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Friday, 10 October 2008

We must back Army against terrorists!

The Pakistan Parliament's In Camera Session

It is time to distinguish political opportunists from those who are willing to root out the menace of terrorism from Pakistan. It is time to be united to wage an all out war against sectarian and Jihadi terrorists and their supporters. It is time to support the Pakistan Government and Pakistan Army in its action against terrorists.

We must back Army against terrorists!

A joint session of parliament in Islamabad has heard, in camera, the newly-appointed ISI Director General Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha — who was Director General Military Operations (DGMO) before he got the job — on the terrorist threat facing Pakistan and the army’s operations to thwart the terrorists. The briefing has made it clear that to succeed against the militancy in the Tribal Areas the army would need full political backing from the parliament and the people of Pakistan.

The briefing was graphic. There were slides, charts and films which could have left no doubt in anybody’s mind what Pakistan was up against. One can surmise that beheadings, torture and forcible induction of teenagers into suicide-bombing were noted and explained. The operations in Bajaur and Swat were explained too, according to the statements made by the parliamentarians after the briefing. In Bajaur, a level of success has been achieved, with the local population supporting the army; in Swat, things are still difficult because of the control exercised over territory by the militants.

Pakistan has lost 1,368 troops in the fight since 2001, and the military has killed 2,825 Taliban and terrorists, including 581 foreigners. One report about the session says the joint house listened to the shocking details in silence. There will be sessions following the briefing in which the representatives of the people will ask questions and give their views on the subject. The joint session is expected to last a week, if not more, given the gravity of the subject and the urgency of national support to the military operations.

Although the opposition politicians have been negative in their initial remarks, we hope that they will set aside their partisan positions and agree on the task of clearing out the terrorists from Pakistani territory. There are foreigners among the local militants and there are foreign powers involved in trying to harm Pakistan. Weapons and explosives are flowing into the Tribal Areas — and the rest of the country — and dead militants have been found carrying Afghan currency and American dollars. There is no force in Pakistan other than the army that can save us from this invasion.

The message from the army is that it needs public support as it goes in to fight the intruders. This means that it will need parliament to endorse its operations, but it also means restraint in public utterances that undermine the morale of the troops willing to lay down their lives for the country. In fact this aspect of the war against terrorism is most important of all. If statements opposed to military operations are publicised and discussions on TV are held to denigrate the policy of military response, it is bound to make our soldiers wonder if they are fighting the right war.

The crux of the problem is expressed in the slogan popularised by some elements in the media: “this is not Pakistan’s war”. Most critics want to ignore the situation on the ground and judge it on the basis of some strategic decision made by General Musharraf in 2001 after the 9/11 incidents. They think it is America’s war and Pakistan should stop fighting it because it is tantamount to going to war against Pakistan’s own people. This stance requires a stubborn and irrational denial of much of what has been shown to the parliamentarians in the in camera session.

Unfortunately, this militates against the use of the army in any national cause. Why should the army fight a war which is not Pakistan’s war? Also, by what yardstick should the army say that it is the war to fight if those who formulate policy and agree on its general direction are not united in their judgement? At the most, it can report on the consequences of the earlier policies followed by the government in power. As the joint session proceeds, the consequences of the policy of seeking dialogue with the militants and negotiating terms of peace with them will be described by the army.

Statements made by the opposition foreshadow a rejection of the in-camera briefing. But we hope that there will be “objections” that can be met and not an outright “rejection”. As far as the majority in the joint session is concerned, the ruling coalition will be able to secure it once again. One good sign is that even those who oppose military operations predict that the parliament will decide in favour of fighting this war because it is Pakistan’s war now and not only America’s. Pakistan is in bad economic shape and needs to avoid international isolation. And the army will need more than just a majority vote. It will need a “national consensus” and a complete backing from the free media.

Incidentally, top elements of the media have already received three excellent briefings from Gen Pasha in the last six months. It is time to put reason and national interest above tribal notions of personal honour and pique. (Daily Times)

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