Other than inquiries about my ancestors and their relations with barnyard animals, the question posed most often to me in the wake of last week’s column is this: “Why are you so angry? Imran Khan was just being honest. Besides, he is the only one with a plan to attack militancy in Pakistan. What has the government done?”
To begin with, let’s remember that Imran Khan wants to be our leader. As such, his statements have to be examined on the basis of the principles they represent, not just for logical consistency.
What then does Mr Khan’s refusal to criticise the Taliban represent?
According to my friend Isfandyar Kasuri, it represents a laudable concern for the safety and welfare of Mr Khan’s workers. Isfandyar, in fact, compared it with the way one should react if women and children are being held hostage.
I find that argument unpersuasive.
Mr Khan’s principles need to make sense for the entire country, not just for his followers. Obviously, leaders must worry about the lives of those directly exposed to the threat of terrorism. But the issue here is the consequences of submitting to terrorism: it’s not about losing a battle but about losing the entire war. If Imran Khan’s statement is taken at face value, he could never order any action against the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), even as the prime minister of Pakistan, because of potential reprisals.
There is another aspect to Mr Khan’s scruples. Mr Khan was asked what he would do if the US refused to stop drone strikes within Pakistan. He said he would order the PAF to shoot down the drones. The questioner told him that this could lead to war. Mr Khan’s response was rhetorical but unequivocal. He asked the host whether it was better to live the life of a jackal or the death of a lion. He then added that sometimes there was no option but to say Allah o Akbar and leave the rest to God.
Let’s review this. Mr Khan is not inclined to criticise the Taliban because he has supporters who live in Taliban-controlled territory. On the other hand, Mr Khan has no problems leading this country into a potential war with a nuclear superpower, apparently because this is the manly thing to do and further because God will take care of us. Go figure.
Let me deal with other points now. I may decide to vote for the PTI as the least bad option. But that doesn’t mean Mr Khan can seek my vote simply on the basis that he is less corrupt and less demonstrably incompetent than the others. To be fair, I don’t think he is campaigning on that basis either. Instead, he is arguing that he represents a force for good and a genuine hope of progress and peace. And he deserves to be judged on that basis.
As I’ve said before, I’m intrigued enough by the PTI to seriously consider voting for it. I am also happy that the PTI has put together a reasonable economic policy while other parties have done zilch. At the same time, the PTI’s economic policies are secondary. The only real issue — right now, right here — is how Pakistan is going to deal with the scourge of fundamentalist militancy and the TTP.
Yes, Mr Khan does condemn terrorist acts like the attack on Malala Yousufzai. But his condemnations tend to be brief and he prefers to focus on the drones and the war in Afghanistan. And it is this aspect of Mr Khan’s thinking which both alarms and outrages me.
This is war, Mr Khan. In a war, what one wants is a leader who recognises the gravity of the threat. What one wants is moral clarity. What one wants is Winston Churchill, not Neville Chamberlain. The TTP are not just criminals nor are they merely an incidental side-effect of the war in Afghanistan. Instead, the TTP are openly waging war against the state of Pakistan. They are killing our soldiers, they are killing our people and they are boasting about it. To say that the TTP does so only because Pakistan is allied with the US is misguided. And to argue that once this alliance disappears, terrorism will also disappear, is further misguided.
First, the TTP seeks not only Pakistan’s disengagement from Afghanistan but the destruction of our current constitutional order. If the Americans leave Afghanistan, the TTP will still continue to demand that their particular version of Sharia be imposed in Pakistan. The TTP has killed at least 10,000 Pakistanis over the last five years and recently shot and wounded a 15-year-old girl for demanding education. Why, then, does Mr Khan refuse to take them seriously? And why does he forget their reign of terror when they took over power in Swat?
Second, Mr Khan’s assessment is wrong that the residents of Fata and the traditional tribals will control militancy once the justification for jihad disappears. Mr Khan likes to support this contention by referring to how the Fata leaders, back in 2004, used to hand over al Qaeda militants. Unfortunately, that tribal culture is now dead. This is because the TTP have killed hundreds of tribal chiefs, or Maliks, and brutalised many others into submission. Yes, if the US leaves Afghanistan, the Taliban will stop their jihad against the US. But the TTP will continue its jihad against Pakistan because it sees this state as deeply illegitimate. And the residents of many parts of Fata will not be able to stop them.
Third, the US has stated it will be keeping forces in Afghanistan even after 2014. If Pakistan’s avowed foreign policy becomes one of open “moral, political and diplomatic support” for the “jihad” in Afghanistan, we will effectively be declaring war on the US. Has anyone in Mr Khan’s stable of former foreign ministers seriously considered the ramifications of that step?
For the record, my difficulties with Mr Khan’s policies should not be taken as an endorsement of any other party. I have written repeatedly and unambiguously about the failures of the PPP and the PML-N. My problem, in the end, is that I had expected more of Mr Khan than what is offered by the PPP and the PML-N. Apparently I was wrong.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 23rd, 2012.