Challenge for politicians

Published December 18, 2014
A view of the MPC meeting. — Courtesy Prime Minister House
A view of the MPC meeting. — Courtesy Prime Minister House

A day after the deadliest terror attack in the country’s history, the political leadership gathered in Peshawar to focus on the militant threat and, crucially, to develop a unified response.

That Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, PTI chief Imran Khan, former PPP prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf and sundry other national leaders, including from religious parties, chose to address the media together suggests that at long last the political leadership understands the need for unity in the face of the militant threat.

Whatever the complexities of crafting a meaningful and effective anti-militancy plan, no strategy can have any possibility of success if the country’s mainstream political leadership does not own it and fully support it.

Also read: PM chairs MPC on Peshawar tragedy

For too long, despite several multi-party conferences before, fighting militancy has been seen as the sole responsibility of the party in power, with other political parties either doing little more than paying lip service or, often enough, scuttling the possibility of clarity and unanimity with doublespeak.

Now, seemingly stirred by the monstrousness of what happened on Tuesday in Peshawar, meaningful unanimity appears to have been achieved.

Political consensus alone, however, will not create a meaningful strategy. Prime Minister Sharif yesterday announced that a committee under the leadership of Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan will devise a policy in seven days to fight militancy.

Perhaps the political leadership meant to sound serious and purposeful, but it is not clear what really can be achieved in seven days that could not be done yesterday at the conference. After all, the government already has a nearly year-old National Internal Security Policy in place.

Then, four different parties are running the provincial governments in the country and each of them is intensely familiar with various facets of the militant threat. Finally, the mainstream political parties of the country have attended APCs before on the militant threat and also been briefed in parliament by the military leadership. So why not announce immediate steps and wait seven days?

With the hard decisions deferred, it will be even more difficult to maintain a consensus in a week’s time, given that there are fundamental differences among the various sections of the political spectrum on how to define terrorism, let alone how to defeat it.

If there is already reason to doubt that a meaningful anti-militancy strategy will emerge in a week’s time, perhaps it can be hoped that the sheer savagery of the Peshawar attack will not allow the usual style of politics to reassert itself so quickly.

There was also another important development yesterday: the military leadership’s dash to Kabul for urgent talks. That is key because the country’s leadership has a choice: either develop a full-spectrum, civilian and military response now or allow the military-led response to militancy to continue. As Peshawar so tragically demonstrated, a military-only response to terrorism is not an adequate strategy.

Published in Dawn December 18th , 2014

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