What a thought!
What a thought! What a thought! What a thought!

PUBLISHED 7/14/2017
Dissenting note

Friday, January 16, 2009

by Dr Masooda Bano

A few days ago, President Zardari conferred the award of Hilal-i-Quaid-i-Azam on Mr Richard Boucher, US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, for the valuable services he arguably rendered in strengthening Pakistan-US relations. There are two issues that demand attention: one relates to the very need to give this award, and the other to the timing of it. In what way have Pakistan's relationship with US changed since the PPP government has come in power? Second, at a time when Israel is carrying out unchecked aggression against Palestinian with full backing of the United States administration-- and where countries like Venezuela have expelled the Israeli ambassador to put pressure on the Israeli government to stop 'state terrorism'-- all Mr Zardari can think of is to honour Mr Boucher. Well, what a thought!

That the sitting PPP government is in no mood to reform the country became clear within a month of PPP being in power as the government actively worked to block moves for reinstatement of the deposed judges. However, even its critics had not realized that it not only lacks commitment, it also lacks competence. True there were problems with elected governments formed under Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif during the 1990s but this is perhaps the first government to be so lacklustre. The government supports a huge cabinet, which all government with weak popular base do, yet the public gets a feeling that there is simply no one in charge. The issue is not that power is all centered in the office of Mr Zardari rather than the Prime Minister. That could be ignored provided Mr Zardari was showing signs of using that power to undertake some institutional reforms.

That nothing has happened on the development front in the last ten months is clear. No education or health sector reforms have been initiated, no poverty reduction programmes have been planned, and there is no attempt afoot to improve the employment opportunities. But, it could be argued that these are fundamental problems, which will require long term reforms. The problem, however, is that the government seems to be failing even in handling situations which are not systemic but require just an intelligent response. That the current leadership simply does not have the capacity to give an intelligent response has been clear in the recent haphazard responses it has given whenever critiqued for alleged links to Bombay attacks.

It has been visible all along that the government has no strategy to deal with these accusations. All statements and responses from senior officials have come as random responses rather than as part of a well-thought out strategy-- the candidness shown by National Security Adviser Major General (retd) Mehmud Ali Durrani in admitting the identity of one of the Bombay attackers as being Pakistani, in an interview with an Indian TV channel, was just another proof of this. Whether or not Pakistanis were involved, the main issue is the how clever or competent are the current Pakistani leaders in getting the country out of a tight spot when it has landed in one. If the Indian state is gathering intelligence information, the extensive network of Pakistani intelligence agencies should also be used to find evidence that could help shift the blame away from Pakistan. This does not require loads of money, it just requires a strategy and sadly that is precisely what is missing in all the government moves.

Even on the issue of militancy, the PPP government has recorded a clear shift from its earlier claims of settling the issue with dialogue to coming to rely on use of military force. The reason it did so was that it was too weak to resist US pressure. However, pressure could have been averted if the government had put together a convincing factual account to show that the use of military force to check militancy has instead increased militancy. There are very strong grounds for making this argument when now internationally not many see 'war on terror' as a success.

Even David Miliband, UK Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, this week has called 'war on terror' a mistake. The recognition at the global level that the use of force perpetuates rather than curtails militancy provides the Pakistani leadership just the right support to build a strong case for replacing military operations in the NWFP and tribal belt with dialogue. According to recent reports, over 600 policemen deployed in Swat want to go on leave; is that in itself not a proof of the failure of the military option adopted by the PPP government. When the government makes no move towards developing a strong case for stopping the military option, who is to be blamed?

Mr Zardari can honour as many American officials as he wants but this would not get Pakistan out of a constant state of crisis. In dealing with external forces, be it US or India, a much more effective thought would be to invest in developing a clear strategy to defend Pakistan's position. But that requires the government to first develop a vision of what is the optimal strategy, based on very strong evidence. It is important that the government plays a more pro-active role rather than always being on the defensive; it does not help Pakistanis to know that the state is losing all control.