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Smokers’ Corner: Good luck, gentlemen

Updated May 26, 2013
Chief of the Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.—File Photo
Chief of the Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.—File Photo

In a recent speech, the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), General Parvez Kayani praised the nation for rejecting the threats of the extremists by coming out and voting in the May 11 general elections.

Within a month the COAS has made two speeches in which he has come out clean in reiterating the military’s narrative and stance regarding the menace of extremist insurgency and violence in the country.

Never has a leading military man been so clear and categorical in owning the ‘war against terrorism’ in Pakistan.

Not only did things in this respect remained vague, uncertain and muggy in the civilian political circles, the military too, whose men are on the frontlines of this vicious war, remained somewhat hesitant in fully defining Pakistan’s role in the conflict.

In spite of the fact that ever since 2002, thousands of Pakistani civilians, soldiers, policemen and politicians have been killed by the extremists, Pakistan’s civilian and military circles remained largely uncommitted and fuzzy about the required narrative that was needed to inform the nation and consequently attract its support for the war.

In the absence of such a narrative, the task fell on the laps of the populist electronic media and certain political parties.

Playing to the confusion set off by the unabashed acts of terror by the extremists and almost perversely explaining the war as an extension of ‘American imperialism’, the media and some opposition parties created exactly the kind of uncertainty and doubt that the COAS tried to counter in his speeches.

Rightly and timely, the COAS was more concerned about how a narrative generated by the populist media and the opposition parties about the war was now affecting the soldiers fighting an enigmatic and almost ghost-like enemy that is not rolling in from across the Indian border nor parachuting from the skies. It is emerging from within our own cities, towns and mountains.

Nevertheless, his recent statement has come at yet another intriguing period in the country’s topsy-turvy history.

In a few days time, two centre-right parties, the PML-N and the PTI, will be forming governments in the centre, the Punjab and the KP.

The parties that were part of the last ruling coalition, the PPP and the MQM, and under whom the military carried out various operations against the extremists, have been relegated to Sindh. Another anti-extremist outfit, the ANP, that too was part of the former coalition, has been wiped out in the KP after the May 11 elections.

Both PML-N and PTI have been strong advocates of holding peace talks and dialogue with the extremists.

The two’s strong showing in the Punjab and the KP in the May 11 elections now gives them enough democratic credibility and right to put their dialogue-theory into practice.

Of course, this will not be the first time that a civilian government would be entering into a major dialogue with the extremist outfits. The PPP-led coalition almost handed over Swat to them after one such dialogue and deal in 2009, until the deal was unabashedly broken by the extremists, and the military had to be sent in to wrest back the control of the area.

The extremists vented out their rage on the three main parties of the former ruling coalition by killing over a hundred of these parties’ supporters and leaders just before the May 11 elections. Even more painful was the collateral damage that occurred during the terror campaign in (mainly) Karachi and the KP.

That said the PML-N and PTI now have the mandate in the Parliament and in the Punjab and KP Provincial Assemblies to correctly claim the right to put into action what they believe is a better idea to win peace for the Pakistanis. Supposedly, the offer for a dialogue has come from the extremists, but only if parties such as the PML-N, PTI and JI are involved. Fair enough.

These parties should be given all the space and support that they require in this respect because they’ve earned it through the vote. But one will be watching with great interest how men like Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan negotiate with a rigid group of men who not only reject the Constitution of the country and democracy, but also consider a majority of Pakistanis to be false Muslims, if not outright heretics.

Eyes will be fixed more on Nawaz Sharif whose party, the PML-N, has the largest number of seats in the National and Punjab Assemblies.

Also, as a politician, he is far more seasoned, mature and perhaps more temperate, than the impulsive, inexperienced and somewhat brash, Khan.

If both these parties actually manage to make the extremists end their campaigns of terror, it will be nothing short of achieving a miracle.

But how much are they willing to compromise to achieve this?

Will the extremists be asked to join the mainstream scheme of things? If so, then as what? They hate shrines, CD shops, cinemas, even paan shops (!)

And what if the talks fail? Is there a Plan B?

Let’s hope peace does come and the extremists finally realise that when over 60pc Pakistanis poured to vote, it was a sign that they may be suffering from war fatigue but their trust in democracy is robust, now more than ever.

Also, both Mian Sahib and Khan must bear in mind that peace is achieved with honour and not at the expense of sullying the memory of the 50,000 Pakistanis killed in this war.

It is the people who elected your parties for stability and good governance and — this is more for Khan — not because of your fancy theories and whims.

Good luck to you both. And may win peace — either way.