Pakistan’s unending crises | Talat Masood

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For three weeks people of Islamabad and Rawalpindi remained in a state of siege. The sit-in organised by the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah Pakistan literally paralysed the twin cities and botched attempts by the police to gain control over the situation backfired making matters worse. Regrettably, the entire operation by the government was ill-planned and poorly executed. Instructions were given that the police will not use force and were not equipped with any firearms.

On the contrary, the protesters were freely using sticks, stones and even lethal weapons. In the end as the situation unfolded, it became amply clear that it would be unrealistic to expect that the protesters would yield without government conceding to most of their demands, especially the resignation of the law minister. What should be a matter of serious reflection that the two parties failed to come to an understanding on their own! The army, as has become the tradition, had to play the arbitrator. It shows the lack of confidence that these groups and society as a whole have in the credibility of civilian leadership or in democratic traditions.

The government was indeed at a loss and the COAS advised that it should find a peaceful solution to the crisis. In fact, the government had been seeking a peaceful route and only applied force when prolonged negotiations failed to produce results. With highly inflated demands of the religious party that were growing by the hour, there was least inclination on their part to enter into any serious dialogue. The unfortunate part was that the protesters took advantage of the conciliatory message of the COAS as if the army would not interfere and let things slide.
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In the end, however, it was the army that worked out a solution that gave major concessions to the Tehreek-e-Labbaik. What will be the short- and long- term consequences of this agreement on the character of the state only time will tell. But the prognosis is not good.

It is also a sad reality that there is little coordination between state institutions that has gone to the advantage of the Tehreek-e- Labaik and their supporters.

What, however, could have worked if the Tehreek leadership knew that the army is fully backing the government and would take action if they continue with the dharna.

It also shows that ever since the Panama leaks the government is a lame duck and in continuous retreat. The space vacated by the government has been taken up by the military and partly by the judiciary. An honourable course for Nawaz Sharif should have been to resign and fight his case in the courts to prove his innocence that he persistently claims. But by involving the entire party, including the ministers in his struggle for survival, he has done great disservice. In the process, he has weakened the government and triggered the disintegration of the party.

It is difficult to imagine how such outcomes will not seriously impact on the overall destiny of our country. These recent happenings will undoubtedly have serious consequences for our economy and on general law and order situation. Not to mention its adverse fallout on our international image and prestigious projects like CPEC. Already, the economy is suffering from an adverse balance-of-payments position as debts are mounting. The drop in regional trade both with Afghanistan and India seems to continue. We are lagging behind in education and technical skills that are an integral part of a modern economy.

The unfortunate aspect of this agitation and similar negative happenings is that the sacrifices of our armed forces and civilians in the fight against terrorism are overlooked by major powers and the world at large; and provides India a perfect scenario for demonising, winning the support of the Western world and deflecting attention from the happenings in Kashmir.

Another intriguing feature of this protest has been the absence of any credible information regarding finances and links of militant organisations within and outside the country. After all, the religious party of Barelvi school of thought was formed as recently as 2015. It came into prominence for its opposition to any change to the blasphemy law and for protesting against the hanging of Mumtaz Qadri. True, it has a highly dedicated following but still organising such a long sit-in requires appropriate funding and support from important segments of society.

Despite repeated manifestations of the failure of the state we as a nation or people are unable to grasp the gravity of the situation. What is more disturbing that our leadership is not taking any measures to overcome the deep malaise that the state is suffering from!

The confusion is bewildering. On the one hand, we aspire to be a modern state with a self-sustaining economy and an important member of the developing world that is struggling to move ahead and is progressive in its outlook. On the other hand, in pursuit of its linear security-oriented agenda that it has cultivated it looks the other way while militant organisations have mushroomed over the length and breadth of the country. Fear of external domination or pursuit of ill-advised foreign policy goals has led us to cultivate politically and ideologically hardened groups that have come to haunt us. These groups tend to be extremely divisive being followers of different schools of thought and denominations. But one thing they share between them is obduracy and lack of tolerance for the other and the desire to impose their sectarian agenda.

How do we reverse this situation should be on the minds of the leaders. But the way our political leadership is mired in fighting their battle for survival and engaged in infighting it is difficult to comprehend that they would have time to address these serious issues.

Lack of coordination between institutions is another major weakness that Pakistan has not been able to overcome ever since its inception.

Although a more integrated approach by institutions and respect for one another would allow us to face both external and internal challenges more effectively.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 29th, 2017.

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