Helter skelter | Pakistan Today

Helter skelter

Mindless tug of war

I have had the good fortune of spending seven glorious weeks of the last nine in Europe feasting on the super, extended summer weather, good food and incredibly good company. It is wonderful to catch up with a really good friend in a relaxed atmosphere, especially if he has recently undergone the rigours of an elongated stint in political office. The mysterious smile when quizzed says it all. Besides being an outstanding analyst, his cerebral insight is fascinating.

While order is dominant in Europe, it is totally absent in Pakistan. Perhaps in other countries of this region too, but it is the significant factor behind the retrograde trend in progress and development. Lack of education and an absence of any studies in logic and ethics lead this conflict of ignorance. Added to this is the lack of will on the part of stakeholders to enforce order as it would define and demarcate operational parameters, which is a horrible affront to absolute power, even if garbed in democracy.

Someone wrote the other day that Musharraf had no idea of the fallout when he released controls on the media. I believe that to be absolutely true. The electronic media to which Pakistanis are addicted is a prime example of the lack of order. The talk shows need to be billed as the prime guide to lack of order. Among the sadly illiterate and semi-literate, the subjects for discussion, the participants, the content, the conduct and senseless speculation are fanning the flames of discord and creating confusion. So yes, he had no idea but in the years following when signs of decay were visible, no attention was paid and no code of ethics was implemented. In fact the irrational November 3 crackdown had exactly the opposite effect, giving media an unbridled hand to go to town. And it has done just that.

Media coverage of terrorist activities is out of sync with the norm. This is not an attempt to silence it, but for media to aggrandize these horrible events is ridiculous. It is feeding the executors of carnage with free publicity and spreading fear among the people. Hours of unabated live coverage of the ridiculous drama in Islamabad were again quite unnecessary. Bloody, macabre scenes are repeatedly screened without consideration of the audience or the effect on children. Anywhere in the world such scenes are preceded by a warning. Alas, here no one cares. There is a refined way of covering these events with a sense of propriety and providing a logical analysis rather than the theatrical and hysterical rendition. The onus is on the government to direct channels toward this.

Two good things have happened this weekend; let them not be drowned among the many bad. I was impressed with Altaf Hussain’s statement yesterday when he called upon media to refrain from speculating on the appointment of the next COAS. Citing all the valid and correct reasons he made a powerful argument. Well done! An assignment that is strategically of the utmost importance and to be made constitutionally by the prime minister is not for speculation or controversy. In real terms it is a routine decision as and when it falls due. It is unbecoming when you subject this to guesswork, especially by those who are not competent to do so.

The second is the “beefed” up security ordinance promulgated yesterday. It certainly defines, perhaps even more specifically, acts of terrorism, declares terrorists as enemy aliens and accepts government’s responsibility of providing security of life. Whether these laws already existed in the constitution or not is perhaps not an important question now, however if they did not exist, perhaps we should question why not. All said and done ordnances or acts are as good as those that are empowered to implement them. Look at the multitude covering a vast spectrum that has never been implemented. Article 6 being a glaring example!

An interesting issue arises from this. Are governments authorized to conduct negotiations or talks with organizations or individuals that fall foul of the definitions contained in said ordinance or law? I do not see a legal or sophisticated way of doing it and given current trends can be challenged legally. Whether courts go into it is another matter. To date they haven’t dared to meddle in cases involving religious terrorism. Normally such laws have been used in the ‘carrot and stick’ method of governance, a compromise foreseen. It is up for grabs whether this is one such instance.

With Imran and Nawaz Sharif throwing the ball rapidly into the other’s court confusion prevails as to whether there is an intention to move ahead with these talks or if it is just jabber. For the PTI it is now a different game. It is responsible for governance, law and order and protection of life of the citizens of KP. Like all governments it is looking for scapegoats on account of the failures to maintain this. It has suffered loss of lives of its own legislators, another tragic one during this long holiday. It becomes easy to pass the buck and insist on certain steps that may not be the best.

Imran needs to tread very carefully. He must not underestimate the intent or wrath of the terrorists he will be dealing with. Passing the mantle to Nawaz to conduct the talks is perhaps a clever way of avoiding responsibility for both, the decision to hold the talks as well as the outcome. I doubt if he could escape the onus though; the voter is seriously scrutinizing him right now and the PTI’s political future lies in how successfully this government in KP is run.

As is, Nawaz will be grilled during this US visit. And he will have to make lucid submissions to Obama as well as the significant others he will be meeting with during this trip. Yes he says he will speak of drone attacks. Again these meetings, apart from being a photo-op, are always followed by structured responses meant to maintain an equilibrium and promise of a better tomorrow. Of course, what happens beyond the visible picture is significant and will probably only filter out as strategic ‘leaks’ attributed to sources who request anonymity.

As a preamble to the visit, the US has released both the CSF funding and aid that was deferred after the “decline” in US-PAK relations during 2011-12. Importantly declassified papers have been, perhaps strategically timed, released from the Clinton library that exhibit a close, cordial and frank relationship Sharif had with the Democrat government of the time. Sharif’s views on the Taliban are clearly expressed and nothing is visible on ground for him to have been forced to change those views over the fifteen years. The Taliban continue to be what they were.

Whatever the prime minister comes back with, he has to face the fact that the US is pulling its troops out of the country, a base in Romania has already been organized to act as the consolidation point, and will ensure the safety of personnel and a clean execution of the plan. Pakistan’s role during the drawdown is of extreme importance and its role after strategically important. A definite plan is of essence right now.

This running helter skelter between chalk and cheese is mindless tug of war. Previously it was whom do we talk to among the terrorist groups; now adding to the confusion it is who does the talking. Fazlur Rahman, Imran, Nawaz are all having their say as are the Punjabi Taliban. And Mr Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has come of age.

I am as confused as when I started this. Ah! Yes! Before I forget a third good thing happened this week. We comprehensively beat the best team in the world. Congrats guys. Fingers crossed for the next one. Keep us smiling.


Imran Husain can be contacted at [email protected].