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Sunday, 1 February 2009

When time is the enemy: Extremism, Long March and a Fragile Democracy

When time is the enemy
Sunday, February 01, 2009

by Ghazi Salahuddin

....Coming back to other reports published on Friday, the main headlines belonged to Rehman Malik, the interior adviser, who seems to stride across the corridors of power with more authority than other, popularly elected ministers. He spoke in the Senate about Swat and this is what he said, apparently addressing the militants: “Get out of Swat, we are after you and we will get you, as the armed forces and secret agencies are now re-energised to complete the task.” What brave words. Ah, but why so late in the day? What were they waiting for until now?

In one respect, he was right. “If not stopped in Swat, tomorrow they would be in Hazara and then one fine morning in Islamabad.” The question that readily comes in one’s mind is, if the threat is so deadly, why has there been such a delay in taking decisive action. Malik said that they would now adopt a new strategy. How long does it take for a government in power, blessed with one of the largest standing armies of the world, to devise a strategy and get into action?

In this case, the price of a delay in taking decisive action is phenomenal. What were they waiting for? The incredibly tragic story of Swat has been gnawing at us for weeks and months. Perhaps they were waiting for some given number of girls schools to have been bombed and people beheaded by the militants to earnestly get into action. Hence, it did not apparently seem to excite them into action when, say, ten schools had been bombed, or twenty, or even one hundred. Now the score is about two hundred. Brutal killings have also recorded an impressive total.

Meanwhile, of course, the situation in the previously serene valley of Swat continues to worsen. We have had, in recent days, very graphic accounts of what is happening there. Considerable comment has already been made on what has gone wrong and analysts have debated on how the challenge should be met in the overall perspective of our wider struggle against religious militancy and terrorism.

On the political front, the temperature has risen to almost a boiling point. The latest press conferences by Nawaz Sharif signal a fearsome confrontation that we can hardly afford in our present circumstances. The focus, at this time, is on the scheduled Long March of the lawyers that the PML-N has vowed to support with full force. There is a rising sense of disarray in the country.

Friday’s reports included the coverage of parliamentary affairs minister Babar Awan’s speech in the National Assembly. Awan is another heavyweight in a popular party that has redesigned itself by changing its lead players. He underlined the achievements of the 10-month-old government to consolidate what he called “a beautiful system” of democracy. And he added that there was no ‘Aladin’s lamp’ to ‘immediately’ right the wrongs of military dictators.

This, again, means that we should wait, that more time will be needed to set things right. In some ways, it is true that you need time to do certain things. But the issue here is that promises made have not been kept and an attitude of business-as-usual was adopted in situations that required emergency care and a revolutionary zeal. (The News)

The writer is a staff member.

Email: ghazi_salahuddin@hotmail.com

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