IN its first month in office, the government may have got most of the optics right but it is still to come up with a road map to tackle terrorism.
At least for now the appointment of Muneer Malik as attorney general, advertising key public-sector jobs and most of all facilitating a government in Balochistan belonging to Baloch and Pakhtun nationalists are no more than optics.
Look at Balochistan. If the current state of affairs continues with Baloch youth still disappearing and their tortured bodies being found dumped later and if Hazara Shias continue to be slaughtered, how would a Malik government be different to Raisani’s in substance?
Kudos to the prime minister for quickly rushing to Quetta after the latest bombing targeting the Hazaras as this was in contrast to his predecessor, who was moved only by a long-drawn-out protest sit-in by the battered community in sub-zero temperatures last January.
But even this will amount to nought if those suffering are offered no more than the shoulder of a high and mighty to cry on occasionally. More, much more, is expected of an elected government and, so far, nothing substantial seems to have been done.
The prime minister instructed the security set-up in the province and more significantly the all-powerful services intelligence agencies to make hunting down the perpetrators of the Hazara bombing a “test case”.
Unless the prime minister’s instructions are followed up with accountability in case of failure his words won’t amount to anything more than mere bluster. And bluster isn’t going to steer Balochistan out of the crisis it’s been pushed into.
Balochistan’s carefully woven social and ethnic fabric is being ripped to shreds by sectarian terrorists as well as by death squads that, according to some Baloch nationalists, are acting on behalf of the military-intelligence establishment. The situation demands concrete measures.
Not for a moment can one deny the excesses against non-Baloch by the separatists active in the province but surely the state must stand for rule of law. It’ll be useful to remind ourselves that the current round of violence was triggered by Nawab Akbar Bugti’s killing by the military.
All efforts should be aimed at strengthening Chief Minister Dr Malik Baloch’s hands as there can be nobody better placed to start a dialogue with the militants than him. Reliance on murderous thugs can only boomerang as it’ll create a bigger and bigger constituency for the separatists.
It is equally incumbent on Dr Malik and my good friend Hasil Bizenjo to leave the government if at any point they feel they aren’t being given the leeway to make decisions in Balochistan’s interests. They shouldn’t offer themselves as punching bags for someone else’s ‘strategic’ blunders.
Mian Nawaz Sharif must now realise that he must see things from Islamabad’s perspective rather than Lahore’s as his party had the luxury of doing over the past five years. These five years were great and delivered his party many, many benefits.
PML-N ruled the Punjab, was able to ‘govern’ well and also recreate its significant constituency among the bureaucracy and the powerful political groups through patronage. At the same time it gained the sympathy of the masses by effectively using opposition rhetoric.
The party’s greatest achievement was that somehow it was able to remain largely immune to terrorist attacks. Whether the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan didn’t attack the province to avoid incurring the wrath of a majority of Pakistanis or Lahore cut deals with them as is alleged will likely remain unknown.
What is important now is that the governing party has to move beyond all that. The militancy rooted in some of the tribal areas and most specifically in the federally administrated North Waziristan Agency has to be dealt with.
The government has the popular mandate. Whether it wishes first to take steps towards, what many believe will be futile, talks or move quickly to evolve a consensus to take military action is its prerogative. What it doesn’t have is an endless amount of time.
All foreign trips to attract investment particularly in infrastructure projects will remain pointless till the security situation is better. As things stand being able to afford the risk premium sought by those wishing to invest/work in Pakistan would be beyond the country’s reach.
So, the metros, four-lane motorways, enhanced power generation capacity, improvements in basic education and health systems will only remain a dream, unfulfilled manifesto pledges till such time as we are able to sort out the law and order mess.
Without doubt the provincial authorities and the Assembly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa need to worry more about strengthening the security cordon around Peshawar in particular instead of chasing red herrings such as whether the Daewoo coaches stop for prayer breaks.
Equally, the PPP government in Sindh must understand that its win in the last election may be its last victory there if its criminal neglect and alleged complicity in the alarming lawlessness in Karachi continues and if it cannot deliver better governance to its support base in the interior.
It is a great shame that on the one hand the party claims credit for a ‘policy of reconciliation’ aimed at creating a political culture conducive to democracy in the country and on the other can’t ensure the life and liberty of the citizens in the provincial capital.
Karachi is recognised these days from images of rioters, armed police, Rangers and their armoured personnel carriers, the corpses of the murdered and the sobbing faces of those who have lost their loved ones.
Unless the PPP and the MQM (despite being totally taken up by the travails of its leader in his London sanctuary) can join hands to sort out the mess in the city of lights at some point, I suspect, the big foot of the federal government will descend with all its consequences.
Battling terrorism indiscriminately ought to be a collective priority. The sooner we understand this the better it will be.
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
He tweets @abbasnasir59.
The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.