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Pakistan: Facing the Wages of Denial
|by Col. Rahul K. Bhonsle|
Pakistan delivered a triple hammer on 7 May, in Washington, Islamabad and Rawalpindi. The date spanned the tripartite US, Pakistan and Afghanistan summit. It was important to put President Obama at ease and ensure flow of aid to the beleaguered economy with President Zardari's assurances that action will be taken against the Taliban. This was followed by a public speech by the Prime Minister in which he finally declared, 'war' on terrorism. The Chief of the Army Staff followed up with a similar direction in the Corps Commanders conference in the operations room at Army HQs in Rawalpindi.
Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani ordered armed forces to launch an operation against the militants in Swat and Malakand. 'The government will not bow before the militants and terrorists but will force them to lay down their weapons and will not compromise with them,' he said in a 20-minute televised address to the nation. This decision had broad support from the people though it was officially endorsed by the All Parties Conference on 18 May in a 16-point resolution drafted by PPP leader Raza Rabbani which asked the government to protect and defend the constitution and sovereignty of Pakistan and establish the writ of the state. The broad consensus also included for the first time leader of the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz, Mian Nawaz Sharif, who had not supported tough military action against extremists.
The Taliban had perhaps drawn the last straw off the political back. 'There was a certain kind of a tipping point after the so-called Swat Accord. It was when the Swat Taliban were seen to be overreaching themselves,' noted columnist Ayaz Amir told the Voice of America. 'One or two speeches by Sufi Muhammad that democracy is un-Islamic, the courts are outside the pale of Islam ' that, and the advance of the Taliban into Buner,' were the tipping points as per Amir. Lt-Gen (r) Ali Jan Muhammad Orakzai, a former NWFP governor from the Musharraf era said public opinion has shifted against the Taliban. 'There has been a complete change in the attitude of the entire nation towards these people. ... And the Pakistani nation stands united in defeating their designs because nobody in Pakistan would like these people to take over and establish their version of Islam or impose their version of Islam on the people. There's quite a sudden change in the mood of the nation.'
There were also growing differences between the Awami National Party and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) two main political parties in the NWFP and the leaders reportedly refused to sit together, even when invited by President Asif Ali Zardari. While use of force in counter militancy is not the only option, as Pakistani scholar Rasul Bakhsh Rais says, 'Use of force is not the preferred solution or the only option that a state must employ; and in an ethnically pluralistic and politically complex society like Pakistan, it cannot be the weapon of choice'. But such harsh action has to be undertaken when there is an imminent danger to the state per se and existential threats may demand extreme solutions. So perhaps it was better late than never for the Pakistani state.
The Third attempt at taking back Swat from Taliban control has proved to be quite bloody and therefore any pull back now till civil governance is restored may lead to reestablishment of the Taliban as on previous occasions. If the Army chooses to fight till the finish it would still involve long engagement in counter militancy operations for which it has to be prepared, some thing which is not evident so far.
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