Strange dealays – Nasim Zehra

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Chaotic incompetence no country can afford. Much less a country like our own which is confronted with multiple challenges within and from the outside. Let’s focus for now on how grave are the external challenges and how Pakistan enjoys zero margin of error when handling matters related to external challenges.

Over the last 100 hours Pakistan’s initial handling of potentially two explosive matters amply illustrates; the Dasu terrorist attack and the case of the Afghan ambassador’s daughter.

First on the Dasu terrorist attack. The foreign minister said that there had been an accident and the Chinese died because their van had fallen into a ravine. The story in fact was that there had been a terrorist attack on the vehicle right in front of the van, which was struck by the vehicle and so fell into the ravine. The passengers in the vehicle attacked were also working in the Dasu project. The Chinese embassy issued a statement about the attack. Clearly, the information regarding the attack had not been conveyed to our Foreign Office and to the foreign minister, despite the fact that it was related to a project that is extremely high profile.

Not only were the Chinese the first to give information of what had actually happened in Dasu but within hours of the terrorist attack, the company working on the project announced that the employment contracts of all Pakistanis working on the project were to be terminated immediately. Subsequently, the same day a Chinese newspaper implied rather uncharacteristically that if Pakistan cannot manage security China can deploy its missiles to protect the Chinese! Fortunately, the cancellation notification of construction work on Dasu was cancelled. But what a mess.

Second, the case of the Afghan ambassador’s daughter. The daughter’s version was based on some unusual events in a period of high security alert. Whatever the details, the institutions here handling this case never brought the matter out in public in a systematic and organised manner which could also have raised valid questions regarding this entire episode.

Why was the government silent on this serious issue for the first 20 hours, at least? Although the alleged kidnapping had taken place on the evening of the 16th and news of it was in the public by late night, the first statement came from the Foreign Office around 6:25 pm on July 17. Social media was overflowing with stories and accounts, unverifiable mostly, but putting the story out in the open.

The Afghan ambassador had issued a statement through his Twitter account and had also posted his daughter’s photograph to dispel the veracity of a photograph earlier posted on social media claiming to be his daughter’s photograph. In all this, the silence by the Pakistani government was inexplicable since the story was gaining space on social media within and outside of Pakistan. The interior minister did hold press conferences and gave public statements on the matter on July 17. Nevertheless, perhaps some misstatements by the minister and some panic flowing largely from indecision, the media was to remain quiet. This was shocking given the fact that the Afghan government was moving swiftly and had ordered the return of its ambassador and the embassy staff, saying Pakistan was not providing sufficient security. Strange ways adopted at a time demanding serious and sober policy direction.

What explains all this chaotic incompetence demonstrated by those in the frontlines of handling highly sensitive security and foreign policy events. Real proactive coordination is missing. Mostly ad-hoc, reactive, disparate ways are evident and at the cost of creating more problems for Pakistan and losing the opportunities of exposing the other’s faults and weaknesses.

Greater inter-institutional coordination led by the Prime Minister’s Office, the Foreign Office, NSA and all security stakeholders is a must to develop a clear strategic outlook and plan on how to proceed, especially when dealing with challenging zones such as Afghanistan.

For a country facing the challenges that Pakistan is right now, an around-the-clock operations room is required for both policy consultations, policy decisions and a strat-com policy. Quick decisions are required. Time to urgently address weaknesses, Mr Prime Minister!