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Reversing course

March 30, 2014


THEY don’t want trade. And Nawaz has given them what they want.

They’re all trying to play it down. You’ll see; we’ll get this done. Just wait a bit. What’s a few months in the larger scheme of things?

But keep probing and the shoulders begin to sag. They don’t want trade. They don’t want normalisation. And the civilians don’t know what to do about it.

The non-event of a trade deal with India that was to be signed with much pomp and ceremony falling through has received little attention.

That makes sense. The game-changer was still some way off. Other stuff was happening in Pakistan.

What doesn’t make sense is why Nawaz backed down.

Nawaz was the guy who was supposed to have got it. Turn east, not west. The boys’ obsession with the eastern border had led to fears on the western border that led to choices that had engulfed Pakistan itself in flames.

The way out was obvious: turn east, not west. Normalise ties with India, tamp down militancy domestically, then wait for the peace and security dividend.

Instead, Nawaz has turned his back on the east and focused his attention on the west — just to keep Fata from spilling over into Punjab.

What the hell happened? This isn’t small-bore stuff, this isn’t tactics — this is the whole bloody game itself.

You don’t make that switch and pretend that nothing’s changed. The whole edifice of hope in Nawaz v3.0 was built on that dual assumption: he’d open up to India and slap down militants.

So, what happened?

The boys scuttled the deal. As simple as that.

That nonsense about Foreign Office reservations, issues over timing and special interests objections is just that — nonsense.

Special interests in trade and industry had been won over and appeased for a while. Everyone — everyone — knew about the Indian election and had an eye on the clock. And the idea that Tariq Fatemi or Sartaj Aziz would scuttle their boss’ signature policy initiative is risible.

No, Foreign Office is code because there are two foreign offices: one that the boys control, the other that the civilians nominally head. And consensus is also code: it’s not intra-civilian where the consensus was missing, it’s civ-mil.

If we know who Nawaz yielded to, more difficult is to fully figure out why.

The first step is easy enough to guess. It’s a tale of two deals: one with the TTP, the other with India. Both deals need the boys’ assent and both deals the boys are opposed to in the shape and form Nawaz wants.

So Nawaz chose: dialogue over trade; west over east; more-of-the-same v game-changer.

You can see why he did it: the dialogue option is his idea, he’s staked his political reputation on it and he’ll be judged by the outcome.

But then trade was his idée fixe — it was the thing that had defined him, the conviction that had given birth to a thousand hopes.

Nawaz probably thinks nothing has changed. That politics is about moments — now is the moment for peace, so get the dialogue done and then return to trade in a few months’ time.

Except, it doesn’t work that way. Concede so early and the next time becomes harder still. The enemy has seen weakness and the enemy’s been playing this game for longer than Nawaz has been around. Six months is the new 90 days.

Still, in his mind, he may believe it isn’t capitulation, just smart play, a tactical retreat.

It’s what came next that tore away the fig leaf and ripped everything to shreds.

March 23 Pakistan — but Punjab in particular — became jihad central. There they were, the anti-India lot, running around the country, telling everyone what the meaning of Pakistan is.

You know why they did it. The TTP has been dominating everything. They are everywhere and all that anyone can talk about.

So the other lot had to remind everyone that they’re still around, that they aren’t about to be pushed to the margins and that the TTP isn’t the be-all and end-all of all things Islamist.

But why did Nawaz let them do it, on that scale, on his own turf?

He, or one of his eager minions, could have hit speed dial and said: Hafiz bhai, you are like a brother to us and a true patriot. All of Pakistan will always be grateful for the services you have rendered to the nation. Can we humbly ask for a small favour: please, keep your activities low key on Sunday? We will be truly grateful, Hafiz bhai.

Hell, they could have even come up with a ruse. Every other day, the Punjab government is rounding up kids and getting them to set some silly world record or the other.

It’s March 23. Take a few thousand of them to Minar-i-Pakistan and have them sing the national anthem while draped around the minar or bake the world’s largest cake shaped like the national flag or build a human pyramid in green and white.

And before that ring up Hafiz bhai and request him, humbly, to not steal the Punjab government’s thunder and to not compete on that day with essential politics.

But nothing of the sort happened. What did happen was that the man running Pakistan allowed the men who would like to run Pakistan to run around his province spewing hate and venom.

Paralysis? Drift? Looks more like capitulation, really.

The writer is a member of staff.

Twitter: @cyalm