Dateline Islamabad

The Musharraf Trial & Beyond

20 Jan, 2014    ·   4270

Dr Salma Malik comments on the most important issues facing Pakistan

On January 2, General Musharraf ended up at the Armed forces institute of cardiology in Rawalpindi, a rather long detour from his residence to the court, which had made a third unsuccessful attempt to summon the ex-president on charges of treason. 
With speculations ranging from whether there was a deliberateeffort afoot to prevent the general from reaching the court to how smartly once gain a court appearance had been avoided, the General remains hospitalized. After the initial hoopla about the whys and whats of the event, it is just another news item, till the next big audience. However, one wonders what if instead of the quiet yet highly professional new chief justice Jillani, it was the media’s darling Justice Chaudhry still holding the office, could these deferments be possible? Every word uttered by the Chief Justice would make proverbial breaking news across the television channels, and for many the trial appeared more on the personal grid than its merit. 
An unfortunate situation, as very often public weds itself to popular sentiments and opinions about what the truth should be, than what it actually is. Should Musharaf be handed out the guilty verdict on high treason? For some, the answer is in affirmative, as it would prove a deterrent for future khaki interventions and perhaps cosmetically redress the civil-military imbalance. Yet a review of the state of affairs, indicates problems where the military appears least zealous given the circumstances than civilian administers, who need to do their necessary bit. 
While the media remains preoccupied on providing situational updates on Musharaf, the most urgent and pressing concern in the first two weeks of the new year has been the rising number of terrorist bombings. Not less than fifty people, including civilians and law enforcement officials have perished as a result. Yet again, there has been a divided house when it comes to dealing with the non-state terrorist elements. Where the KPK provincial government under the PTI prefers dialogue with the “disillusioned brethren” over direct military action, the federal government appears totally ambivalent about how to tackle this critical and most pressing issue. 
Both the provincial and federal governments seem to disregard the drawdown of foreign troops from Afghanistan and a different politico-military arrangement, which appears nightmarish for Pakistani security forces. The forces have been preoccupied domestically for more than a decade, and the non-state elements, have a bigger playfield and target practicing to carryout. 
The social and traditional media cannot get enough out of the deaths of Aitzaz Ahmed a young school boy, who bravely lost his life by thwarting a suicide attack on his school mates and that of Chaudhry Aslam, a daredevil policeman, who for long led a charmed life and stood out as a symbol of defiance and destruction for terrorist elements in the troubled port city of Karachi. These two brave sons of the soil are not the only one lost in this brutal war against terrorism and militancy. There have been many who precede them and unfortunately many who would gladly follow their footsteps, but is this a fair price to pay. 
What is required is an actual implementation of the anti-terrorism act, the draft bill already prepared by NACTA (the purpose built National Counter terrorism Agency), with a zero-tolerance approach and full inter-agential coordination as well as cooperation. Dialogue can only work, if the government and not the militants are at a superior footing with adequate deterring physical capacity. The latter is actually not a problem, although the law enforcement agencies remain lacking in their capacity, but (at the cost of disregarding security sector balance) the military somehow fills the vacuum. It is the will and determination of the decision-makers that matters. At any religious festivity, a complete lockdown of major cities, with a total blockade of communication and road access can temporarily manage the problem, but is no way a long term to permanent solution to a menace, which cannot be addressed symptomatically alone. 
The PML-N government emphasized on “3-E’s” during and after the elections, Energy, Extremism and Economics. With regards energy sector, the pipelines and alternate energy sources are being worked on, but it would take several years before a true relief is brought about. Extremism as mentioned above needs an iron fisted approach with no appeasement and political patronizing of any sorts. With regards economics, unless there is adequate energy and safe environment, commercial and industrial output will be affected drastically. The PML-N, a party which comprises of feudal and industrialists more than any other should be aware of this. 
As part of better economic opportunities, the government has in its traditional manner been more proactive on improving relations with New Delhi, the January 16-18 agreement between the trade ministers a positive indicator, but one can only hope that the relations between the two countries do not remain focused on one issue area alone, but equal investment and positive output be made on contentious issues without preconditions and time delaying tactics.