AUG 14 2008 Unpleasant reminders on Independence Day

On our 62nd Independence Day on Thursday, all the omens were grim. The Taliban in Swat warned that no one should celebrate 14th of August or he would be attacked and killed. To prove this in Lahore, a suicide bomber hit policemen in Allama Iqbal Town, killing nine and maiming over 35. The interior ministry has warned that there may be more attacks because the terrorists had moved into the big cities and were ready for action. One report actually says that one incident may be caused by using a car snatched from a female officer of an intelligence agency (sic!). The earlier week was full of reports of uncovered caches of weapons, explosives and suicide-jackets.

The NWFP government has condemned America for violating Pakistan’s “territorial integrity” by attacking inside the Tribal Areas. Another attack by a drone near Wana also killed terrorists from outside the tribal agency, some Arabs and some Punjabis from the sectarian and jihadi organisations. Just a day before August 14, the sectarian war going on in the Kurram Agency claimed 28 more people, bringing the count for the week to nearly 200. The three-year-old war has killed thousands there while the government is unable to help the besieged inhabitants of Parachinar, the agency’s headquarters.

As the NWFP assembly condemned the NATO forces in Afghanistan, it did nothing to resolve the crisis faced by the Kurram Agency. The governor — whose office is becoming politically controversial — has been unable to come to the help of the Parachinar population that is now even without medicines. The wounded are piling up in the local hospital and operations are being performed without medical supplies. The medical stores of Kurram sent crores of rupees for medicines to Peshawar. The medicines were bought and are lying packed in Peshawar but have not been despatched for the past three months. Under pressure, people in Parachinar say they are not being rescued because they are Shia.

The warlord of Bajaur, Maulvi Faqir, is getting more ferocious as his men come under attack from the army. He has vowed revenge after he lost 18 of his warriors to aerial bombing and has told the local population that they would be targeted by his men if they don’t resist the Pakistan army. The NWFP assembly ignored the fact that the Taliban in Swat had attacked the house of the well known ANP leader, Afzal Khan. It failed to recognise that the Taliban going in from our Tribal Areas had virtually conquered half of Afghanistan, as reported by the BBC TV on Independence Day. While the rest of the country is gradually responding to reconstruction, the eastern and south-eastern regions of Afghanistan have virtually fallen to the Taliban.

Down in Sindh, the PPP is celebrating the resolution passed by the Sindh Assembly in a no-confidence vote against the president. But it is in denial of the claim made by the Tehreek-e Taliban leader, Maulvi Umar of South Waziristan, that his warriors would soon take over the province. Its general approach, together with the PMLN, is that of making “peace deals” with the Taliban, but it is too busy unseating the president and letting the army do whatever it can to save the country from being conquered internally. Against this background, it is chastening to see the National Assembly once again putting on the war-paint over Kashmir.

The National Assembly, while condemning India over the latest incidents in Kashmir, neglected to take note of the bombings that hit Quetta in the week preceding Independence Day. The spate of grenade-throwing and time-bombing in the past week has been unprecedented in recent history. Baloch nationalist militants have given out a warning, after killing two people in Hub with a bomb blast, that they would cause bombs to go off across Balochistan on Independence Day. As if in response, one ANP minister resigned from the cabinet in Islamabad and the PMLN “returnee” ministers quietly decided not to attend the cabinet meeting on Wednesday.

In view of the way the country’s leaders are behaving — and that includes politicians and the media — people expected to do business in Pakistan are quietly dollarising their rupees and making ready to leave and live in Dubai where they have bought apartments. Ironically, housing schemes coming up in Dubai have advertised “fair bargains” in Pakistani papers inside Independence Day supplements. As the rupee plummeted to 76 to a dollar on the kerb, the message was frightening: come for R&R as your country goes down fighting the wrong wars.

Everybody seeking revenge and demanding aggressive action in foreign policy claims he has 160 million people behind him. But on the eve of Independence Day, when GEO TV interviewed the first 15 people on the street, it was told the priorities chosen by politicians and TV anchors were all wrong. The political glands in Pakistan are secreting juices that may satisfy the heart but fail to appeal to the mind. The economy, which is the priority of the 160 million, exclusively demands an exercise of the intellect.

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