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The general’s dream

In an informal meeting with a group of senior journalists, Chief of the Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani insisted, “The army does not have any intention of derailing the democratic process”. In the wake of the rumour mills spinning into high gear he went a step further and said “It is my dream that free, fair and transparent elections take place on time”.

Dreams are important because they give hope; they represent a desire accompanied by expectation or a belief centring around a possible success. One can only trust that the general’s dream is not a daydream but backed by a strong commitment to turn it into a reality. However, as Anais Nin once suggested: “Throw your dreams into space like a kite and you do not know what it will bring back”. It could be “a new life, a new friend, a new love, a new country”.

But the problem is that when you dream alone it stays just as a dream. It takes the collective dream of a nation to translate a vision into a reality. The good news is that we have a soft-spoken, mild-mannered general who is a dreamer. But the bad news is that he may be standing alone.

Unfortunately, what has been happening from Peshawar to Quetta to Karachi reveals only doom and destruction with no respite in sight. The Neros of our times are just busy fiddling when the country is burning. Karachi alone is losing ten billion rupees a day because of uncertainty and chaos. Against this backdrop, even with the help of a high-powered, state-of-the-art telescope, I do not see clearly how elections will take place.

Kayani has done a fine job of handling internal and external threats despite having little political support. There has been constant provocation from the Indian side. Military establishments are being targeted by terrorist organisations with the army at times suffering heavy losses. He frustrated Indian designs to ostracise Pakistan from the Afghan endgame. He succeeded in convincing US and Nato commanders that nothing could move without Pakistan.

What Kayani has done to bring about a metamorphosis of the military strategy forcing Americans to come to their senses about withdrawal is something for the history books. This, of course, is the role of the army and they did it with success, pride and some grandstanding.

Given our history, the army is perched on the horns of a dilemma where an effort to solve a problem only leads you back to the original problem. Constitutionally, the army’s role is to look after the territorial integrity of the country whereas the ISI is responsible for intelligence within the services as well as externally. Who stopped the political leadership from organising or strengthening the civilian security organisations? The political leadership is responsible for the present governance fiasco. They take pride in completing a five-year term – thanks to General Kayani and, in a large measure, to Nawaz Sharif for his ‘friendly opposition’.

The entire term remained engulfed in a swirl of scandals marked by corruption in every department of governance. If they were serious they would have formulated a comprehensive blueprint for economic uplift, health and education. Instead they are still entirely wrapped up, in the dying days of this government, in flagrant abuse of national coffers. Wild spending, a largesse being lavished on cronies, and serious mismanagement – all this under the jaundiced eye of the Election Commission.

Violence is tearing the country apart. The enemy is known but the authorities are impervious to shame. Terrorists control swathes of land and hideouts with solid financial and political backing, and a regular supply of lethal weapons with no one around to rein them in. In this act, all politicians are equally responsible.

Police and other security agencies grumble for being poorly equipped. More than half of the police in the entire country are entrusted with protocol duties. The other half are battered and navigating in unchartered water. Merit has been snuffed out and political appointees are having a run of luxury.

This leaves us with a big question mark about the possibility of holding elections unless we have lost our marbles and are willing to open the floodgates to large-scale carnage. The way the Sindh inspector general of police has been removed will inflict damage to the morale of the police force, which is already bursting at the seams. Fayyaz Laghari is one of the finest police officers and the Supreme Court should have avoided the temptation of making such a knee-jerk decision. The enemy is much stronger, well-trained and moves with military precision. We need a leadership with national backing to fight this menace.

The talk of truce with the TTP is eyewash. If politicians were serious or had the capacity they would have acted earlier. Maulana Fazlur Rehman had a couple of meetings with the corps commander Peshawar but failed to put up any solid ideas. There is no chance of a political opening with the TTP when it doesn’t recognise the writ of Pakistan and abhors the idea of elections under the 1973 Constitution. A negotiated rapprochement is out of the realm of possibility. The Karachi scene is not a “law and order situation” as declared by President Zardari. It is an existential threat which cannot be handled by the police alone and needs to be reviewed in proper perspective.

An estimated one-third of the weapons supplies meant for US and Nato troops are in the hands of the Taliban militants and are being used against Pakistan’s military and civilians. This includes highly sophisticated weapons such as M-4 rifles, lasers, jammers, silencers, night vision goggles and highly effective communication devices.

The US has pumped an overall $16.5 billion for training and equipment in Afghanistan. A huge pile of weapons out of this has gone unaccounted for and has obviously found its way to the Taliban. An inquiry ordered by the Pentagon was hushed up for reasons so far kept away from public eye. This speaks volumes about the might and mettle of our enemy.

The endgame in Afghanistan is an additional threat to Pakistan’s security. The biggest issue confronting US/Nato forces is executing an exit strategy that guarantees safe passage to the troops and withdrawal of highly sophisticated weaponry.

The Taliban, on the other hand, are determined to inflict maximum casualties and snatch weapons. An honourable exit strategy cannot be executed without Pakistan’s full cooperation. This catapults Kayani again into a position of utmost importance. This also allows him a free hand to manage the internal security of Pakistan.

The 158th Corps Commanders meeting “undertook a comprehensive review of internal and external security environment of the country”. General Kayani is obviously seized of the gravity of the situation. In Karachi he got special briefings on the Karachi and Quetta situations. Later the general conveyed his personal concerns and the disquiet among the corps commanders to the president.

The sequence and synopsis of the ongoing security situation necessitates a quick strategic response. Instead of staying ensconced within the GHQ, Kayani must step forward and help the civilian administration install an interim prime minister whose integrity is above board and who has a good understanding of the nuts and bolts of governance.

We need someone like Syed Fakhar Imam, General Jehangir Karamat or Roedad Khan. The prime minister thus installed should put together a broadly constituted national government after declaring an emergency and should be tasked to cleanse the Augean stables internally and externally. An interim national government – not a bloodstained election at this point – holds the key.

The writer is a former information minister at the Pakistan embassy in Washington DC. He used to be chairman of the Pak-Afghan-US-Trilateral Dialogue on Agriculture.

Malik Zahoor Ahmad, "The general’s dream," The News. 2013-03-12.