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Pakistan Today Editorial – 23rd May 2016

Pak-Afghan strains

And US pressure

For some time now Islamabad has not been acting, or even reacting, fast enough to keep pace with developments on the Afghan front. Strangely, there was hardly any stir even as Kabul pulled the plug on the talks and sent the QCG into a tailspin. And the Sartaj Aziz-Tariq Fatemi split – which typifies Nawaz Sharif’s minister-less foreign ministry – only increased the confusion, as usual, after Afghanistan’s obvious snub at the Quadrilateral’s meeting last Wednesday in Islamabad. If there are no talks, and there is still no action (against the Taliban), then there’s not much in the QCG for them, they plainly said.

Yet Sartaj quickly followed with ‘Taliban are not yet ready to talk’ while Fatemi said what he always says, that ‘Pakistan is doing everything possible to bring both the Haqqanis and the Taliban to the talks’. Neither impressed anybody, of course. The US House of Representatives, too, has tied aid to far more concrete ‘do more’ than before. Either show the Taliban, or show some Haqqanis, and let go of Dr Afridi, along with a lot more, or the National Defence Authorisation Act 2017 (NDAA) will block $450m of aid due to Islamabad.

Now, of course, the situation is further complicated by the apparent assassination of Mullah Mansour. Taliban are again headless; which has its advantages as well as disadvantages. The Americans seem confident of progress now. But the Afghans simply expect Pakistan to hand-pick another commander. Islamabad must move quickly to dispel this notion. If Pakistan has really gone the extra mile for the QCG, it has done a bad job of selling it. And its clueless representatives do not make its position any better. Surely the government, and the establishment, realises well that the Afghan outcome will determine the future with America. A lot, therefore, is at stake. If all our partners have viewed our ‘sincere efforts’ as mere stalling so far then a major policy appraisal, at least, is urgently due. And regardless of how much others might have misunderstood us, nobody can deny the need to put our own house in order.

Dire necessity

And a bit of irony

On Saturday Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif accompanied by wife Kulsoom Nawaz and son Hussain Nawaz visited Gilani House. A week earlier Shahbaz Sharif had made a similar pilgrimage. The stated purpose was to congratulate the Gilani family on the return of their son after three years of captivity. The real motive, as highlighted by the media, was to seek PPP’s political support on Panamagate. In 2012, soon after Yousaf Raza Gilani was convicted of contempt of court, Nawaz Sharif demanded that he resign forthwith “without causing further crisis”. Shahbaz Sharif too had issued a similar call. One can hardly miss the irony in the situation.

The come down on the part of the Sharif brothers has been dictated by dire necessity. Corruption is the talk of the town with the Sharif family under focus on account of Panama leaks. The CJ maintains that corruption and incompetence are eating into the country and retarding its march towards prosperity. Across the board accountability is necessary for the solidarity, integrity and prosperity of Pakistan, chimes in the COAS. The army chief further insists that any exercise in accountability has to be across the board. The joint opposition meanwhile is bent upon starting the process of accountability with the Sharif family. The Sharifs desperately need the PPP’s support.

Unlike August 2014 when the PPP bailed out the PML-N government, the system is not under threat. Even if Nawaz Sharif is required to leave office after found to be involved in the Panama scam, another PML-N leader can take his place with the support of the majority the party commands in National Assembly. Besides taking credit for weakening the PML-N, PPP would have two years to work out alliances and seat adjustments in Punjab, possibly even with the PTI. The PPP can however ill afford to make a U-turn after having taken the lead along with PTI in the ongoing campaign for Panamagate enquiry. For one it cannot forgo its own demand for starting the process of accountability with Nawaz Sharif.

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