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Not a good idea

October 03, 2012

THE PTI is set to go ahead with its rally to South Waziristan despite reservations from official quarters about safety and security, but the question must still be asked: is the PTI’s rally a good idea? To the extent that political parties have an undeniable right to campaign in various parts of Pakistan and to energise the base ahead of an election, the PTI’s rally is well within its democratic rights. Particularly in an area which has long remained on the margins of Pakistani society and virtually cut off from mainstream politics, the attempt by a political party to fortify its support can seem like a good idea. But the PTI’s goals must also be set against other national imperatives — and seen from the perspective of the fight against militancy, Imran Khan’s high-on-drama, low-on-results pilgrimage to Fata is unadvisable. To the extent that the PTI leadership is calculating that a very public denunciation of drone strikes and military operations from an area gripped by violence for the better part of a decade will yield electoral dividends in Pakistan proper, perhaps even in the tribal areas, the party may well pick up a few votes here and there. But the PTI’s policy on drone strikes and military operations is so well known — indeed, is a fundamental part of its campaign platform — as to render a made-for-TV opportunity at best peripheral to its electoral success.

The downsides, however, are very real and potentially serious, for the country, if not for the PTI. South Waziristan is an area no one, not even the most optimistic military official, would claim is anywhere near an acceptable normal. Militants are still active and the security forces face a battle that has morphed from frontal confrontation to fighting a shadowy but dangerous enemy. In that environment, a political rally that will echo inside Pakistan and internationally and seek to undermine the tenuous state narrative that the fight against militancy is Pakistan’s own will only bolster the enemy’s morale, and even endanger lives. The PTI won’t listen to good sense but its planned action is certainly deserving of criticism.