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Wages of Appeasement

Ayaz Amir (PAKISTAN DIARY)
Filed on April 17, 2009

When a state and its military forces mentally reconcile themselves to defeat, one can only mourn the event. There is nothing left to say. Itís not that we donít recognise what has just happened or what the ANP government in the Frontier and the federal government in Islamabad, backed by the National Assembly, have just agreed to. Munich is written all over it.

But we are trying to put a gloss on it and are putting forward all sorts of justificationsóthat there was no way out and that signing the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation will bring lasting peace to Swat and its environsóbut in our heart of hearts we know that, our courage having fled and no vision worth the name to guide us, we have acquiesced in a great act of surrender.

Before India our eastern command laid down its arms in 1971, not its spirit or soul. Before the Taleban in Swat we have ceded a part of our national soul.

We canít stand up to the Americans. So we do their bidding in matters large and small and endure lectures from them on how to fix our problems.

We canít stand up to the Taleban, whether in Waziristan or Swat. So we sign deals with them from positions of abject weakness and call them acts of the highest statesmanship. Since when did victorious armies lay down their arms? The Taleban under Maulana Fazlullah have been victorious in Swat, having fended off several operationsóI am afraid we have lost countómounted by the army. Are we now expecting that these victorious hordes, in a reversal of history never before recorded, are about to don pacifist robes and meekly hand in the tools of their victory? Which world are we living in?

Losing is nothing unusual. Itís part of life and happens all the time. The Americans were defeated in Vietnam but they put their signatures to no document of surrender. But the ANP government in the Frontier, reduced to despair is portraying surrender not as surrender but as singular redemption, the key to permanent peace. It was smart of President Asif Zardari to send the System of Justice Regulation to the National Assembly so that the shame of it should be equally shared by all. The MQM was the only party to voice its objections and abstain in the voting for the resolution when it was put before the house. This is one of the ironies we must live with: a party whose hands are sullied with so much, emerging in this debate as the champion of sanity and moderation.

The overriding implication of signing the Regulation is that the supreme power in Swat is the Taleban. The Taliban have every reason to celebrate. But why is the Frontier government congratulating itself? This must be one of those rare occasions in Pakhtoon history when one section of Pakhtoons is hailing defeat as victory. And it wants the rest of the country to go along with this charade.

Strange things are happening in Pakistan. Since emerging on the skyline of Karachi the MQM has dominated that cityís politics with a mixture of popular support and, where needed, the unabashed use of force. There would be no soul so foolhardy as to speak against Fazlullah in Swat. It takes a brave soul to speak against Altaf Bhai in Karachi.

Altaf Bhai called me from London the other day and said that in order to save Pakistan we must all join hands and forgive and forget. No one can disagree with his sentiments but if anyone could ask him to consider that if the media in Karachi live in fear of the MQM and if MQM supporters get touchy even at the faintest hint of criticism, then what, in real terms, is the difference between the politics of Karachi and Swat? A harsh comparison no doubt but one I hope, in the new spirit of democracy he appears to be advocating, he will forgive me for making.

These are depressing times for Pakistan mainly because while our troubles are many, and our challenges daunting, there is no sense of direction and very little by way of reassuring leadership. Before the Ďlong marchí things were easy in that everything could be blamed on Zardari. Now itís not so easy.

There are no quick-fix answers to lifeís complications. Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry can improve the dispensation of justice. That is all. Political leadership has to come from the political class and military direction from the military. The party in waiting is the PML-N whose hallmark, when critical thinking is called for and hard decisions are to be made, is, alas, a fudge: sound and fury in which it is extremely hard to detect a coherent meaning.

Does the PML-N have any policy regarding what once-upon-a-time was the Ďwar on terrorí and now God alone knows is what? The nation is dying for a lead, a clarion call to arms.

Coming to power is not the problem. The PML-N is already in power in Punjab, and will make it to power at the centre when the opportunity comes. But will it be able to deliver? Can it give the lead the nation wants and the people of Pakistan deserve? That is the question. Nawaz Sharif has been prime minister of Pakistan twice before. He will have to be a better prime minister of Pakistan next time round if Pakistan is to get out of the woods and surmount the terrifying challenges it currently faces.

Pakistanís democracy needs more fine-tuning. Many of the Musharraf amendments in the Constitution need to be done away with. But, realistically speaking, Pakistan has all the democracy that it can safely handle. Democracy therefore is no longer the problem. Our national debate must move on and focus on the battle for national survival which is staring us in the face.

We must not dance to American tunes. We have done too much of this in our history and need to think for ourselves and stand up on our own feet. At the same time we donít need to buckle under the advancing threat of the Taleban. It requires exceptional optimism to think that after the Swat deal Taleban will rest on their laurels and not exploit their victory. The American presence in Afghanistan is the root of the troubles we face. But as long as it lasts ó and there is nothing we can do to force America from there ó capitulating before the Taliban and ceding more ground to them should be no option either. If we go down this path, there will be precious little left to save.

Ayaz Amir is a distinguished Pakistani commentator and member of parliament


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