WHILE political battles and legal wrangling continue to grab our attention, as will the new army chief’s appointment, partially addressed issues, which threaten the very existence of our 69-year-old nation, continue to serve up reminders that there remains an unfinished agenda.
The Supreme Court has adjourned to the end of the month the hearing of petitions seeking the disqualification of the prime minister from holding public office in the wake of the Panama Papers leaks. So will other pressing issues now find space in the newspaper pages and on prime time TV?
By the time the apex court reconvenes, the issue of succession at the helm of the Pakistan Army would have been settled, with the new chief poised to take over command of the country’s most potent and powerful force.
Whosoever replaces Gen Raheel Sharif as the chief of army staff will have to settle into the role quickly as a hostile regional environment will not allow the luxury of a long settling-in period. Equally challenging will be the internal security situation.
Most of the senior lieutenant generals, who are said to be among those likely to be considered for the top slot, are said to be battle-hardened and sufficiently experienced to ensure a smooth transition. However, individuals do make a difference.
The situation is such that whoever replaces Gen Raheel Sharif will not be allowed a long settling-in period.
For example, after the disastrous and long tenure of Musharraf as COAS (of course he must have been distracted by simultaneously running the country) which saw huge setbacks for the military as he first tried to appease the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan leaders, allowing them space to consolidate their power over Fata, and then try and fight some of them, Gen Kayani came to lead the army.
Kayani is often criticised for not doing enough and procrastinating in the fight against the TTP, but his supporters in the army say he was forced to spend considerable energy and effort in reorientation and training of his troops for the counterterrorism fight they had earlier not trained for.
Once the troops were ready he systematically rolled out the anti-TTP fight and by his retirement only North Waziristan remained as the one major bastion of the fanatical terrorist group in the country. But a lot of the shine was taken off his achievements by his extension.
It was of little relevance whether he asked for it or merely accepted what was offered, but there can be little doubt it was an unpopular move in the army because it was widely seen as tantamount to a no-confidence vote in his senior commanders — instead of a single tenure, he served two.
Kayani was seen as more of a thinker, a philosopher-soldier. The man who succeeded him, Raheel Sharif was the archetypal soldier’s soldier, a man who preferred to lead from the front and was seen, more often than not, on the front lines. He followed his instinct developed over his years in service. The fact that he belonged to a military family must also have contributed.
Where he earned laurels for his decisions for taking the fight to the terrorists in Fata and also in Karachi deservedly, there are areas left still untouched that are crying out for some sort of policy-change manifestation.
Whenever the issue of free rein given to jihadi groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad is raised, security experts with intimate knowledge of the security establishment’s thinking say that since these groups have never threatened or attacked Pakistani forces they are not a priority.
Fair enough. But at the same time it should be made abundantly clear to these groups that the days they were seen as a tool of national security policy are over. Any solo flights in terms of militant activities anywhere else will also invite the wrath of the state.
Even then, what continues to worry me about the perceptions that guide policy over such groups is, for example, what has become of the Baloch Musallah Defai Tanzeem led by one Shafiq Mengal. This group is said to have enjoyed the confidence of the FC-led Balochistan law and order set-up and, alongside the paramilitary force, was seen as being in the vanguard of the fight against Baloch separatists.
The group seemed to have complete freedom of action and nobody bothered when red lines were crossed as long as its targets were those seen as hostile to the state. But who was looking when other scores, including personal and sectarian, were settled?
Eventually, when the state tried to rein it in as the first hint of policy change emerged, the group’s leader went rogue. In the past months, Lashkar-i-Jhangvi al-Alami and Daesh have claimed responsibility for attacks on the lawyers and the police training centre in Quetta and, more recently, at the Shah Noorani shrine in Khuzdar. Shafiq Mengal’s name is being mentioned as being a part of this grouping.
Along with focusing on the threat to our eastern frontiers and along the Line of Control, the incoming chief will also have to focus attention on this issue. Those responsible for the murderous attacks in Balochistan claim to be based in Afghanistan.
It is also suspected that their tentacles extend as far as Khuzdar and further south and will have to be cut via intelligence-based operations. One of their key members was killed recently in Hub, not far from Karachi.
One would hope the new army chief is also mindful of the fact that his troops and also the paramilitary forces’ primary duties are not internal security duties and can’t be asked to police the urban areas and large swathes of the country indefinitely.
So, he must insist that the governments at the centre and in the provinces address capacity-building of a depoliticised police force with the right kind of emphasis. If that happens it could make a sizeable contribution to the long-term fight against terrorism.
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
Published in Dawn November 19th, 2016