Disclaimer: I use the word “operation” to suggest any action taken by the Government of Punjab that recognises an internal threat and within the confines of the law undertakes action to rid militants from the province.
The government of Punjab has accused the Minister of Interior Rehman Malik, of indulging in “provincial prejudice”. The Minister has suddenly come across irrefutable evidence that shows that domestic organisations such as the outlawed Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, the Spipah-i-Sahaba and the Jaish-i-Muhammad are part of the TTP and Al Qaeeda.
The Sharif brothers have dismissed any link between the operations of banned outfits and terrorist attacks in the province. The security of Pakistani citizens and their interests seems to have taken a back seat as the nations two largest political parties slog it out.
The government of Punjab seems least interested in conducting a “military operation” to clear out militants in the South of the province.
While that may be one explanation, however, as this is a matter of life and death, lets try and list out some other reasons which may explain why the Sharifs seem hesitant to take up calls for an operation.
1) Rehman Malik is lying. Harsh words – politicians and lying? Doesn’t seem like a natural mix?
Well on the 14th of April, 2010 the same Minister claimed that the “attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore last year was funded from Sri Lanka.” And just to make sure that a key ally and trading partner is diplomatically snubbed, he went on to add that “the Sri Lankan government was aware of this fact, but Pakistan was kept in oblivion.” Fast forward to the end of May and the tune has now changed! Can we blame the Sharif’s for not taking him seriously?
2) For the Sharif’s Punjab is their fortress. The lion roars once more. Their much deserved position at the pinnacle of provincial power is backed up by a heavy electoral mandate.
One would assume that a political party, which has accumulated so much political capital at the forefront of the restoration of the judiciary, principled stance of withdrawing from the coalition etc, would today, take the bold step of initiating a potentially risky operation to shut down dens of hate across the province. Are they just scared of losing power and becoming unpopular if things go wrong?
3) If a military operation was undertaken in Southern Punjab it’s most likely that such an operation would be conducted with the Federal government or the Army taking the lead. Perhaps the Sharif’s do not want to cede control to the Federal Government it loathes, or to the Army that showed it the door some 11 years ago. Perhaps the Sharif’s are averse to any action which may marginalise them on their home turf?
4) Or perhaps it’s just a clash of egos? The savvy Governor Salman Taseer versus the elected representatives of the people. Perhaps the Governor should change tactics. If he came out against an operation perhaps that would spur the Sharif’s into action?
5) Or maybe eradicating militancy in Punjab is small potatoes? Perhaps Mr Sharif senior has his eyes on the prize. There has been talk that once the “10 year deal” with the Saudi’s comes to an end sometime in the second half of this year, Mr Sharif will be free to push for mid-term elections. Now if that was the case, any operation in Punjab could potentially be disastrous. So close yet so far!
I must emphasise that I have no way of knowing what happens behind closed doors. Or what the Sharif brothers are thinking. My guess is as good as yours, and I am sure other calculations can be made, and additional motivations identified. Any other reason that comes to mind?
Whether we list five reasons or a hundred; the reality remains that people, citizens of Pakistan, constituents of Punjab, many of whom have voted for the political party in power, are dying due to senseless violence. While there are many reasons or “excuses” not to conduct an operation to rid the Punjab of extremists, none of them seem to take into account the welfare of the people of Punjab. Let alone the interests of the nation as a whole.
Even if the Sharifs are correct and Rehman Malik is exaggerating the facts to score political points. No one can deny that illegal weapons have flooded in to the province. By his own admission Zulfiqar Khosa has conceded that inhabitants of Punjab have received training in Fata and then returned to conduct attacks.
Inaction only guarantees one thing: it guarantees more deaths. Do parts of Punjab and the local populations have to suffer the same fate as Swat and Fata? Where the local population was left at the mercy of the Taliban? Or will the Sharifs act once Southern Punjab becomes a “no-go” area?
Why do things have to get so much worse, before any concerte attempt is made to make them better?
Whatever their reasons, whatever their excuses, whatever the calculations, the state must provide security to its citizens by all means possible.
Go on Mr Sharif, with the same spirit that you display every 28th May, when you Sir, a true patriot, made the mountains of Chagai tremble. Make the hard decisions and make us safe again.
Syed Nadir El-Edroos teaches Economics and can be contacted at email@example.com