether the military has become truly subservient to the democratic dispensation and abandoned its legendary assertiveness having reconciled to the changed reality and constitutional demands or is merely deferring to the government because it wants shared responsibility or no responsibility at all for what is going to be a long drawn out and often bloody fight isn’t clear.
On the other hand, politicians, some of whom have long taken their cue from their mentors in GHQ and Aabpara, are now finding the ball in their own court and flapping around desperately and not finding a lift.
Many would surely be captives of their own obfuscation of the terrorist threat and its causes. Whether their stance was ideologically motivated or fear-driven or outright ill-informed and naïve is immaterial now. What counts is that most of them are blundering and dithering purposelessly while the Taliban mount one spectacular attack after another.
And at a time when pressing national issues should be the top priority for our leadership, they seem to be taking a huge amount of interest in regional and international affairs. Now if it were only Afghanistan occupying a major chunk of their thoughts, it would be understandable as whatever happens in our Western neighbour in the coming months will have a direct bearing on us.
But shuttling back and forth to conclude military training agreements with Saudi Arabia (to train God knows whom — extremist elements among the rebels Riyadh backs in Syria if Western media accounts are to be believed) when we need to dramatically raise the capacity of our own counterterrorism police and paramilitary forces seems to hint at skewed priorities. We should know from experience that every single jihadi we have trained for deployment on foreign soil has found his way back to haunt us; our current predicament being one glaring example among many.
In terms of the region, President Karzai has said Kabul will come to an agreement with Washington for a reduced (but continuing) US troop presence after the ‘pullout’ so the Taliban (good, bad, ugly, whatever) may have a more preferred target there than vying solely to set up an Islamic Emirate in Pakistan as a unified goal beyond 2015.
It can’t be stressed enough that well beyond any operation, the long-term bulwark against the forces of darkness will be a serious attempt to tackle poverty and distributive injustice in the country, a concerted effort to have an education system for all worthy of the name and exceptional governance.
Let’s hope once they reach the conclusion that flight is not an option and they have to fight, our leaders can rise to the occasion and deliver on the true meaning of the word. Meaningless gestures, grandiose projects, empty words won’t steer us to safety. Only gritty leadership can. Do we have it?
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political aspects , Political parties , Political leaders , Military operation , Democracy , Terrorism , Taliban , Terrorists , Imran Khan , President Karzai , Ch Nisar Ali , Naeemul Haq , Afghanistan , Saudi Arabia , Pakistan , Waziristan , Karachi , PTI , ISI , GHQ