The most recent issue of the Friday Times** included an in-depth discussion of the October 8th in-camera parliamentary briefings, [see this past post for more background]. According to the news agency,
In a move seen as an attempt by the government to win over skeptics and dissenters within Parliament, parliamentarians were given an overview of the nature of terrorist threat facing Pakistan, and the steps taken by the government and the military in countering it…
The Friday Times ran a series of interviews conducted by Shaukat Piracha with various Pakistani members of Parliament (MPs) from different political parties, on their reactions and thoughts on the briefings. After sifting through their accounts, I thought it significant to highlight the key statements made by these political figures. Ahsan Iqbal, the central information secretary of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz [PPP’s initial coalition partner, now sitting on the opposition bench due to “irreconcileable differences” over the judiciary issue], asserted that his party believes,
…the nation is looking towards [the] parliament at this critical juncture in history…We believe the time has come…for a comprehensive strategy which is not simply based on security policy. The crisis is multi-dimensional…We want a comprehensive strategy that also gives due consideration to the educational and employment needs of the people. By doing so, we can bring all into the mainstream against extremism and terrorism.
Khurshid Ahmad, a senator from the Jamaat-e-Islami, a religious political party that has previously been vocal in opposing the government’s policy of conducting military operations against militants in the FATA, echoed the need for a more comprehensive strategy, and noted that Pakistan needs to adopt different policies to address the country’s “separate faces of terrorism.” He criticized the fact that “war on terror” has become “the label for all kinds of terrorism,” from sectarian to ethnic to religious militancy. He noted, “We have to review our attitude in the war on terror. We have to examine whether it is really a war on terror, or an instrument to further pursue the United States’ global agenda. If we do not steer the country out of this crisis, we will continue to pay a high price….in terms of economic coast, huge losses in trade, etc.”
Piracha also interviewed Sardar Assef Ahmad Ali, a PPP MNA and former foreign minister of Pakistan, who, unlike Ahmad and Iqbal, came out of the session “far more knowledgeable about sensitive issues,” and feeling “completely in the picture.” Ahmad, in contrast, asserted that “he learnt nothing new” from the in-camera briefing, while Iqbal noted there “were a lot of…gaps everywhere,” with the military officials and the information minister not providing any new information. Ali, on the other hand, stated, “For the first time in the history of the country, whether one admits it or not, I came out of the briefing far more knowledgeable about these sensitive issues. We now feel completely in the picture. There is an existential threat to this country…[for the first time since] 1971.” The PPP MP also discussed whether the government should dialogue with militants, [see CHUP’s previous post and take part in the poll], asserting, “If they [militants] renounce violence and lay down their arms, they are welcome to talk to us. Short of this, dialogue and making agreements has already proved counterpoductive.”
All in all, the interviewed MPs made some pretty interesting statements. However, on whether or not the sessions were beneficial, Ali – not surprisingly – wholeheartedly agreed. Seeing as how the PPP is the ruling party, such an assertion was not unexpected. Perhaps most telling though was the Jamaat-e-Islaami MP’s reaction, specifically when he emphasized, “We have to examine whether it is really a war on terror, or an instrument to further pursue the United States’ global agenda.” Although recent attacks have increasingly shifted the associated perception [with the fight against militancy] from the U.S.-led war on terror to Pakistan‘s war, the momentum can still swing in the other direction, particularly if U.S. drone attacks on Pakistani soil continue.
On Sunday, Dawn cited the latest Pew Global Attitudes poll that found that both the United States and Osama bin Laden have reached a new low in support among the Pakistani population. According to the report, “On balance, more Pakistanis express a negative than a positive view of the Taliban and Al Qaeda…One third of Pakistanis hold an unfavorable view of the Taliban (33 percent) and Al Qaeda (34 percent). Roughly a quarter hold a favorable view of both groups while many Pakistanis do not express an opinion about either.” Dawn added, “72 percent said they were concerned about religious extremism in Pakistan.” Interestingly, a recent Pew poll found 64 percent of Pakistanis believe the United States is the greatest threat facing the country, and 73 percent fear U.S. military action against Pakistan. [The slogan in the above AP photo says, “We hate bomb blasts.”]
Ultimately, both are increasingly perceived in an unfavorable light. However, the United States, by virtue of being a foreign state conducting raids across Pakistan’s borders, is a more polarizing actor. The Pakistani Taliban, [not foreign militants from Al Qaeda], can skew that us-versus-them line because they are indigenous to the region. Although most of us do not see them as one of “us,” [Yeh hum naheen] they are arguably less of an “other” than the United States. While Pakistanis are more united against these militants, that is still a shaky development, likely to be complicated by these continued U.S. attacks [on militant targets]. If such incursions keep occurring, there is the underlying danger that the pendulum could swing in the other direction. Essentially, the Pakistani government and the military must develop a unified, comprehensive, and long-term strategy to ensure that would not be the case.
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