Signals and postures
Who means what
If the military’s intent behind the chief’s retirement announcement – suddenly, at this point in time – was to quell speculation about the subject, it has clearly not worked. If anything the army’s signalling has stoked the rumour mill. Talk shows are suddenly full of analysts figuring out not what the statement said, but rather what it didn’t say, and what it might have meant. News that the government has allegedly been trying to come up with unprecedented ways to extend the chief’s stay has, of course, only added to the controversy.
It’s not in every country that the army chief announcing his intent to stick to his normal retiring schedule becomes instant ‘breaking news’. What is not breaking news, however, is the civilian-military imbalance that hovers behind such incidents and announcements. Of late, the chatter has not just been about the brass bearing down on important policy matters, but also of the government itself ceding space owing to its own inefficiencies and incompetence. In the fight against terrorism, especially, the military has clearly taken the lead and won the public’s admiration. In fact, the military had to finally put its foot down and go ahead with Zarb-e-Azb; the government was still in favour of talks.
The foreign policy dimension is another example. More than half way through the cycle, the government is still without a full-time foreign minister. Considering that Pakistan is in the middle of crucial, landmark international diplomatic cross-currents, the decision not to have a dedicated foreign minister makes little sense. It is only natural, therefore, that the government is often behind the curve on matters such as AfPak, Pak-India, Pak-US, etc. Gen Raheel has put his cards on the table just when a growing majority feels his personal touch is crucial to the war on terror. For some reason, there are signs – tough the government continues to deny – that Islamabad also wants to encourage the army chief to hang around longer than his mandate. Pakistan and Pakistanis can do without such unnecessary controversy. It is far better for everybody – people and institutions – to say what they mean and mean what they say.
What is missing in fight against terror?
The right mix
The remark by Ch Nisar that while we are winning militarily, we are losing the psychological war against terror is a specious observation. Much more still needs to be done before we can hope to win a military victory. The terrorist groups have suffered heavy losses in the tribal areas, particularly in North Waziristan and Khyber Agency. Finding it impossible to withstand the military onslaught they have shifted to safe havens in Afghanistan to wait out the operation. Meanwhile, Da’ish has raised its head in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province from where it attacked Pakistan’s Consulate in Jalalabad early this month.
The fate of the war against the terrorists operating in urban centres will depend less on military action than on a vigilant NACTA, which has yet to emerge out of the files and get an office and staff. Terrorists meanwhile continue to make their presence felt in Quetta and Karachi. Four terrorist incidents have taken place in Balochistan this month. In Karachi individuals having links with Da’ish have been arrested. In Punjab, where the government had long ignored the activities of the extremists, cases of women travelling to join Da’ish in Syria have been reported. Early this month the Punjab law minister conceded arresting 42 Da’ish suspects. As if to cock a snook at the interior minister, who has consistently denied its presence in Pakistan, Da’ish targeted ARY office in Islamabad. On Thursday the passengers of a Lahore bound rail car from Pindi were saved when a shepherd reported to Motorway police that he had seen a stranger indulging in suspicious activity near the railway track. The terrorist who blew himself up during the encounter was reportedly an engineering student known for religiosity.
Along with an active NACTA equally important is to initiate an all out and comprehensive campaign to root out extremism through media, text books and pulpits. The vital task can be conducted successfully by the government alone but has so far remained totally neglected. As long as extremist thinking persists terrorist networks will never be short of recruits.
Reviewing blasphemy laws
What should be done
It is interesting that Council of Islamic Ideology head Maulana Sherani, of all people, has touched the debate regarding blasphemy laws, offering a review to judge whether they are fine as they are, or need to be further hardened or softened. That he is often about as removed from reality as some of the Council’s rulings are from the real spirit of Islam is not new. But including blasphemy in his long list of dubious and controversial rulings, especially in the current climate, will have graver consequences than usual.
For one thing, the Maulana does not seem to understand that the Council’s provocative positions have stripped it of all relevance and legitimacy. Lately, after Sherani’s infamous scuffle with Tahir Ashrafi, many have openly questioned the Council’s significance especially if people like Sherani and the like are going to fill and head it. But the government, typically, remains absent from the scene; neither reining in the Council’s offensive mullahs nor hinting at saner minds advising the government. That is why Sherani goes on unchecked with spreading an offensive narrative that has been rejected by the people and the government alike, while criticising the PML-N for ignoring Islamic teachings and following western policies.
If the blasphemy laws should be debated, which they must, then CII is not the relevant platform. The debate should take place in parliament, with lawmakers dissecting the pros and cons of the present arrangement and proposed improvements. Religious scholars must, of course, be consulted, but not the like that represent an offensive interpretation of religion meant only to brainwash people and provoke confrontation between different representations. So far no government has had the teeth to confront this problem. And the odd person that does indulge to a small extent is made a horrible example out of. The government must put its foot down before another avoidable controversy is created.