Editorial: Unfortunate opposition to ‘action’ in Bara
The PMLN and the JUI(S) have opposed the Bara Operation — or ‘action’ as the government would have us believe — because they were not “consulted” before the operation was undertaken. The third coalition partner, the ruling ANP in the NWFP, says it was consulted in two meetings that took place in Peshawar but insists that Peshawar is not “under siege” from the Bara warlord, Mangal Bagh. It apparently has no opinion on the Bara Operation because “Khyber is outside the jurisdiction of the NWFP government”.
The PMLN view was expressed by an outraged Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan in the National Assembly. It was elaborated by its leader from Peshawar, Mr Iqbal Zafar Jhagra, on TV when he said that apart from the fact that his party was kept out of the loop it had always opposed military operation against Pakistan’s “own people”. He insisted that the only way to deal with the situation in the Tribal Areas was through the “political process” (whatever that means), negotiation and peace agreements.
As for the position of the JUI(S), it has always been well known. It represents not so much Islam as the Pakhtun population living in the Tribal Areas and Balochistan. Its leader Maulana Ghafur Haideri has repeated the plaint that his party was not consulted. He went on to say that military action would be counter-productive and his party would not support it. But will the JUI(S) leave the coalition on this issue? No. Much the same response can be expected from the PMLN. Mr Jhagra made it clear that his party would not abandon the coalition. He must however be conscious of the fact that his party’s status in the coalition is different from that of the other partners who are also a part of the government. By getting out of the government, however, the PMLN has obtained the freedom to openly disagree with decisions taken by the prime minister and his cabinet.
The ANP and the JUI(S) have taken positions that are likely to encourage the building up of opposition to the operation among the Pakhtun. Indirectly, the ANP has opted out of the Islamabad policy on the Taliban, by defending its “peace deals” and by denying that the settled areas are under threat or that Peshawar is under siege from the terrorists. This ambivalence can only be understood in light of the ANP’s restricted electorate among the Pakhtun. As opposed to the policy of moulding Pakhtun opinion, it has unfortunately preferred to defer to a collective mind already formed by the religious parties and the Taliban propaganda on the real “intention” of the operation.
The result is that the PPP will have to face up to the backlash that is going to come from the general public who support the views of the PMLN, and from the Pakhtun hinterland. In the coming days, we may expect the TV channels to reflect this “consensus” with the kind of emphasis expected from the “process of repetition” inherent in competition. But the objective fact is that the operation had become unavoidable. And it is no excuse that it should not have been undertaken because it was not thought of three years ago when the warlords of Khyber first came on the scene.
Pakistan’s best known modern physicist Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy has reflected on the “confusion” in Pakistan over the violent events taking place these days. He marvels at the way we ignore Pakistanis kidnapped and killed by the warlords and our violent reaction to the NATO-ISAF forces on the Mohmand border with Afghanistan: “Had the killers been the Taliban, this would have been a non-event...Compare the response to Gora Prai with the near silence about the recent kidnapping and slaughter by Baitullah Mehsud’s fighters of 28 men near Tank, some of whom were shot and others had their throats cut. Even this pales before the hundred or more attacks by suicide bombers over the last year that made bloody carnage of soldiers and officers, devastated peace jirgas and public rallies, and killed hundreds praying in mosques and at funerals”.
Pakistan is in deeper trouble than it thinks. Considering that the top popular concern is the “judges’ restoration”, over which there is no solution in sight, it is unfortunate that we continue to ignore the fact that our economy can only survive if the world helps us. Eminent Pakistani economist Mr Shahid Javed Burki thinks that Pakistan should not return to the IMF because the Fund will impose “stabilisation” and ignore growth pledges because it doesn’t believe that Pakistan can pull it off. He recommends approaching the “donors” for help. The problem is that all the “donors” want Pakistan to take action against the warlords. *

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