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Duelling statements

November 15, 2015


The writer is a member of staff.
The writer is a member of staff.

THERE was a time, in the not-too-distant past, that the Paris attacks would have led to an automatic prayer here — please, let there be no Pakistan connection.

North Waziristan used to be the fulcrum of global militancy. The Pakistani cocktail of jihad attracted the world’s would-be terrorists and murderers. Al Qaeda was king.

Now, the world has moved on. The Middle East has gone to hell. IS is the new king. Pakistan is more stable than it’s been in years. And, outside Afghanistan and India, no global act of terror automatically evokes the Pakistani spectre.

Yet, here we were this week, squabbling again. And, for once, it’s the boys who looked weak.

The Council of Elders met this week and told us that the boys are better at their job than the

civilians and that the civilians need to get their anti-terror act together.

A year ago that would have been a cue for national pandemonium. But something funny happened this time: there was no real crisis.

Sure, sections of the media went into a tizzy and the usual suspects were banging on about the demise of Nawaz.

But a crisis? You could immediately sense something was off. And the surest sign of that was when the PM Office put out a prickly official response.

This version of Nawaz showing some life, and even defiance? How badly had the boys miscalculated?

Raheel is experienced enough now. He knows that you can’t just order things to be fixed. That’s not how things work here.

Speak softly and carry a big stick — it’s good advice, especially if your victim has already felt the stick. But the boys decided to turn that advice on its head and yelled loudly — with no obvious stick to use.

Leverage is a funny thing. Use too much of it and too often and it tends to produce the opposite results. Getting the moment right matters too.

APS was a moment. After Peshawar, the national convulsion was so great, the outrage so fierce that it could be channelled into real gains. Military courts, hangings, ramped-up anti-terror operations in the cities — whatever they dreamt of, they got.

The Karachi airport attack was another moment. After Karachi, Nawaz’s talks with the TTP were dead and Zarb-i-Azb could be born.

This time, nothing obvious had happened. Nothing that the boys’ sudden urgency could be hung on, anyway.

And then there’s the other thing — what the hell are they going to do? Take over? Raheel had his chance during the dharna and he chose not to take it. There’s no second chance — yet.

So, no stick and lots of yelling. It adds up to not very impressive.

Which leaves us with the question, why did they do it?

A lot of the speculation you’ve heard already — the behind-the-scenes tussles over what’s going on in Karachi or the annoyance over the India dossiers or some such.

Since those are things that can’t be publicly expressed, the boys decided to attack on what they thought was firmer ground.

But that’s also a little too weaselly and dharna-ish. It doesn’t quite gel with the reputation Raheel has cultivated since.

Now, when he’s annoyed, he lets it be known. Directly and himself. Like when that Mushahidullah business happened.

The anger was fierce and the effect was immediate. In double-quick time, Nawaz publicly contradicted his minister and Mushahidullah’s head was presented.

Raheel is also experienced enough now. He knows that you can’t just order things to be fixed. That’s not how things work here.

And yet we have a churlish ISPR statement and a bristling response from the PM Office.

There’re two possible explanations. One, Raheel sees himself as a man of destiny.

Those who work with him and those who meet him are struck by how he tends to couch things in the grand scheme of things, often referring to the weight of history, pivotal moments and the nation’s hopes.

It’s not quite doing God’s work, but there is a sense that the course he is charting will have effects long after he’s gone. Here and now, Pakistan’s destiny is being shaped and the choices Raheel makes will have a lasting impact.

If you believe that, the ISPR statement makes sense. Two-thirds of his way in, time is running out. This time next year a successor will be chosen and Raheel wants to hand him the best scenario he can.

If that means giving the civilians a few jolts while he still can, then so be it.

Two, Raheel sees himself as a man of destiny.

Those who work with him and those who meet him are struck by another thing: they can’t be sure if he’s ruled out an extension.

There’s God’s work to be done and a course that has yet to be fully charted. If a prime minister is elected for five, what’s Raheel supposed to do in just three?

Pakistan’ destiny has still to be shaped and there’s more decisions to be made if Raheel is to have a lasting impact.

If you believe that, the ISPR statement makes sense. Two years gone, one to go, it’s just not enough time. This time next year, the country must not be distracted by the selection of a successor.

And the best way to avoid that is to periodically remind the people that there’s only person in the country doing his job: Raheel.

A few more such helpful reminders and, a year from now, the people may not let Raheel go.

As ever — choose your poison. Or if you’re not a fan of the exotic, when it comes to the ISPR statement, you could believe that sometimes the boys simply don’t know what they’re doing.

The writer is a member of staff.

Twitter: @cyalm

Published in Dawn, November 15th, 2015