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Sunday, 19 October 2008

Admiral (Retd) Fasih Bokhari's pro-Taliban article, General Zia-ul-Haq's Sharia, and making peace with terrorism?

Making peace with terrorism?

The National Assembly Speaker, Dr Fehmida Mirza, noticed on Friday that members of parliament were generally not showing up to attend the in-camera briefings on the war on terror as required. Of the 440 legislators in both houses of parliament, only a few dozen attended the session, forcing the Speaker to admonish the legislators for showing little interest in the proceedings. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani had personally directed party members to ensure presence during the session. Sadly, most parliamentarians thought the session was “a waste of time as no concrete or unanimous policy was likely to emerge by its end”. The opposition, led by the PMLN, says there is nothing “new” in the briefing, so why not make it open? Critics in the parliament say they already know more about what is going on the Tribal Areas than is revealed in the briefing by the Army.

This is a well-known gambit for derailing something that could have led to a consensus — something that the Indian parliament manages above the hurly-burly of India’s no-holds-barred politics. The opposition is not willing even to give a fair hearing to the case being made against terrorism and in favour of fighting it inside Pakistan. The treasury benches are also blasé and uninterested in attending the bicameral session. They have no idea what kind of message — or lack of conviction — it sends to the people already bombarded by our greatly biased media.

This is paving the way for a joint-house majority by the coalition without conviction, quite equal in effect to having lost the discussion. The Army will come out of it thinking that the politicians are really not in lockstep over the fighting that is taking place in the Tribal Areas. It will make their job of resisting Al Qaeda and its indoctrinated followers even more difficult. Had the operations not been complicated by local dislocation and adverse opinion in the media, fighting the intruders on Pakistani territory would have been easy. One can even say that if the Army were to be asked to fight India with the kind of “low political consensus” we have now, it would not warm to the task. What is in the mind of those who want to get out of the national struggle against Al Qaeda?

No one has a clear programme about what to do in the event that military operations are abandoned. The ruling passion is the prevalent feeling of anti-Americanism. The Americans can leave the region in extremis, but how do our critics plan to fill the security gap in Afghanistan while nestling Al Qaeda and its tributaries inside the Tribal Areas with growing dominance in cities like Islamabad, Peshawar and Karachi?

Some “interim” order is envisaged in a recent article written by former chief of the naval staff, Admiral (Retd) Fasih Bokhari in a local paper: “The Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan is essentially fighting for Sharia, promised them by Gen Zia-ul Haq and Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto”. He thinks that if the rest of Pakistan too demands sharia it should be given to them. He recommends dialogue with the Taliban “to lay down arms with concurrent establishment of a Sharia-based judicial system. Amendments to the Constitution for such a system in given geographical jurisdictions of Federal and Provincial Governments should be expeditiously passed by Parliament to demonstrate sincerity”.

We don’t know what kind of sharia Ms Bhutto promised to the Tribal Areas, but the one Gen Zia promised was operationalised through the Federal Shariat Court. But the clergy has rejected Gen Zia’s “inclusive” sharia and wants a different kind of order not only in the Tribal Areas but also in the whole of Pakistan. They reject the definition of good and evil in the modern state. Today the state tells us, that to be good, a citizen has simply to avoid doing bad. The Islamists say that, to be good, a citizen has to do good, which they reserve the right to define. The result is that the sharia ends up being oppressive. It punishes people for not going to the mosque, it punishes people for shaving their beards, it punishes women who step out of the home without hijab and without a mehram, and it punishes girls getting education in schools. The execution of this sharia requires an intrusive police state which Pakistan can afford only if it accepts a future akin to that of Somalia today where the Union of Islamic Courts doles out death sentences to citizens who watch football on TV.

Admiral Bokhari advises defiance of capitalism and its foremost exponent the United States but devotes very little attention to the strategy of how to avoid the demise of the state of Pakistan at the hands of desperate extremists who will only be strengthened after adding Kabul to the trophies won in Pakistan. Many of us are expressing opinion in the heat of passion, longing for a radical change in Pakistan’s direction as a state. But we have to defend and preserve what we have, not change what we have under duress and pressure from the terrorists. And we will win this war because the state of Pakistan is strong enough to survive. (Daily Times)

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