Recently a Pashto radio channel reported Syeda Abida Hussain, a former MNA now allied with the PPP, as saying that the US is determined to eliminate terrorists and American drones might attack them in south Punjab. She said that all terrorists have to be eliminated, if foreign aggression on mainland Pakistan is to be avoided.
Abida Hussain’s view is a good sign in the context of the denial syndrome afflicting many Pakistanis, including politicians. A case in point is the issue of the drone strikes on Fata. All political parties, especially those having links in Fata, such as the ANP, PPP and the JUI-F, know that the tribal people are not as fearful of drone strikes as is made out in the media since they target the terrorists, and are usually quite precise in the damage and destruction that they cause. And yet in their public statements, Pakistani politicians misinform about this issue. One reason might be the fear of a military establishment. The ANP is mostly silent on this issue, and the PPP often misleads the people. Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Yousaf Raza Gilani have been saying that the drone strikes whip up severe anti-American hysteria because of their large-scale civilian casualties. This view is far from being true.
There is, however, one instance when both the ANP and the PPP communicated the tribal view on the drone attacks through the Peshawar Declaration, a joint statement of the provincial leadership of anti-terrorism political parties, including the two political parties and civil society representatives from Fata and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, signed in December 2009. The Punjab-based PML-N has gone too far in its appeasement of its religious vote-bank. The party opposes drone attacks on Fata and rejects any notions of an operation against the Punjabi Taliban. It seems like the Punjab government is patronising terrorists just like the previous MMA government did in the case of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
The MMA government was a product of rigged elections engineered by General Pervez Musharraf. However, the PML-N came to power through a popular mandate. A popular government supporting or soft peddling on terrorists could be much more disastrous and my apprehension is that people of the Punjab could greatly suffer if the party does not give up its pro-Taliban stance.
With or without the US, drone attacks in Pakistan have to eliminate the jihadis. Operations have to be conducted in Muridke and south Punjab. The so-called ‘Kashmiri Mujahideen’ and pro-Pakistan Taliban have to be taken by the horns, as should all other terrorists. And it needs to be understood that the jihadis can never be our strategic assets. The quicker this happens, the better for us.
My hope is that Abida Hussain’s view would not be a one-off and other politicians from the Punjab would challenge the pro-militant public discourse. I would also expect the ANP and PPP to inform Pakistanis about the positive views of the tribesmen on the drone attacks.
Published in the Express Tribune, June 11th, 2010.