WHO knew gentle New Zealand harboured such villainous tendencies?
By pulling the plug on the cricket series with Pakistan, the team known as Black Caps has committed what can only be described politely as a cardinal sporting sin. Citing unnamed security threats at literally the last minute, the team is flying back leaving Pakistanis fuming at the shocking cancellation of the much-hyped tour. There is so much wrong — and worrying — about the entire sorry episode.
Nothing more so than the fact that no one in Pakistan has any idea what the so-called ‘threat’ is that prompted New Zealand to take this extreme step. Prime Minister Imran Khan’s call to his counterpart also seems to have yielded no result in terms of figuring out what went wrong. While New Zealand has the right to take the decision that it has, it has little right to keep Pakistan in the dark about the real reason why it opted to insult the hosts by just walking away. Something somewhere is not adding up.
The situation in the wake of the Taliban control of Afghanistan demands a careful mapping of the minefield that lies ahead.
But one thing sure is: the massive disappointment among Pakistanis and the powerful urge to vent it. Best to yield to the temptation. Let us take a day and get New Zealand and its Black Caps out of our system through verbal and written catharsis of the not-so-polite kind. Once done, we need to move on to the bigger and more important question:
What do we do now?
Here’s where the topic expands into a larger discussion on the danger symbolised by the Black Caps’ folly. It is easy to read more into this decision than one threat. But the situation at hand in the wake of the Taliban control of Afghanistan demands a very careful mapping of the minefield that lies in our path ahead.
Two aspects present themselves for scrutiny. The security one is linked directly to the clear and present danger from the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and IS. Both these terror outfits have bared their fangs from across our western border, and the former has already claimed numerous murderous attacks on Pakistani soil since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan.
The diplomatic aspect is centred on the very real threat of Pakistan’s scapegoating at the hands of the United States and its various allies. US Senate and congressional hearings in Washington, D.C. have already started to germinate toxicity against Pakistan and the Beltway echo chamber is also gradually reverberating with hazardous sentiments. These in turn are being amplified, or in turn fuelled by editorials and write-ups in right-wing publications advocating harsher measures against Pakistan, including a review of the IMF aid. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s remarks in this week’s hearings have confirmed that the Biden administration is in sync with this ominous mood in the US capital. Alarming as this may be, it loops back to the earlier question:
What do we do now?
After we are done cursing out New Zealand, the US, India and Ashraf Ghani, we may want to consider the following three questions and ask ourselves whether we have war-gamed these challenges and sculpted the requisite strategies:
What are we going to do about the TTP? President Arif Alvi and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi have already dangled the prospect of the government declaring an amnesty for the TTP if the group relents and accepts the paramountcy of the Pakistani Constitution. The way that the government appears to be going about it is patently wrong. If the state is mulling this extreme option — and mulling so is fine in and of itself — then it must open this up to a wider debate. The TTP has bathed our society in blood, and it cannot be absolved of its crimes through surreptitious decisions behind closed doors. Throw open the debate in parliament, let the political parties argue for and against the option, allow the media and civil society to thrash out the pros and cons — then, and only then, make a decision that is backed by public opinion. Or, if not this, then fight to the finish.
How do we fight to the finish? The TTP is based in Afghanistan and the Taliban are not going to be able to do much to rein it in. Focusing on building our defences on the border, ratcheting up counterterrorism measures at home and beefing up security at key places and around key personnel — these are all defensive measures that harken back to the pre-APS days. We paid a price for this strategy. Only when this defensive approach was substituted with an offensive one did we break the back of terrorism. But how do we break its back again when it draws strength and sustenance from a foreign soil? If the fight is not taken to the TTP, the threat will never be eradicated. Do we have a strategy?
How do we stave of scapegoating? Pakistan has done well to coordinate diplomatic efforts with regional countries, and especially the ones that border Afghanistan. But the threat of scapegoating is from the US and its Western allies, which means the main thrust of our diplomatic offensive needs to pivot that way. Has it? The evidence is scant. We need to be on the IMF programme. We need to be off the FATF grey list. Playing the victim is a non-starter in terms of outcome-oriented effectiveness. Deep engagement with Washington at this crucial moment in a bid to reverse the rising tide of antagonism is the only real option. But what kind of engagement? And at what level? The government really needs to kick-start its strategy into higher gear. That is, of course, if it has one.
Meanwhile, let’s vent on the Black Caps.
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Islamabad.
Published in Dawn, September 18th, 2021