Can Pakistan? Can the PM? Can the Army?

By Dr. Haider Mehdi

There is a method in the madness.
– a saying adapted from Shakespeare’s Hamlet

In all seriousness, I cannot figure out on my own: Was the decision to start a military operation in North Waziristan made in Islamabad by the incumbent civilian leadership of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, or was it decided in GHQ, Rawalpindi, exclusively by the top military brass?

Notwithstanding whoever made this decision and the rhetoric surrounding it, it appears that, ironically, the entire nation is ecstatic even on the symbolic code-name “Zarb-e-Azb” (Strike of the Sword) without fully comprehending the true nature of the problem and the ultimate consequences of the military operation underway. And indeed, there arises some very serious questions, such as: Why was this military operation launched at this precise point in time, when both Imran Khan and Tahir-ul-Qadri planned public meetings against the PMLN administration next week? Is there some sort of intended political mileage to be gained by the PMLN administration in diffusing Imran Khan’s and Tahir-ul-Qadri’s growing public movement against the incumbent government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif – that is, if the PMLN leadership has ordered this operation? Why wasn’t the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government consulted and informed ahead of this military operation? Has Islamabad and GHQ planned a full-scale public safety management strategy to deal with the possible fallouts of this operation all over the country, in terms of security threats and the deteriorating law and order situation that is likely to follow?

But above and beyond these political matters is the humanitarian concern of internally displaced families. Is this Pakistani government fully prepared, absolutely organized, and completely coordinated to deal with an influx of thousands of families as they flee escalating violence in and around their homes, as curfews are imposed, and as Air Force combat jets lead the military offensive with air strikes? Unfortunately, as of now, such preparations do not seem to have been taken or organized on a priority basis. vs - Automobile Portal Comparison

Then there are vital policy issues that need to be carefully analyzed and considered in the context of prevailing ground realties. Let us start with the “terrorists” last week, and their assault on Karachi Airport. It should be clearly obvious to our political managers and military leadership that the “objective” of the “terrorist attack” was not the physical occupation of the airport. They had come with a precise “goal” to tarnish Pakistan’s image in the international community as an unsafe and violent country. In actuality, the “terrorists” succeeded in their “objective.” The press has reported that Cathy Pacific has cancelled all its passenger and cargo flights to Karachi indefinitely. Some other international flights might follow. The intended harm to this country has been done. Today, Pakistan looks like a pariah in the making, if not a complete outcast at the moment.

So the next question is: Why would a group of “terrorists” want to make Pakistan look like an outcast in the eyes of the entire international community? Dig in a bit and you have the answer – Pakistan is the only Islamic country that is a nuclear power.  It is perceived as a threat to the vested political-military interests of some powerful nations who are in pursuit of a “New World Order” for the continuation of their dominance and hegemony over an emerging international system. Turn Pakistan, by covert activities, into a “Failed State” – de-nuclearize it by a United Nations action. I rest my case.

Obviously, there is a direct link between the terrorist attacks in Pakistan and the funding of these groups from within and from outside. So what do we do to save our necks? Here are some strategic policy initiatives that I wish to suggest:

1)     Pakistan should immediately initiate direct engagement with the Afghan Taliban leadership with a commitment to support their legitimate integration in the Afghan mainstream political process. The fact is that the Afghan Taliban have massive public support and, sooner or later, their political comeback is inevitable. In return, Pakistan should request Mullah Omar to help us organize a dialogue with Pakistani ideological Taliban for peaceful negotiations for the settlement of all political issues.

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2)     There is no other person anywhere more knowledgeable and more understanding of the Afghan Taliban’s political conduct, psychology, modus-operandi, and their military and political strategic thinking then General Hamid Gul (Retd.), the former ISI chief. It would be instructive for Islamabad-GHQ to assign him the role to approach Mullah Omar directly and negotiate a peace process with the Pakistani ideological Taliban through the reclusive Afghani Taliban spiritual-military leader.

3)     While the Pakistani military remains stationed in North Waziristan, the local population should be engaged in identifying the terrorist elements that commit acts of terror for financial gains, receive funds from overseas, and act as proxies of foreign agencies for covert activities against their own nation.

4)     Pakistan should seal the entire Pak-Afghan long border with barbed wire and monitor it with strict technological surveillance. It can be done and the expense will be far less than conducting an indefinite and expensive military operation in the area.

5)     Terrorism has become a colossal and extensive profit-generating business all over the country, run by many criminal gangs under the guise of the Pakistani Taliban movement – specifically in major cities. To tackle this nationwide malignant problematic, intelligence services all over the country have to be updated and upgraded with the help of local residents in the management of their respective areas in each of the cities.  Pakistan needs to engage its citizens in direct participation of their local affairs by a structured change at the base level of its society. Informed citizens are a sure guarantee of a peaceful and stable society.

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Let me put a word of serious warning here. An exclusive extensive military operation in North Waziristan could end up being a minefield with a host of unpleasant unintended consequences. The nation must stop this from happening. We need serious visionary leadership to tackle the problems this nation is confronted with today. Can Pakistan?

As a political analyst and a student of human conduct, this is what I understand of the political behavior of Pakistan’s incumbent Prime Minister, as the civilian leader of the country at this point in time: The PM is a prisoner of his own mindset. He is a staunch believer in the traditional status-quo doctrine of personal power – unchallenged, unshared, and unquestioned. It is not surprising given his life history. Now the question is: Can the Prime Minister escape from his own prison, leave behind his outdated personal doctrine of unshared power and absolute adherence to the economic-political conception of an oligarchy – all those negative elements that have held him back from conducting democratic governance – and usher himself into a happy and prosperous future of learning how real democracy works. Can the PM?

Pakistan’s military establishment, in itself, is a unique and powerful national institution. It operates within its own parameters of a strict institutional paradigm. Its leadership has a trained, disciplined, and organized force at its disposal. Now the question is: Can the military establishment transform itself into a viable source of assimilating political ground realities, and see the dangers implicit in an exclusive military operation in North Waziristan that can cause a host of unintended consequences such as a vicious cycle of terror all over the country? Can the military establishment?

The real task is to save Pakistan and its people – give them peace, stability, prosperity and security.  The ultimate questions today are: Can Pakistan? Can the PM? Can the Army?