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Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.— File Photo
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.— File Photo

ISLAMABAD: The PML-N government officially announced on Wednesday that it would hold an all parties conference on July 12 “to discuss and evolve a national strategy to curb militancy and address the overall law and order and security situation in the country”.

Before leaving for China where he will be staying till July 8, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif issued an official statement about his decision to convene a meeting of heads of all political parties represented in parliament.

In his speech in the National Assembly on June 18, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan had indicated that the government planned to take all political parties sitting in parliament on board to formulate a national security policy.

Besides energy crisis and economic challenges which the PML-N government blamed on its predecessor, a sudden spike in terrorist attacks over the past four weeks has taken the prime minister and his cabinet by surprise. Some political observers were of the opinion that being a centre-right political party its government would be spared by the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other militant outfits, but the myth stands shattered.

Except Lahore, all three provincial capitals — Quetta, Peshawar and Karachi — have suffered attacks resulting in the killing of scores of innocent people. So much so, the TTP killed 10 foreign mountaineers in Gilgit-Baltistan on June 23.

It will be interesting to see if Mr Sharif continues to stick to his old stance — talks with the TTP — he had taken in recently held APCs, at a time when militants have refused to give any room for discussion to the new government.

The PML-N chief was the main speaker at the JUI-F-sponsored APC held in Islamabad on Feb 28 which unanimously agreed to negotiate peace with militants through a broadened tribal jirga.

The JUI-F was given the task of convening the jirga, but the initiative lost the steam because of political parties’ focus on the May 11 elections. Signed by about 30 political and religious parties, the declaration said: “All the religious and political parties and Fata elders participating in today’s APC announce that the present, interim and the next elected government and the (future) opposition will be bound to implement all the steps agreed upon.”

The declaration’s main focus was on dialogue with the Taliban.

Earlier on Feb 14, the Awami National Party had also held a multi-party conference, but in-camera. It too supported calls for negotiations with militants. Although Mr Sharif didn’t participate in the conference, his PML-N supported its outcome.

Now in the government, and confronting the increased terrorist attacks, mostly claimed by the TTP, the PML-N leadership has no option but to take a leading role in developing a consensus on how to counter the menace. In a recent statement, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chairman Imran Khan also urged the prime minister to take the army chief on board because without military’s input and agreement there could be no effective counter-terrorism strategy.

But to make suggestions or recommendations as an outsider and to be in the thick of things are entirely different scenarios which the PML-N leadership must have realised in the short span of four weeks.

The PPP government also had its share of APCs on the similar issue of law and order and militancy which were also attended by Nawaz Sharif.

On Sept 30, 2011, then prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had managed to get heads of all political parties as well as entire top military leadership under one roof.

Mr Sharif was one of the leading participants in the meeting which adopted a 13-point resolution asking the government to take an initiative with a view to negotiating “peace with our own people in the tribal areas” and putting in place a proper mechanism for the purpose.

Mr Sharif had put some tough questions to the military leadership on the occasion. Although it was an in-camera meeting, Mr Sharif was widely quoted by the media as having criticised the security establishment for running the country’s foreign and defence policies in total disregard to parliament. He called for putting everything on record before parliament.

There has been no change in the military leadership, except former ISI chief Lt Gen Shuja Pasha who has been replaced by Lt Gen Zahirul Islam, since Mr Sharif gave his opinion on militancy at the PPP-sponsored APC.

Now Mr Sharif is prime minister and also holds the portfolios of defence and foreign affairs. It can be anybody’s guess if his government will wait for November when Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani is due to retire, to formulate its new security policy or go ahead forthwith considering the serious level of threat posed by militants.

Coming months will determine the future of civil-military relationship in the country.