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Pakistan Today Editorial – 29th March 2016

Islamabad under pressure

And a PM full of clichés

How typical of the prime minister to claim winning the war a day after one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in our history. And he didn’t forget his usual rhetoric, either, about ‘fighting the fight to the last terrorist’, etc, even as the death count from Lahore mounted. Of course he had a lot more on his plate, especially with Islamabad choked and the police unable to control a frenzied mullah protest rampaging across the city. It’s not every day, after all, that the 111-Brigade is invoked to defend the capital. Usually democracy is under grave threat when such mobilisation takes place.

Yet despite being caught off guard in Islamabad the government did little to improve its own position. Interior minister Ch Nisar, usually very sensitive about his turf, took a day to hold a couple of his serious meetings about the security of the capital. And the prime minister, after taking his sweet time after the attack to address the nation, chose his usual clichés instead of a quantifiable, point-by-point breakdown of the plans ahead. He also acted as if there was nothing out of the ordinary about the military apprehending protestors in the red zone.

The last two days have exposed glaring weaknesses in the PML-N, both in Punjab and at the centre. It is little surprise, in hindsight, that the military had to take control of both situations. And it says a lot that both Sharifs were far from the scene just when bold and courageous leadership was needed. With time, people have come to expect little from the democratically elected leaders than empty rhetoric and hollow promises. And, unfortunately, the politicians have only themselves to blame. Yet again, even in the face of tragedy and breakdown, the leadership could do little except repeat what it always says; all will be well soon enough.

Finally, army and Rangers operation in Punjab

And government still lags in performance

Punjab government had long resisted demands to initiate an operation by Rangers in the province maintaining that the provincial police was fully capable of dealing with the terrorist threat. The devastating terrorist attack in a Lahore park, which killed over 70 including a large number of children, once again exposed the hollowness of the government’s claim. A high level security meeting at GHQ presided over by the COAS has decided to immediately launch an army operation against the terrorists and their facilitators across Punjab. The Army and Rangers personnel conducting the operation would send their reports directly to the concerned corps commanders. The COAS will personally oversee the operation.

The fact that the army had decided to undertake the operation indicates its dissatisfaction with the ongoing civilian efforts to control terrorism. What a clueless Nawaz Sharif said in his address to the nation indicated that the government is neither contrite over its failures now does it have any concrete plan to overcome them.

What needs to be watched is the course the army operation takes in days to come. It remains to be seen whether it is going to be a brief intervention targeting only those who planned and facilitated the Lahore carnage, or like the Rangers operation in Sindh turns out to be a long term multi-purpose operation that targets possible facilitators from the political parties also. It would also be watched keenly if the operation is across the board or suffers, as in the past, from cherry-picking.

Nawaz Sharif has postponed the long awaited US visit in view if the new situation at home. The government needs to fully cooperate with the army-led operation while improving the performance of the civilian law enforcing bodies. The Prime Minister needs to realise that the best way to stop army from transgressing into the civilian turf is to be well ahead of it in performance. Sluggishness which characterises the government can be dangerous for the system.

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