Contrary to many of my peers, I never felt as hopeless or dejected about Pakistan’s future as I did during the past election. Some were hopeful because they saw in the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) ‘a new political force’ that would take on the ‘corrupt politicians’ and usher in a ‘Naya Pakistan’. Others were hopeful because a democratic transition had taken place, with one civilian government passing on the mantle to another. Frankly, neither rationale gave me much cause for celebration.
Pakistan had been derailed, gone seriously off-track. And a lot more than Imran Khan or a simple democratic handover were needed to put it back on track. The whole world had been commenting on the ‘existential threat’ to Pakistan but domestically, there was a worrying pass-the-buck attitude among the leadership, compounded by a conspiratorial mindset among the educated urbanites, refusing thus to acknowledge the problem. The enemy within us, however, the Taliban and their multiple mutations, was organised and single-minded, as clear as the rest of the nation was confused.
Time had nearly run out for Pakistan. Some of us had been writing and speaking about it as far back as 2007. General (retd) Pervez Musharraf had made mistakes, not in joining ‘America’s war’ as his critics, and more recently, many of his past allies, love to harp on about, as that wasn’t really a choice, but by alienating and exiling civilian political leadership and teaming up instead with the likes of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal. This laid the groundwork, particularly in Khyber-Pakthunkhwa, to provide safe havens for Taliban operatives. And then in 2007, Musharraf made his second big mistake by going after the judiciary, utilising precious police resources to target lawyers as opposed to terrorists. Little wonder, around the same time, blasts at soft targets began escalating.
The 2008 election offered some hope as the people had voted in more liberal parties but despite having their hearts in the right place on the issue, they were unable to curb terrorism. Some of it was due to warped priorities, such as ‘reconciliation’ for the sake of immediate, short-sighted political benefit or simply to make hay while the sun shone. But some of it was also constraint as the military and civilian leadership appeared not to be on the same page. It is terribly curious that during the five years that the PPP was in power, and would have quite easily backed cut-throat military action against the terrorists, the military appeared reluctant to follow through. And now that the PML-N and the PTI are in power, the military seems eager to battle it out but poses to be constrained by civilian leadership. What gives?
The PML-N and the PTI, for their part, naively hoped that if they kept sympathising with the Taliban, they would be spared by them. Beyond this wishful thinking, they had no strategy of dealing with the direst threat to the existence of our state. Calling an All Parties Conference (APC) was reflective of this. Had the PML-N had any clue about how to tackle the terrorism problem, it would have led with a clear plan, not called an APC to pass the buck and find excuses for inaction.
As for Imran Khan, he has seriously misled the youth of Pakistan. Blaming everything on the US and drones, he preaches that we are a proud nation, which has been reduced to being a beggar by corrupt politicians. Simple solutions, devoid of historical accuracy, are appealing, of course, but have little to do with reality. He talked of making the green passport respectable and bringing investment to Pakistan but all he has brought is misery and more terrorism. By not taking on the Taliban, the PTI and the PML-N have emboldened them to act with greater impunity. In the case of the PML-N, perhaps it is myopia that leads to the belief that for as long as Punjab is spared, why should it care about the rest of Pakistan (unforgivable as that attitude may be)? But what is the PTI’s excuse? Meanwhile, as investment flows to other less developed countries irrespective of their corrupt politicians and militaries, we are slowly being swallowed by the Taliban.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 22nd, 2013.