Monday, March 15, 2010

Pandering to the Taliban

Editorial -- Express Tribune -- (coming out soon in the market)

What is one to make of Shahbaz Sharif’s speech that he made at a seminar at a seminary in Lahore on Sunday? In short, the Punjab chief minister is saying that the Taliban should not be attacking Punjab because one, the PML-N doesn’t “take dictation” from America and two, because both the PML-N and the Taliban have taken a stand against General Pervez Musharraf that is more or less the same. To quote the operative part of the chief minister’s somewhat shocking – but not entirely unexpected – statement: “General [Pervez] Musharraf planned a bloodbath of innocent Muslims at the behest of others only to prolong his rule, but we in the PML-N opposed his policies and rejected dictation from abroad and [sic] if the Taliban are also fighting for the same cause then they should not carry out acts of terror in Punjab.”
One clearly gets the sense that the Punjab chief minister is coming across as an apologist for the Taliban because instead of using the provincial police and various law-enforcement and intelligence agencies under his command to fight these terrorists he is asking them to not target the province because of the reasons mentioned above. In fact, the point of the matter is that regardless of the reasons mentioned therein, how can the chief executive of the country’s largest province possibly request – it didn’t seem anything but that – the Taliban to not target the province? Shouldn’t he, as the person elected to head the province’s government, be taking the fight to the terrorists and the militants instead of trying to ‘appeal’ to their good sense – as if they (the terrorists) would have one!
The chief minister and his press information department may try damage control at the controversy that has already been created and one way may be to say that the comments were made at a madressah and should be seen in that context. However, this can easily be countered by saying that location should not really decide the content of what the chief minister says on a matter that is so sensitive and crucial to the nation’s very survival. What kind of message and/or signal is Mr Sharif sending to his police force and to the members of the law-enforcement network, many of whom have lost their lives, or a loved one, to fighting the terrorists? Basically they are to believe – and they would be completely justified – that the provincial government completely agrees with the justification given by the Taliban that their movement is more or an anti-America and anti-military dictator struggle. In fact, one wouldn’t be surprised if some of the PML-N’s more sensible leaders would be thoroughly embarrassed by what one of their leaders – and party’s president to boot – has said on the Taliban.
Another question that the comments raise is that is the chief minister suggesting that the Taliban spare Punjab because of the stance taken by the political party which is running it? That can only be seen as bad for inter-provincial harmony because people living in other provinces – or at least some of them – may interpret it to think that the Punjab chief minister cares only for his province and not for the nation as a whole, given that fighting militancy needs to be a top priority nationally. By Mr Sharif’s warped logic, attacks in Rawalpindi are not on because that city comes under the jurisdiction of the Punjab government but attacks in Islamabad are justified because it comes under the federal government and the latter is run by a party which is hand-in-glove with Washington? If that is not pandering to the Taliban then we do not know what is. Also, does the chief minister really believe the Taliban’s propaganda that if the government of the day were to disassociate from cooperating with the Americans the suicide attacks would stop? He also seems to believe – and this too is a dangerous myth that needs to be shattered – that the war against terror is not in Pakistan’s own interest. Shahbaz Sharif needs to act like a leader and that means taking – sometimes – unpopular stands. In this particular case, most Pakistanis – and certainly most people in Punjab – will agree with the chief minister but he needs to act like a leader; and that means telling people uncomfortable things and challenging their worldview especially if it is misplaced and misinformed.
The Punjab chief minister needs to support his police and law-enforcement agencies who are not afraid to lose their lives in fighting the terrorists bent on imposing their hardline interpretation of faith on everyone else – he also needs to take the fight to the militants and should understand that what he has said will only embolden them.

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