It goes to the credit of the government that we have so far resisted the offer of American troops fighting on Pakistani soil. We have also managed to avert a joint operation proposal despite the fact that American pressure is growing on the Musharraf government for such a misadventure. But how long can we resist the “ready and willing”
American troops? The Americans seem to be intent on entering Pakistan to settle things. They seem keen bombing to the stone ages the militants in the tribal areas. We are fearful that it will not just be the militants who will suffer that fate. So far, much of the casualties have been common folk. And this has made the army action in the tribal areas deeply unpopular amongst people all over Pakistan.
For his part, our president is being pushed from all sides. On the one hand he is facing an increasingly bold challenge to the writ of the state coming from militants who are spreading their tentacles all over the country. Not only have they stepped up their operations but have also become bolder in the manner of their attacks. We are looking at a nationwide operation against the rise in militancy. But with elections round the corner, such an operation seems unlikely. At the same time, the delay in any action against growing terror attacks will endanger the electoral process. It’s a tough call.
Then we have the US government facing an election year and looking for concrete results. President Bush wants to account for the billions that his government pumped into Pakistan over the years following September 11, 2001. This is one of the rare occasions when one has to agree with the US president. As Pakistanis, we too would like to know where this money has been spent and on whom. Despite the massive amounts received, the common man has enjoyed little or no benefit from this. Better American equipment and funding to government forces and departments has not led to any marked improvement in their services.
There has been little or no Madressah reform. Even most of the scholarships doled out by the US have been hijacked by the Islamabad babus and their near and dear ones. A word of caution: a portion of these funds come in the form of loans to Pakistan. Those who have misappropriated will move on. We as Pakistanis will have to service these debts in the years to come. The most worrisome part of this is that most of the money funded by the US was to either fight the war on terror or to come up with programs that address the issues that give rise to people to move towards extremism. But we have seen little progress on either front.
As fighting raged between government forces and militants in different parts of the NWFP, President Musharraf was in Davos last week with an impressive team of ministers, bureaucrats, media persons and other characters all flown at tax payer expense, to tell the world a number of things. Some of the gems he shared include his view on what he called “idealistic and unrealistic western perceptions of democracy.”
President Musharraf also rejected suggestions from western analysts that Pakistani intelligence agencies were losing their grip on information relating to the War on Terror. The president claimed that the intelligence agencies were doing a “good job” and that the recent spate of suicide bombings were an “irritant.” One can only hope that all Pakistanis can be so optimistic about the manner the country has been shaken by terror groups while the law enforcers looked on helplessly.
The president, in yet another of his several interviews to the western media, dismissed former generals who publicly opposed his leadership as “paper tigers.” Musharraf told a news channel “Most of them are ones who served under me and I kicked them out.” The most interesting was the claim that while his popularity has “reduced,” most Pakistanis “still want me in power.” More significant, President Musharraf added for good measure “the West wants me in power.” One can hope for the best.
Time and again, the president in his trip to Europe was asked and reminded of a number of things. First, the independence of the judiciary and the fate of the judges who stood up to the PCO. Second, about the arrangements for a free and fair polls. Third about the rise in fighting and terror related incidents in Pakistan and the increasing perception in the world that Pakistan is losing the war on terror. And finally, on the question of the safety and security of our nuclear assets. On all these, the answers have not been satisfy or assure.
That was not all. Despite the best efforts of the Pakistan embassy and the ministry of information to try and stage manage press interactions with Pakistani journalists, some uncomfortable moments were witnessed when the president was asked repeatedly about the failure of his government in nabbing those who were hoarding flour and other essential commodities and who was being held responsible for this.
While Pakistanis are paying almost double for their roti as compared to some months back, our president seems to have found nothing wrong in the sale or distribution of flour and wheat in the country. The irony that despite a bumper crop, there is an acute shortage in the country seemed to have escaped him. He told the media that no proof of wrong doing had emerged from any quarter that suggested that any one was involved in profiteering and hoarding of this essential commodity.
He said that his intelligence agencies had investigated but had come up with nothing. And then we wonder why we have intelligence failures.
Meanwhile, the electioneering moves on. Perhaps the elections that will be held on Feburary 18 will be one of Pakistan’s most “non-happening” elections. Despite efforts by political parties to try and create an atmosphere for the polls, in most instances people remain distant and scared of the whole process. Many also remain sceptical.
There are several who question whether the polls will be held on the due date. The question they should be asking instead should be about the arrangements leading to the polls. For all practical purposes, the government machinery has done its work. Many of the favourites are all set to win. All we need to do now is to go to the ballot box.
It comes as no surprise that the United States and European increasingly have accepted elections conducted in countries that have no respect for human rights for the sake of political expediency. This trend is nothing new in Pakistan. But we are reminded of this in a report released by Human Rights Watch, an international NGO that to its credit has been writing consistently and fairly about the on-ground situation in Pakistan. HRW also writes about the possibility of fraud at election time.
The most positive news coming out of Pakistan this month so far has been the release of Aitzaz Ahsan and the fact that despite all the setbacks faced by them, the lawyers continue to protest against the manner in which we are being governed. The “Justice Iftikhar day” was a success. There is now talk that Aitzaz Ahsan may be offered a top slot in the PPP by chairman Asif Zardari so that there is some credible and acceptable representation from Punjab in the party. Once again, this may mean that Ahsan would have to chose between the lawyers movement and the PPP. It is not only President Musharraf who has to make tough choices.
Finally, the raid on a house last week and a subsequent fire-fight in Karachi between paramilitary forces and militants allied to the Jundullah group has brought to the forefront some interesting disclosures. For one, that the rise in the spate of bank robberies in Karachi in the past three months or so may have been engineered by terror organizations in need of money. In many instances, the robberies were conducted with the help of security guards employed by the banks through security agencies. Most of these security agencies have been allowed to function by the provincial home department without proper licenses or security checks. In one such robbery in January 2008, almost Rs350 million were taken away by the guards in what is being described as the largest heist in the history of Pakistan. Our police remains clueless about these cases. It is time some hard questions were asked as to why such operations were allowed.
It is not enough to pursue the criminals who took the money and ran. Its time to hold account the government officials who let this happen. Only then will we start winning the War on Terror. Till then, we can only hope and pray.