Pakistan News

Time to excise this sore

Time to excise this sore

BY now Pakistan must be a strong contender for the Guinness Book of World Records as the nation with the most own goals, the latest being the killing of Afghan Taliban emir Mullah Akhtar Mansour a short distance from Quetta.

As the US announced its drone ‘kill’, the first in Pakistan’s Balochistan province, a wide variety of reactions were witnessed in the country — from the ‘we don’t know who was killed and need to ascertain’ to lamentations about our violated sovereignty.

Finally, the adviser to the prime minister on foreign affairs, Sartaj Aziz, confirmed the death of the country’s key yet recalcitrant ally, expressed unhappiness at the assassination and reiterated his government’s commitment to the so-called quadrilateral peace effort aimed at ending hostilities in Afghanistan that has so far brought nothing but recriminations our way.

Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan’s reaction was in line with his now well-established tradition. He mourned some and then, rather than inquiring into how and why the Afghan Taliban leader was travelling on Pakistani documents, he decided to punish more than 101 million of his compatriots.

Yes, he announced ‘re-verification’ of all national identity cards issued by the National Database and Registration Authority, and that number is in excess of 101 million. Would it not have been better to have conducted a sharply focused probe into how all and sundry, including foreigners with money and influence, can get ID papers in Pakistan?

This is tantamount to adding insult to injury as bona fide Pakistani citizens suffer humiliation when applying for such documents or even while trying to renew existing ones. (Don’t even ask me my personal experience as I am currently in a state of anguish due to the inexplicable procedures of our august babu sahibs. The myth of how polished and efficient members of our foreign service are stands blown to smithereens in my eyes on this occasion.)

Again, be assured, Chaudhry Nisar’s ‘re-verification’ will not cause problems to those who have the documents despite having no entitlement to them at all; the fallout of his wrath will have to be borne by the countless millions who have neither influence nor money, the two things which can make all wheels turn in our society.

But, then apart from once every five years, if we are lucky that is, when do these poor souls count? Our leaders create grandiose, high-profile monuments to satiate their own ego and call them public-service projects. The public seems only to find comfort in the supernatural. All else pushes people deeper into despondency.

Frankly, the public couldn’t care less, if you ask me, whether or not Mullah Mansour was lawfully killed on our soil or even if he was here with our knowledge. What some of us do know is that he led a group which was attacking a lawfully formed government of a neighbouring country and killing both civilians and soldiers there.

The debate should be whether we should have such people on our soil with complete freedom of movement or whether we should mandate that all those who seek refuge here should ensure their actions don’t bring pressure, disrepute and isolation to Pakistan.

Adding his voice to the official Pakistani positions was the army chief Gen Raheel Sharif who told his GHQ visitor, the US ambassador, that “such acts of sovereignty violations are detrimental to relations between the two countries and are counterproductive to ongoing peace process for regional stability”.

Since the meeting was described as “short, cold and cordial” by a source quoted in this newspaper, I doubt the US envoy had the time or desire to ask ‘what peace process’ as the ascension to the office of emir of the slain Mullah Mansour was accompanied by multiple attacks on Afghan urban centres in which dozens perished.

Till he was taken out and the shura chose his successor, there seemed no possibility of the Afghan Taliban coming to the negotiating table as Pakistan’s influence is now seriously limited. We gave them refuge and offer other goodies but they don’t listen to us one bit, turning what was once feted as a strategic ally into a running sore. Our Taliban allies and the Haqqani network can’t even deliver Mullah Fazlullah to us.

Pakistan’s outrage at the latest drone strike reminded me of an anecdote my father used to tell us. He said as a student he was once waiting at a bus stop as was another person who was losing his cool because the bus was late yet again. As the delay got longer, my father’s fellow traveller started to blow his top.

“He unleashed a torrent of abuse and said he’d sort out the crew today,” I still vividly recall my father’s words. “I was certain that when the bus eventually arrives, this man would be unable to contain his anger. As the bus finally approached, the pitch of the man rose to near hysterical levels and I feared that the journey would take even longer as who knew how the crew would react to being assaulted.”

But as the bus stopped and the conductor jumped down to let us board, the man who’d been frothing at the mouth asked him softly: “Conductor Sahib, aaj baree der ho gayee, khairyat to he? (Sir, today there was a long delay. Hope all is well?)” Then he boarded the bus and quietly took his seat.

If we as a nuclear-armed nation have to appear a bit more robust than my father’s co-passenger then perhaps we should excise this strategic sore and tell the Taliban that while we have no reason to fight them, they also can’t use our soil to attack other countries. But will we?

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

[email protected]

Published in Dawn, May 28th, 2016

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