Prospects at the World Twenty20
Pakistan started preparing for the 2016 World Twenty20 almost immediately after their exit from the One-Day International World Cup last year. Shahid Afridi and Waqar Younis — captain and head coach, respectively — vowed to arrive at a settled combination three months before the start of the mega event. But as the national team enters the competition today, its chances of progressing from a group containing hosts India, Australia, New Zealand, and not to forget the talented Bangladeshis — who will be Pakistan’s opponents today — look quite bleak. Pakistan looked far from a settled combination in Asia Cup and now enter the World Twenty20 with a squad that lacks the kind of firepower that other top-ranked teams possess. While the bowling stocks look decent, the batting continues to be a major cause for concern. The top order consisting of Ahmed Shehzad, Sharjeel Khan and Mohammad Hafeez has often crumbled in high-pressure situations, which means a lot rests on the shoulders of the mercurial Umar Akmal and Sarfraz Ahmed.
A facile win over the even more troubled Sri Lanka in the warm-up game on March 15, would have lifted the morale of the team yet the challenge Pakistan face is a tough one. Bangladesh enjoy a psychological grip over Pakistan on the back of their winning streak against the national team in the past year, while the test that India, Australia and New Zealand will pose will be no less daunting. The leadership is also worried as Shahid Afridi has, of late, made the headlines for all the wrong reasons. The captain struggled to lead from the front in Asia Cup and the over-the-top reaction to his pro-India statement in Kolkata is likely to dampen his mood further. The World Twenty20 is the swansong of his chequered two-decade-long international career. Afridi would want to exit on a high. Can he at long last get the ‘happy ending’ he has been dreaming of? On paper, this looks to be a daunting task, but never say never when it is Pakistan and Afridi you are talking about.
Caving in to the wet spell
The rain and snowfall across much of the country over the past five days have left a trail of destruction and misery. Scores of people have died and many more have suffered injuries as the skies burst open, releasing a torrent of heavy rain in Punjab, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan, parts of Sindh and Azad Jammu and Kashmir. Predictably, as persistent rain lashed plains and snowfall pounded mountainous areas, mud houses and other weaker structures, vulnerable when exposed to the elements, in many instances either collapsed or had their roofs caved in, entrapping the unwary residents in the rubble. There have been some tragic incidents of entire families being wiped out as the roofs of their mud houses collapsed.
The mine collapse incident in Orakzai agency, where rescuers pulled out at least eight bodies three days ago, is also partly linked to the rains. Fatalities and damage to property in the heavy downpour of recent days have been substantial, exposing the inadequacy and ill-preparedness of our civic and disaster management authorities to handle the situation. It may be something of a rarity, but the strong weather system gripping the country these days was precisely forecast by the Meteorological department well in advance. Which leaves authorities little excuse not to have done their homework and mounted adequate response to the emergency. While some untoward incidents may have been unavoidable, the local authorities do not seem to have done enough to move people in the most-affected areas to safety. Also the fact that so many have died in roof collapses indicates that little has been learnt from past experiences and not a lot of attention is paid in the country towards building houses that can withstand the wet spell. It is no less than a shocker that eight buildings collapsed in Mardan district alone. Also, given that rain often leads to flash flooding, every precaution must be taken by the authorities to ensure that their emergency response systems are well-prepared and that residents are warned if there is more bad weather ahead in the coming days.
Now for plan ‘B’
There was always going to come a point when Operation Zarb-e-Azb rolled to a conclusion. It has been long; and a lot of blood has been shed, a lot of treasure expended. On March 14, at the Corps Commanders’ meeting in Rawalpindi Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif emphasised the need, now that the operation was in its final stages, to consolidate the gains made, if the north-west region is to have any return to peace and stability. He also emphasised the need to increase intelligence-based operations across the rest of the country if the infrastructure that supports terrorism is ever to be dismantled and terrorism itself defeated.
The reality is that terrorism is never going to be entirely defeated. It never has been anywhere else in the world, and there is no more reason to believe it is going ever to be wholly eradicated in Pakistan as any other nation-state. It can, however, be effectively fought and mitigated, reduced to the occasional horrific incident rather than a daily backdrop made of a bloody curtain.
The terrorist groups operating in Pakistan are heavily dependent on support in the civilian population — and General Sharif is well aware of this. He knows that unless the civilian government follows up military success with equal success in de-radicalising entire swathes of the population, and snatching the narrative, the initiative, from those that would see the state brought down — then his efforts and those of our men that fought and died will have been in vain.In that sense, the state is at a crux. The repatriation of the temporarily displaced persons (TDP’s) is the vital next step to accomplish successfully. They are the sea in which militancy swam and prospered. It is true that there was coercion but there was also willingness to provide succour, a willingness fostered by decades of neglect and indifference to say nothing of a benighted colonial administration that remains inept and corrupt. It is a shift in that paradigm that will ultimately determine the success or otherwise of Operation Zarb-e-Azb. Time to energise plan ‘B’. Today.