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Frankenstein moment

September 21, 2013

IF the all-party conference was expected to clear the air about Pakistan’s stance on terrorism, it seemed to have left it murkier.

The talks were over in less than a day. A resolution was hurriedly pushed through. And only — if some of the participants irked at not being given an opportunity to speak at all are to be believed — because the president’s inauguration was scheduled for that afternoon.

The resolution called for talks with the terrorists, renamed stakeholders in the document. Stakeholders for Murder &Mayhem Inc. was so subtle, even respectable, a form of address that its meaning seemed to have been completely lost on its intended target.

For what other explanation can there be for an IED (improvised explosive device) attack targeting the vehicle of the GOC of the area in Malakand merely a week later? Maj-Gen Sanaullah Khan Niazi was killed along with two other soldiers.

For once the fast-heading-to-extinction ‘secularists, liberals’ and their conspiring sponsors in foreign capitals, who spare no effort in tarnishing the image of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and attributing nasty motives to it, were grateful to the terrorist organisation. Perhaps, it’s more politically correct or expedient to call it a ‘stakeholder’.

Yes, one of the stakeholders, which the APC had resolved to talk to spoke and spoke so loud it was deafening. The same TTP spokesman whose statement welcoming the talks offer had been gleefully seized upon by its ideological cronies owned responsibility for the attack on the general.

The TTP spokesman credited its Swat chapter (under the command of that psychopathic Mulla Fazlullah aka Mulla Radio) with the bombing. Faced with the TTP’s murderous own goal, those having a soft corner for it were stunned but quickly regained their composure.

Leading luminaries in this group included the Jamaat-i-Islami ameer Munawar Hasan. Appearing in a TV programme he was visibly reluctant and unable to condemn the attack and was content with expressing sorrow. That is where his restraint ended.

He pulled no punches in condemning ‘pro-US’ elements and ‘secularists’ because they were “conspiring” to use the general’s murder to derail the talks. I, for one, would be very keen to borrow the Jamaat’s ameer’s microscope to confirm evidence of the extinct species he blames for all of Pakistan’s ills. But at least give him marks for being unambiguous and clear.

The PPP and Awami National Party perhaps acted democratically in allowing the majority party, the election winner, to have its way in the name of peace. Therefore, it was clear who would call the shots, once the APC was preceded by an exclusive meeting between the prime minister, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf leader and the army chief.

And those calling the shots had demonstrably put their faith in talks so much so that they hadn’t even considered making their offer conditional to a ceasefire. Once the TTP targeted the general, all parties to the ‘consensus’ APC resolution seemed to be running around like headless chickens.

The government took its time to react to the attack and did so in strange, ambiguous terms as it stopped short of outright condemnation of the TTP and stuck to its talk stance. Issuing the statement was the easy part.

When confronted by journalists who questioned their stance and thinking in the wake of the IED attack, important members of the cabinet such as retired Lt-Gen Qadir Baloch were only able to offer their ‘personal opinion’ rather than reiterate and defend the government’s position.

Where just a couple of days earlier, Imran Khan had claimed the resolution was a vindication of his long-held stand and that even its wording reflected his party’s thinking, he was silent for a day and then, appearing ashen-faced before the media, condemned the TTP.

This statement where he said he couldn’t believe something like the attack on the general had happened and that it was ‘very damaging for Pakistan’ he still backed the talks, as did the government and the rest of the opposition. But not before his party’s senior leader Asad Umar had also expressed reservations in his ‘personal capacity’ at the way the process was being taken forward and appeared horrified that there was no mention of a ceasefire in the offer.

If key party leaders and even cabinet members are forced to qualify any opinion they express as personal, the internal consultative process in democratic political parties leaves a lot to be desired. By contrast all members of the Jamaat-i-Islami, for example, are on the same page in such areas.

The confusion we see today among our elected representatives as well as in the military leadership frankly reflects the views of the larger society on existential issues such as the causes of rampant terrorism in the country.

We didn’t get here accidentally. A state that has laid store for so long by militancy to provide itself a mirage of security, of strategic depth, an ideological launch pad to pursue even legitimate objectives such as Kashmir, is now facing a stark reality not dissimilar to what Dr Frankenstein faced.

We can be likened to a supertanker headed for disaster. Many of us can see that. The question is do we have what it takes to change course, turn the vessel around or at least point it away from the iceberg? Like you I would be very happy to say yes. I don’t know though if that would be an honest answer.

PS: The plea in last week’s column for some information on one Zakria Hasni of Khuzdar and ‘death squads’ in Balochistan has yielded a rich bag. Hopefully, will be able share some of the information in the coming days.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.