Fissures in the opposition
Maulana Fazlur Rehman seems to be a lone, almost disregarded man in Islamabad despite amassing a sizeable, charged crowd from all parts of Pakistan, mostly Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. No major opposition party is going to back his dharna plan, or move to D Chowk and beyond with him. Sensing that he has landed in a blind alley, there is now talk of plans B and C. He is keeping his cards close to his chest, which appears to be a good political strategy to keep his followers charged. Earlier, his ultimatum to the prime minister – resign or else – got a lukewarm response from government quarters. Contrary to political pundits’ predictions, and his own words, that once the ultimatum expired he would move to the Red Zone to force Prime Minister Imran Khan to leave office, the seasoned politician from Dera Ismail Khan has planned to just prolong the dharna for the time being. That is another strategy, mostly played by politicians, to keep changing goal posts, to keep opponents guessing.
Rehman is convening an All Parties Conference to end his political isolation, and conclude the march logically. The conference is likely to be a low-key event after the Pakistan Peoples’ Party and the Pakistan Muslim League-N announced that their party heads would not attend. The most likely reason to keep away from the conference for Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and Shahbaz Sharif is that the Maulana often takes extreme positions, which threaten the continuation of parliamentary democracy. Both parties have demanded resignation from the prime minister on several occasions, but not at the cost of chaos and turmoil.
In such circumstances, Rehman must be provided a safe exit, and thankfully, government’s decision to offer negotiations presents a silver lining. Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan has welcomed Rehman’s decision to avoid marching on D-Chowk, adding that the government would meet all demands of opposition parties, except resignation, through dialogue. The statement offers a sign of thaw in relations between the opposition and the government. Both sides need to change their tone and tenor and come to the table for talks. The opposition must learn from sit-ins of Dr Tahirul Qadri and Imran Khan that it is easier to start an agitation but difficult to culminate it logically. Also, the government must learn from the past tha.
Deaths in Yemen, Afghanistan
Civilians continue to die both in Yemen and Afghanistan without any check. The figures compiled by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data and the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction have presented a very grim reality about the bloodshed in Yemen and Afghanistan. The data shows that 100,000 Yemeni civilians have been killed in the war, inflicted on them by warring factions with their abettors like Gulf countries, the US, the UK and Iran since 2015. Most of the civilians were killed in targeted aerial attacks by Saudi Arabia-led allied forces. With war comes starvation and famine, but world agencies have yet to count the people who have died from lack of food because of the continued blockade of supplies to Yemen by allied forces. The images of underfed, malnourished children are making the rounds on world media, but sadly these unloved children have hardly moved any hearts.
Also, civilian deaths in Afghanistan have gone up by three times in the last three quarters compared with the corresponding period of 2018, and Taliban have been blamed for most of the casualties but the Afghan government and US forces also have a share in the numbers. The official US report citing the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan stated anti-government elements like Taliban killed 5,117 civilians from January to September. Most of the people were targeted and killed in suicide and IED attacks prior to the presidential elections in Afghanistan. Besides civilians, Afghan National Defence and Security Forces casualties have also increased by approximately five per cent when compared to the same period last year.
The shocking point is that no visible effort has been made by any quarter to stem the tide of bloodshed in both countries. In Yemen, internal strife has worsened with cracks in the pro-Riyadh coalition, while Iran-supported Houthis are also not ready to restore peace. The stalemate is likely to continue given Saudi Arabia’s unmatched buying power of firearms. In Afghanistan, where the US is in a hurry to pull its troops out and buy a calm retreat, it has engaged Taliban militants in dialogue. Yet despite a year of talking, the militants have not ceased their obsession with targeting helpless civilians.
After five years of war in Yemen, and three decades in Afghanistan, one can conclude that it is easier to start a war than to end it. The world, at least, must no longer be a silent bystander.