Defeating the Taliban is the only option
By Izzud-Din Pal
Sunday, 17 May, 2009
THE insurgency in Swat and Malakand region and the existential threat of Talibanisation should have been used as a unique opportunity by the PPP-led government to establish a comprehensive plan to address the multiple questions of which Talibanisation is only one manifestation. Localised military operation cannot deal with the larger issues relating to national identity, to political instability and economic underdevelopment.
Also in the atmosphere of the crisis invoked by militancy, direct rapport by the top leadership with the people would have served as a strong morale-building strategy. There are some fundamental questions involved here such as territorial integrity of the country and the ideology of the Taliban. (Concerning the latter, see my article in Encounter, May 02. 2009). Only on May 7 Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani took to the airwaves to deal with this urgent matter. It was too little, but may not be too late, if Mr Zardari and his colleagues would put their act together and make a concerted effort to open a meaningful dialogue with the people.
The problem with Mr Zardari is that he seems to lack what may be called the soft power of communication. His style which he has brought with him in his responsibilities for governance is to rely exclusively on closed-door organisational and Machiavellian political capacity in order to achieve his objectives. Lacking in real experience as a political leader, he relies heavily on a small kitchen cabinet of his cronies. As the events have unfolded, his style of governance has now come almost full circle.
Mr Zardari has found out that it is easier to cobble up coalitions, governing is a very lonely business as Harry Truman used to observe. It is the supreme test for the person who aspires to have this top job.
In the national elections held in February 2008 two majority parties emerged in the country, the PPP and PML-N, respectively. Contrary to the wishes of the people, General Musharraf carried on as ruler, albeit sans the military uniform. In September 2008, however, Mr Zardari took over the presidency through an indirect election and assumed all the powers inherited from the previous regime. As a civilian president, to hold military style powerful position is inconsistent with the spirit of democracy and can create flaws in leadership, and they have, as demonstrated by his participation in the recent tripartite meetings in Washington DC.
The PPP government is now faced with the Taliban insurgency at home which has brought it face to face with the international implications emanating directly from the situation. The ANP move for Nizam-i-Adl was a short sighted approach, from the point of view of national interests. Was it aimed at solving Pakhtun problem for the Pakhtuns is difficult to say. Historically, Pakistan has been faced with strong centrifugal tendencies and this could be one demonstration of the renewed phenomenon.
In fact this problem has never been resolved, from Liaquat Ali Khan’s Objectives Resolution to the present times. Islamic brotherhood among people in East and West Pakistan tuned out to be a pipe-dream; the anti-Qadiani movement of the early fifties almost derailed the unity of the country; then, later the creation of one-unit of West Pakistan, sponsored by landed-interests, failed in its objective; and the relations between the centre with the provinces have never been resolved even though according to the 1956 and 1973 constitutions Pakistan was to be a federal republic. Under the weak civilian regimes and the long military rules, this principle has been followed more in breach than observance. With Asif Zardari, greater attention has been given to consolidation of power than matters of governance, i.e., policies, plans, programmes about the pressing issues facing the country regarding education, poverty, and health of the ordinary people. The legislative record of the parliament has been very disappointing.
On the international front, the latest drama played in Washington presents a depressing spectacle. From all the reports in the media, it is evident that the mission led by Mr Zardari left the Obama administration as well as the Congress unsure about Pakistan’s case; there was no coherent policy and the message was never articulated effectively. (Emphasising ‘my’ democracy was not entirely helpful). The mission was of course paid for by the taxpayer for the entire entourage, from Bilawal Bhutto Zardari to the valet to the president.
Now that the military operation has started in full swing in Swat, it is of paramount importance to build a viable political machinery in Islamabad through a home-grown framework. Any US-sponsored reconstruction of the government in order to handle the situation would create more problems than it would solve. Similarly, a mid-term election under the present circumstances would further exacerbate the political atmosphere in the country. The party should focus on the core issues which are important for the survival of Pakistan as a modern state: first, to restore the 1973 constitution to its original consensus status and, second, to amend the constitution to integrate the entire frontier region to the east of Durand Line into the body politic of the country.
Whatever links were established between the state and society in the formative years by the recurring and short-lived civilian government were neutralised by the military regimes. They mutilated the document to legitimise their rules and weakened the direct link between government and the people. The 1973 constitution was an imperfect document but it was the result of intense negotiations between Mr Z.A. Bhutto and representatives of the alliance which had challenged his leadership. The country can move forward only by returning to this document.
This point is important because there is a nexus between the version of Islamic Order that was incorporated by Ziaul Haq in the constitution and the revival of traditionalist interpretation of Islamic law. As is well known, this has become a seriously divisive phenomenon in the society, where emphasis on the Quran and Sunnah unites the people but the Shariat with its multiple interpretations divides them. Once again this reality must be properly emphasised.
The Tribal Areas have been an anachronism which might have made sense in 1947 when Pakistan was born. Around 1955 when the Basic Principles Committee report was being finally prepared, the issue should have been carefully examined. The need for dealing with this unfinished business was loudly pointed out in the First Five-Year Plan, 1955-60, which suggested that to have a tribal belt in a backward state was incompatible with the ideal of democratic republic. It was ignored.
As I have pointed out elsewhere (Encounter, July 12, 2008), the important business concerning the consolidation of the state has never been taken into consideration. With the dismantling of the One-Unit of West Pakistan in 1971, the tribal territory was divided with agencies adjacent to Balochistan and NWFP mandated to these provinces and the remaining agencies forming into Federally Administered Tribal Areas. This was only an organisational change, and no more. The old colonial pattern remained intact.
The move to settle the constitutional vacuum about the area, therefore, will confirm that the real responsibility about this issue lies with the government, not the military, because the military can perform its duties efficiently only when the political leadership is willing to own the problem. For a sustainable solution the focus must be on Islamabad, not just on the military. Also, integrating the area will provide the government with an opportunity to focus on economic development, on building the infrastructure including facilities for educating the young. Fortunately there are several knowledgeable persons in the country available who are thoroughly familiar with the structure of the society, of the tribal configurations, and who can make significant contribution to this task.
But it will be an immense undertaking; the region is no longer a no-man’s land. If the military operation succeeds in Swat, there will still be more obstacles to overcome, especially in South Waziristan where the Taliban already seem to have established an autonomous rule.
What are the chances of success for these two constitutional amendments? In some respects they will complement each other, aimed at clearing the legacy of the military dictators, stopping fragmentation of the country, and enhancing the legitimacy of the government. The real obstacle might come from within the PPP coalition. Behind the façade of self-proclaimed secular predilections, it is not easy to differentiate between the PPP and other right-leaning parties.
This will nevertheless present a test to the parliamentarians as representatives of the people to show how committed they are to upholding the constitution which demands that laws of the country must be applied uniformly to all citizens. The alternative, not to act on the amendment, will be tantamount to abject surrender of sovereignty.
The position of the MQM is well known with reference to Nizam-i-Adl, and of a couple of lonely members from the PML-N and PPP. Others will have to stand up and be counted.
Articles 246 and 247 of the constitution had become redundant long time ago; they were kept alive to promote specific vested interests. For the sake of protecting and promoting the identity of the nation, the region would need massive assistance for its economic and social reconstruction, from Pamir Plateau to Mekran Coast.