The real choice before Pakistan

Published on THE NEWS, by Beena Sarwar, September 20, 2008.

Sabre-rattling among some sections of the media and the army notwithstanding, is the political opposition in Pakistan finally being tempered by the realisation that the only alternative to the current democratically elected dispensation is military rule?

There is surely no shortage of issues to oppose the elected government on: skyrocketing food inflation, law and order breakdowns, power shortages, its refusal to restore the judges by executive order, rising sectarian violence and militancy, American military incursions into Pakistani territory… The list can go on …

… “Religious militancy” on the western borders and within the Pakistani heartland poses a major threat to democracy. The American military incursions into Pakistani territory on Sept 3 underlined not just American highhandedness and shortsightedness (apparently driven by the Bush administration’s needs to gain a major victory and shore up the Republican party prior to the upcoming elections) but also Pakistan’s ineffectiveness in dealing with the militant threat. Pakistan has lodged a strong protest, its army at the ready to retaliate if the raids don’t end. Fair enough. But Pakistan must also simultaneously step up its own efforts on this front. In any case, realistically speaking, it is in no position to militarily combat the US. There is also the other small matter of the army’s dependence on US military aid.

The reality that this is not “America’s war” but ours sinks in with the realisation that Al Qaeda and the Taliban pose a threat not just to the US and Afghanistan but also to Pakistan as a nation, and to any democratic system. In some areas, there is a sectarian bloodbath. Thousands have had to flee their homes. This issue has to be tackled now, for our own sake, without ambiguity. No more Lal Masjids. If Pakistan can’t, or won’t, tackle the matter effectively, others will surely step in. Obviously, military action alone is not the answer: there must be a political roadmap. That is why it is imperative for a political government to be in place.

The outcome of the February elections and widespread support for the democratic process, visible even in the normally bickering political factions, reflect hopes that now finally the army will be pushed back, the intelligence agencies reined in, and peace established with our eastern and western neighbours India and Afghanistan. Despite all the risks involved, it is a good time to try for these goals because for once our aims are aligned with those of the United States – for the sake of its own interests, of course, but to our benefit.

It is imperative for Pakistan’s political leadership to employ the political skill and courage (not bravado) it needs to build public opinion and steer the country out of its current imbroglio. (full text).

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