DAWN Editorials – 21st Dec 2022

US mediation

THIRD-PARTY intervention can yield positive results in bilateral disputes, but only if the protagonists are willing to accept mediation. With reference to the Pakistan-India relationship, which has been marked by terse exchanges between officials over the past few days, the US State Department’s spokesperson, while responding to a question, said Washington did not want to see “wars of words” between Islamabad and New Delhi, and that the US was interested in a “constructive dialogue between India and Pakistan”. He also said that America offered “unconditional support” to Pakistan in its counterterrorism efforts against the TTP. Though this is not quite a mediation offer from the Americans, it does indicate that Washington would be willing to facilitate a détente. Indeed, if America can be an honest broker, and both states, particularly India, accept its good offices, a return to the negotiating table is possible.

Efforts by foreign powers as well as multilateral bodies have had mixed results in promoting peace in the subcontinent. And though India, holding up the Shimla agreement as a benchmark, insists on a bilateral approach to resolving its disputes with Pakistan, it is a fact that when the US or other powerful interlocutors talk, India listens. There have been other reports of third-party mediation, such as the involvement of a Gulf state that has cordial ties with both sides. But the fact is that while third parties can facilitate talks, all the hard work will need to be done by Pakistan and India themselves. Bilateralism is not fruitless; both sides came tantalisingly close to a deal at Agra in 2001, before the peace process collapsed in spectacular fashion. Perhaps the best way to proceed is for foreign friends to discreetly encourage dialogue, with Pakistan and India continuing back-channel contacts to reach some sort of amicable settlement. For this India will need to shed its stubborn posture and stop demonising Pakistan. Sabre-rattling in a nuclear neighbourhood is highly imprudent, and only negotiations based on mutual respect can bring genuine peace.

Published in Dawn, December 21st, 2022

No-confidence move

AS was anticipated, the PDM parties have employed a two-pronged strategy to block the dissolution of the Punjab Assembly, which PTI chairman Imran Khan had earlier promised would be triggered on Friday. The Punjab governor has directed Chief Minister Parvez Elahi to secure a vote of confidence today, and he must also defeat a no-confidence motion moved against him by the opposition in the Punjab Assembly before he can exercise the powers he needs to dissolve the provincial assembly. While the Punjab Assembly Speaker has moved to dispose of the vote of confidence required by the governor, it is unclear whether his reasoning will stand, and a failure to secure enough votes today may just result in Mr Elahi’s ouster as CM on technical grounds. It should be noted that the Supreme Court’s May 2022 verdict on Article 63-A precludes the possibility of any dissenting lawmaker from either the PTI or the PML-Q upsetting the balance of power in the Punjab Assembly by voting against their parliamentary party’s line. Assuming that voting is held in both instances, the success or failure of both the vote of confidence and the vote of no-confidence would therefore seem to rest in the ruling coalition’s hands. That said, the PDM can also ‘convince’ enough PTI or PML-Q voters to abstain from voting. Those abstaining from the PTI would already have the prospect of being de-seated in case of victory, while PML-Q lawmakers would not have to worry as their fate would rest in Chaudhry Shujaat’s hands.

Therefore, the question is, what does Mr Elahi want, and will the PTI be able to maintain discipline and loyalty within its ranks? As regards the first question, Mr Elahi has sent out enough mixed signals over the past week or so that it seems that, just as he has on past occasions, he is milking this opportunity for far more than his party’s modest political stature deserves. As regards the second, while unsavoury ‘deals’ may be employed to turn the tide, as they have in the past, it is also up to the PTI to keep its lawmakers together. With the fate of the country’s political future now resting in its MPAs’ hands, how many will stay true to Mr Khan’s vision, and how many will break rank? It seems we must grind through what remains of this wearisome year with only more politics to numb the senses.

Published in Dawn, December 21st, 2022

An audacious attack

WE are witnessing the rapid unravelling of Pakistan’s anti-terrorism policy, and can expect an escalating human and material cost. On Sunday, in their most audacious attack yet since late November when they called off their tenuous ceasefire with the government, 33 TTP militants detained inside the Bannu Counter-Terrorism Department centre managed to overpower their interrogators and take a number of law-enforcement personnel hostage.

The militants in a video message initially demanded safe passage to Afghanistan for themselves; they later revised that to say they wanted to be moved to North or South Waziristan. After a stalemate lasting nearly 48 hours, the authorities decided to take the bull by the horns and went in with all guns blazing to free the hostages.

All the militants on site were killed in the ensuing two-hour operation, while at least three SSG commandos were martyred. Despite the outcome, the fact that the militants were able to take hostage the very officials trained in counterterrorism is a symbolic win and a morale booster for the TTP. The violent extremist grouping has successfully exploited the weaknesses in the state’s approach.

Pakistan conceding to talks with the TTP at the urging of the Afghan Taliban, once the cornerstone of the country’s ‘strategic depth’ policy, provided the militants with the opening they needed.

Their intransigence on demands that Pakistan could not possibly accede to, such as reversing Fata’s merger with KP, indicated they were not interested in peace. Instead, they used the military-led ‘negotiations’ as a smokescreen to infiltrate KP and reinforce and resurrect sleeper cells in the province.

Some TTP elements were allowed to return from Afghanistan to Swat as a ‘goodwill gesture’; although military forces denied it later, it was clear the outlaws met with no resistance in entering a part of KP not contiguous with Afghanistan.

A Nacta report to a Senate committee earlier this month said that by their presence, the militants were trying to gauge “the pulse of the locals and response by the state”.

From the huge rallies both in Swat and the tribal districts demanding action against the resurgent TTP, it was clear what the people wanted. But the state continued to gaslight them, with the military’s media wing dismissing the threat as “exaggerated” and the KP government insisting all was well.

Given the perilous security situation, the province’s CTD is woefully underprepared for what lies ahead.

According to a recent intelligence report, it spends less than 4pc of its budget on operations, with zero allocation for procurement, and its human resource is described as “poor, untrained and very ill-equipped”.

Now that the TTP has made ingress in areas from where it had been expelled in kinetic operations some years back, they will not give up without a fight. And the cost of myopic policymaking in the corridors of power will once again be borne by ordinary Pakistanis.

Published in Dawn, December 21st, 2022

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