ISLAMABAD: After weeks of fierce debate in parliament on the viability of an operation in North Waziristan, President Asif Ali Zardari sounded out his preference for a consensual decision by the country’s stakeholders before the “use of force” is prescribed.
“There is a need for consensus following the policy of reconciliation to achieve the desired results in the war against terror and ensure peace and security,” the president told the concluding session of 5th National Conference of South Asian Free Media Association (Safma) on media, militancy and fair elections.
In an extraordinary message by the head of the state since the debate on a North Waziristan operation gained traction in recent days, Zardari cautioned against using force against a mindset which is widespread across segments of society.
He underscored the need for evolving a national consensus, similar to the one created before undertaking operations in Swat in 2008, in order to confront the terrorists head on.
“We agree that we need to act against militants, but are we ready for a possible blowback?” the president said, adding that any decision to use force would be taken with complete consensus, in the right context, and at an appropriate time.
Polarisation of society
The president stressed that as a nation we need to accommodate other nations. In an apparent dig at the main opposition party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Zardari claimed that in the present situation, it seemed futile to talk about consensus with the opposition parties, lamenting that if we failed to reconcile amongst ourselves, we would not be able to reconcile with other countries.
Asking the country to pay close attention to the polarisation of society, the president reminded the audience of former Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer’s assassination.
“Taseer’s son was kidnapped. How many people tried to help his family? The answer is very few,” the president said.
‘Attack on our future’
“The attack on Malala Yousafzai was an attack on our values and on the future of our new generation,” President Zardari said, adding that it was wrong to justify the attack as a reaction against the war in Afghanistan or drone attacks.
He decried the militant mindset, saying that terrorists seek to impose their agenda by force.
“They [Malala and her schoolmates] represent a challenge to the terrorist assault on our values and Malala was targeted because of her defiance of the extremist mindset,” the president said, underscoring that the fight against extremism was going to be a long one and on all fronts.
Drones and cross-border raids
The president also highlighted the government’s firm stand against terrorism in any form, while referring to cross-border and drone attacks.
“We have consistently opposed drone attacks and we will continue to oppose them. Drone attacks were a violation of our sovereignty and are counterproductive,” he said.
He insisted that a blame game between the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan would be counterproductive to the cause against militancy.
“Pakistan and Afghanistan should join hands in eliminating the terrorists and their hideouts,” the president said, adding that the government will not permit militants to use Pakistani territory to launch attacks outside its borders.
“As a president, I am accountable to the nation.” In a rare admission of the government’s failures, the president said that even though everything had not been ‘perfect’ during the past four and a half years, in view of the multidimensional problems, the government did its best to confront the challenges.
He emphasised that the problems faced by Pakistan were different from those faced by other countries.
“Your expectations are of a Westminster style, while my working circumstances are tribal, feudal and political,” the president said.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 22nd, 2012.