Policy shift

A POLICY-shift in the Pakistan chapter of the wider war against terrorism is imminent as Negroponte and Co take back word from Islamabad’s new coalition government that the one-man-show of President Musharraf is a thing of the past.

Washington will swing its diplomatic and aid muscle, but cannot openly fault a standpoint that mandates parliamentary debate prior to upgrading a policy that has failed to deliver for more than half a decade. Indeed, as the visiting American delegation was compelled to remark, Washington’s chief commitment lies with Pakistan’s re-budding democracy, which cannot be tampered with. At least not out in the open.

Pakistan’s position has been the most unique of the war-on-terror participants since the beginning. Owing to geo-strategic placement, it stood in the way of the assault on the Taleban, and had to initiate limited war inside its territories to stay on the right side of Washington’s ‘coalition of the willing’.

Since then, Pakistan has been paying heavily politically, socially as well as economically. The country has come under active attack by hard line forces that the West is battling in Afghanistan and Iraq, threatening to pull the country into further chaos if immediate remedy is not found. Therefore, since the Musharraf era policy of use of muscle has not worked, the new government is perhaps right in giving the other option —purposeful negotiations —an equally gutsy try.

Pakistan’s frontier, the part of the country that is considered the hotbed of extremist activity, and the area that Pakistan’s armed forces have targeted for the last few years, has had a long standing reputation of not yielding to use of force, a lesson that both Islamabad and Washington have just learned afresh.

Part of the frontier people’s frustration lies in economic backwardness when they compare with the rest of the country. Therefore, Prime Minister Gilani stands a better chance of winning over ‘converts’ by his proposal of initiating economic reforms than the previous government stood by using artillary. Should the engagement result in the extremists’ demands being too unrealistic, at least the area left unexplored till now would have been tapped, and domestic as well as international opinion against harsher options would become more supportive.

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