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The centre is not holding

The centre is not holding

Author: Anees Jillani
Publication: The New Indian Express
Date: April 17, 2009
URL: http://www.expressbuzz.com/edition/story.aspx?Title=The+centre+is+not+holding&artid=TQ9B3ITeJYQ=

The son of an elderly man was killed recently. The father, while accepting condolences, loudly thanked God. When people enquired at the reason for his gratitude, he remarked that God had been kind as at least the eyes of his son were not hurt during the brutal killing. Our reaction in Pakistan is fast approaching this state of affairs: the writ of the government is eroding, and almost everybody perhaps for the first time is seriously worried about the survival of the state. The worst may happen but the consolation all will have is that at least we had a democratically elected people's government at the helm of affairs at the time.

Many say that civilian rule in Pakistan is like a 'commercial break' in the country's polity between two military regimes.

General Pervez Musharraf appeared benevolent compared to his predecessor military rulers. He enjoyed goodwill during his initial days, but his decision to rule the country indefinitely resulted in an inevitable loss of public support. A stage was reached, which incidentally happens almost invariably during all military tenures in Pakistan's history, when all the political parties united to oppose any future military takeovers.

One had hoped that all concerned, whether politicians, bureaucrats, or the armed forces, had learnt their lesson, and would surprise people by ruling efficiently, honestly, and in a transparent fashion.

The result, however, is there for everybody to see. The economy is in a mess, with hardly anything to cheer about. The loadshedding is unbearable, and going to become more so once it gets hotter; the rumours about commissions, acquisitions, and dishonest practices abound; and the almost daily terrorist occurrences in some part of the country is like the last straw.

We have absolutely nothing to cheer about, except an unlimited dose of rhetoric, which the TV news channels thrust upon the nation on a 24/7 basis.

Is there a solution to our problems, or is the situation totally hopeless? When the interior minister was asked if he would seek foreign support to investigate the involvement of Pakistani terrorists in the Mumbai attacks, he said that Pakistani investigators and police are no less than any other. He lost his cool on the next natural question: why then was his government spending millions of dollars to get foreign experts to investigate Benazir's assassination? After the April 4 attack on a frontier constabulary check-post in Islamabad, the same advisor stated that Pakistani forces were untrained, and measures would be taken to train them. I hope that I am not the only one confused.

The Mujahideen have been in existence since 1980 when Pakistan launched its jihad against the Soviets. Some of them became Taliban by the mid-Nineties, and took control of Kabul, with Pakistan's active support. Pakistan was one of the three states in the world that recognised them as legitimate rulers. It is a different matter that Pakistan lost no time handing-over the Taliban Ambassador to Islamabad to the Americans soon after the latter's attack on Kabul, which is something unheard of anywhere.

The Afghan government led by Hamid Karzai has been blaming Pakistan for a long time for most of the terrorist activities on its soil; Pakistan of course denied that, until it was made to believe this by the repeated visits of top US officials including deputy secretary of state for South Asia.

Pakistan then decided to control these 'rogue elements' based in its tribal areas who are classified as foreigners. The nightmare started and continues till to date.

Emboldened by the successes of Taliban based in the tribal areas, the religious forces of the Swat Valley, who had been lying dormant since their disastrous adventure to fight the Americans in Afghanistan in 2001, started flexing their muscle.

As if the confusion was not enough, the 'freedom fighters' fighting the Indian occupation of Kashmir based in Pakistan also got angry after the Musharraf government decided to rein them in, following the attack on the Indian Parliament. The sectarian forces led by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, and based God knows where in Pakistan, have never been under anyone's control.

All of the above appears to be complicated but is not uncontrollable if the will to fight is present among the rulers, including the armed forces. One needs a vision, coupled with a strategy. What instead is being constantly experienced is simple drama-bazee: In-camera session of the Parliament to discuss it; one enquiry after another into the terrorist incidents, and special sessions called by the president and the prime minister to discuss security issues.

There is nothing to say that Pakistan's armed forces cannot defeat the Taliban: their numbers are not so huge, and they definitely are not as well equipped as the army. However, they can only be fought once we start to fight. A few days of fighting are followed by negotiations, and peace deals, which eventually break down, and then a little more fighting.

No steps have so far been taken to control the supply of arms to these militant forces. Pakistan is now one of the few countries in the world where arms are being manufactured openly without any licensing procedures, and sold openly, without the customers in the tribal areas bothering to acquire an arms licence.

No one has ever questioned the rationale of the tribal areas in the first place. This is a legacy of the British, and there is no justification for having such no-man's lands in our country, which is unprecedented elsewhere in the world. How can the people of the tribal areas be brought into the mainstream, unless and until we give them the same rights and privileges as everybody else in the country? They are still not governed by the laws of Pakistan, and instead are subject to the barbaric Frontier Crimes Regulations which entitle political agents, who invariably are corrupt due to the nature of their job and the presence of a huge drug, arms and other sorts of smuggling mafias all around them, to detain even a baby that's a few months old for decades under the doctrine of collective punishment.

The government should initiate legal reforms in all the tribal areas of the country; abolish the status of the provincially administered tribal areas; control the supply of arms to the militants; clamp down on the drug smugglers and other smugglers; fence the Pak-Afghan border to manage the constant trafficking of militants on both sides of the border; and draw a line beyond which the government cannot negotiate.

It all sounds so simple, something that is doable. The problem is, who is going to do this?

- Anees Jillani is a prominent Pakistan Supreme Court lawyer

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