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Words alone won’t do: Kayani’s remarks

Published Sep 17, 2013 07:04am

THE government’s ardent pursuit of talks with the Taliban has largely been met with stoicism from the army high command — until now. Publicly, the army leadership has been keen to play up its deference to the constitutional chain of command and accept whatever decision the civilian leadership takes. Privately, however, the army has been very concerned — and, for once, rightly so. The government’s approach to talks has been dismally supine and defensive and there has been little indication it understands the implications of its actions or the damage it may cause to the fight — and yes, it is a fight, war even — against militancy. In the aftermath of the killing of a general though, the cracks have broken through to the surface and in full public view. Yesterday, Gen Kayani spoke bluntly about not caving in to the demands of terrorists and forcefully underlined the army’s resolve to defeat the terrorists militarily.

Despite his strong words — ones that ought to be emphatically supported — Gen Kayani perhaps unwittingly underlined the wider problem: public ambivalence and indecision by the army leadership over the years. For Gen Kayani to state now that it is “understandable to give peace a chance through a political process” is reasonable — it would be wrong to publicly break with the explicit policy of the civilian leadership. But has the army leadership really done its fair share — and for a country where the civil-military imbalance is very real, that share is a substantial one — in explaining to the country why the fight against militancy is Pakistan’s war and why it must be pursued vigorously? The answer is a clear, and unhappy, no. To his credit, since his Aug 14 speech last year, Gen Kayani has spent the last year speaking more forthrightly about the terrorism, militancy and extremism threat. But it is too little too late.

Has the army leadership dropped its duplicitous policy on drones and publicly accepted who is being targeted and why and what the benefits are?

Has the army leadership publicly distanced itself from groups like the Difa-i-Pakistan Council and sundry right-wingers running around the country trying to stir up trouble?

Most importantly, has the army leadership come anywhere near a zero-tolerance policy against militancy? If it continues to distinguish between the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ militants, the only kind of message the citizenry will get is a muddled one. Yes, the civilians are failing to provide the leadership the country needs today. But has the security establishment provided the clarity and leadership the country deserves?