By A Rashid
I have said it elsewhere in so many words: leaders have to lead and not to trail. In a democratic order stability, which comes with consensus, is the foremost requirement of a government in order for it to deliver. At the same time however, it is the responsibility of leaders to strive to correct the mistaken ideas of the electorate.
With regard to forging Pakistan’s future ties with the United States, both the civil and military leadership of Pakistan are locked in a stalemate, in pursuit of a consensus. After the consensus formula, arrived at by the parliamentary committee and represented by all political parties in parliament, there should have been no problem in attaining its approval in the joint session of parliament. But when national interest is not viewed on merit and leaders start trailing behind the general public, national interests are bound to be jeopardized. This is what’s happening today in Pakistan and all stakeholders are to blame for this stalemate.
During the last four years of PPP’s coalition government, the army leadership had been calling the shots in the domain of foreign affairs. After the Salala incident, the military attempted to be clever by adopting a tough stance against the United States, in the hope of extracting some increased material benefits from the US and NATO. This was a naïve strategy that set the tone for the civilian leadership to act on the same lines. To top it all off, the army committed another folly by suggesting to the civilian leadership that the issue of future ties with the United States should be decided through the Pakistani parliament.
The army however failed to anticipate the determination and stance of the opposition parties. Not only were they not manipulated, but their current stance is one in which they are bent on throwing a spanner in the process of reconciliation with the United States. The military and PPP leadership were working on the principal of ‘you scratch my back and I scratch yours’, but the opposition parties, particularly the PMLN and JUIF, are not playing along. They feel wounded from the premature packing up of the PPP-led coalition government. Moreover, they know that the heyday of military hegemony is over.
Such actions by the military and civilian leadership have scuttled attempts to protect genuine national interests, so much so that the US leadership seems to be running out of patience. A report by Anwar Iqbal in today’s Dawn newspaper raises alarm bells. Captioned, ‘US to rely on India if talks with Pakistan fail’, it tells of how a senior US general told a congressional panel on Thursday that, ‘the United States would have to rely on India and the northern distribution network if Pakistan did not open NATO supply lines to Afghanistan’.
Immediately after the Salala incident, the military leadership indulged in a point scoring exercise rather than carrying out a serious contemplation for effective damage control. Now the opposition parties, in a tit-for-tat measure, are repeating the same point scoring exercise to keep the electorate in good humour.
I am reminded of folklore here: a house was on fire and a Sikh was sitting nearby in a relaxed mood. A passerby told him about the burning house. The Sikh replied, sanun kee, ‘what does it matter to me?’. The fellow replied that it was the Sikh man’s house that was on fire. To which the relaxing Sikh replied, fir tohanun kee , meaning , ‘then what does it matter to you?’
We are presenting a laughing stock to the entire world: As we are engaged in hair splitting and point scoring, the state awaits fateful decisions from our civil and military leadership at this crucial juncture.
At the same time, no less blame is owed to the United States leadership in all this. Firstly, NATO command’s incompetence to indulge in such a protracted act of violence against the troops of a frontline partner in the ‘War on Terror’ was misguided. Secondly, the failure of the political leadership to offer an unqualified apology for the incident, without loss of time, was foolish. Given the public mood in Pakistan immediately following the incident, an apology from the American leadership would have set the tone for ‘business as usual’, but that was not to be.
What’s done is done. What we must now worry about is what is to be done. Don’t we know that in the prevailing circumstances, our alliance with the United States is crucial for Pakistan? The stakes are higher for Pakistan than the US or any other country. Don’t we know that the drone strikes by the US are being carried out by the tacit understanding of both our civil, as well as military, leadership? It is the drone attacks which have broken the back of terrorism in Pakistan as well as heavily hampering both Al Qaida and the Taliban. Why are we trying to be hypocritical in denouncing an act which serves our vital national interest? Is it just because our leaders do not have the strength to take up a campaign to correct the common man’s misperception?
The writer is a retired Lieutenant Colonel of the Pakistan army, A Rashid is a political analyst, who occasionally writes Op-Ed pieces for various newspapers. He can be reached at E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org