Pakistan News

More than lines on a map

More than lines on a map

THE candid admission by the leadership that the National Action Plan (NAP) rollout has serious impediments in its path is worrying. That a piecemeal implementation will barely address the symptoms while leaving the disease untreated is no less alarming.

With the positive side of a democratic dispensation evident in the agreement to move forward first with one (the western) of the branches of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the decision-makers will now need to focus all energies on securing the country from terrorism.

The lack of agreement and the concerns of the smaller provinces about who’ll get what share of the infrastructure mostly in terms of the chosen route(s) of the corridor were threatening to throw into controversy what many have billed as one big opportunity for the country, despite its high cost.

The businessman in the prime minister saw this quickly and, according to media reports, initiated individual briefings by key members of his project team so the fears of being physically marginalised, bypassed by the economic corridor of the leaders belonging to the smaller provinces were allayed.

This was followed by a multiparty conference that was good for the health of the project. Even then the promised $46 billion Chinese infrastructure investment will only materialise if peace is restored here; a mere semblance of peace won’t work as any student of economics will tell you investment is risk averse.

Media reports have suggested that the rate of return, in some cases up to 30pc per year, on the Chinese investment may have factored in the ground situation in Pakistan inasmuch as including a high-risk premium.

But that government and the army have had to announce the raising of a special force to secure the corridor, and those working on it, is an acknowledgment of the ugly reality. It would be delusionary to think that nothing can derail the proposed investment.

Pakistan’s friendship with China in the words of the former’s leadership at least is ‘all-weather and time-tested’. It would still be foolish to expect Beijing to agree to invest such a big volume of funds if it didn’t expect to reap a hearty return for a long time to come.

For this, peace along the corridor, in brief all over the country, would be a prerequisite. Additionally, Beijing has serious concerns about religious militancy in its Xinjiang province and has often traced its roots to the lawless areas of north-western Pakistan which have seen a multinational force of Muslim extremists gathered from around the globe.

The military is battling and gradually securing these areas and pushing the militants out. Side by side NAP was supposed to roll out a series of simultaneous measures which are stalled for now. One need only read the assessment of former inspector-general of police Tariq Khosa published on these pages on Thursday to understand what needs to be done.

Frankly, terrorism has been allowed to fester for so long that the multi-pronged fight against it has to be fought at the same time in areas as diverse as looking at its source of funding including via foreign benefactors to monitor and stop hate speech from the pulpit.

So far, it seems, the government has been content with letting the military take the lead in all security issues except for some cosmetic measures. Many of its critics have attacked it for adopting this policy of self-preservation at the cost of all other considerations.

The evaluation of the shortcomings of NAP now means the government cannot continue along this path for the simple reason that the military doesn’t have the means and capacity to fight this war all on its own.

Some opponents of the government argue that its lack of commitment to take on terrorism in all its forms is due to its ideological affinity with some of the militant groups. I suspect this view may be a bit too harsh.

Fear, slothful incompetence, or a combination of both may be the driver of this inaction. But surely, this attitude has run its course. If the government can’t or won’t even attempt to comprehensively implement NAP, sooner or later it’ll lose its right to govern.

Even more significant than the right to govern will be its ability to govern. In any case, if this drift continues what will there be left to govern? Similarly, the loss of life and limb the military is taking as it battles renegades, rebels/terrorists is worthy of praise and gratitude in the loudest of terms.

But that despite this, its exercise is seen by some as selective and targeting only those who have attacked it is worrying. Talking about India, former army chief Gen Kayani once told journalists, that he had to worry about its capability not intentions.

The same needs to be said for extremist/militant religious groups. For long the army has seen some among this lot as ‘patriotic’ and a second line of defence and hence as allies whose capacity it has beefed up in the past and largely left alone during the current operations.

Isn’t it time for GHQ to pause and ask itself how it can tell one group apart from the other when each is committed to the enforcement of the narrowest, most obscurantist, and often divisive view of religion?

If the CPEC is going to be more than mere red, blue or whatever coloured lines on a map, the fight against terror will have to be fought in tandem on many fronts by all state institutions and every citizen.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

[email protected]

Published in Dawn, May 30th, 2015

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