Failure of the rulers in war on terrorism has proved that they have not launched the war with sincerity. Actually they have used the war on terrorism for earning more and more.
Pakistan has been passing through from a critical phase of history. Operation in Lal Masjid, Islamabad in which a large number of people including women and children were killed sparked heated debate. Newsmen, writers and politcians have been holding rulers responsible for the carnage.
They said that the government could avoid the bloodbath in Islamabad if they showed sincerity in the earlier stage of drama. Some of them have been calling for democracy in Pakistan.
One writer Syed Sharfuddin wrote that Lal Masjid nightmare is finally over and so is the All Parties Conference. But the soul-searching that has just begun will remain with us for a long time to come. If we address these questions correctly and draw the right lessons from it now, there is hope for the future.
If we ignore the aftershocks and carry on doing business as usual, the problems that underlie the surface will not vanish on their own. The next showdown with the discontented sections of society may be uglier and far more costly in terms of national interests.
During 2005-6, I visited the Maldives many times to facilitate a Commonwealth-brokered dialogue between the government and opposition political parties on democratic reforms.
Opposition political parties believed that as long as President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom was aiming a gun at the political opposition, a dialogue with the government would achieve nothing. Ironically, this metaphor applies more accurately to the situation in Pakistan where a president is indeed holding a gun in his hand in his capacity as chief of army staff for the last eight years. It is also a double irony that perhaps with the sole exception of Ghulam Ishaq Khan, none of the presidents of Pakistan left his office with dignity.
President Musharraf claims to break from the past by allowing the assemblies to complete their full term, but he has shown no sign of leaving his office voluntarily. He should not stay in office until he is forced by circumstances to leave in disgrace following the precedent of his infamous predecessors.
The recently concluded Lal Masjid operation has once again underlined the point which is often ignored by those in the media limelight and high places. That is, no person, group or institution should be permitted to challenge the sovereign authority of the state by taking the law in his or its own hands.
Regrettably, the military establishment has always assumed that it is exempt from this fundamental principle of democracy. Not only have Pakistan’s past military rulers violated the Basic Law, they have also tinkered with it to evade subsequent judicial trails. True democracy has no room for preferential treatment for one institution over the other, nor does it allow double standards to be applied to different individuals.
The Lal Masjid operation has also exposed the poor performance of the intelligence agencies. Contrary to their reports, there were no top-seeded Al Qaeda militants guiding the siege, no belted suicide bomb squads, no hand-held missile launchers nor any land-mined fields in the Lal Masjid compound.
In the absence of such deadly paraphernalia, it is a shame that about 76 half-trained religious teachers, students and militants, with a limited number of Kalashnikovs and light arms kept the elite commando unit of the Pakistan army at bay for eight days.
The authorities should have known each and every person, pillar and beam in the Lal Masjid compound through its intelligence network. If they did not know a public building and its access and cut out points in their own capital city, then either the intelligence agencies failed totally in performing their duty, or there is something missing in the story, namely, that vital information was kept from the authorities to cause them maximum embarrassment in the rescue operation.
If a religious band of extremists can give a tough time to the army for such a long period on its own ground, how can the nation trust the military to defend the country against an external enemy that may have more sophisticated weapons and a superior support base? We might as well adopt a compulsory national defence service for all male adults instead of keeping a large defence force. Is that the reason why our president goes a long way to please those foreign powers that keep asking him to “do more” to achieve their global strategic objectives?
As Imran Khan said recently at the All Parties Conference in London, it is in the nature of pluralistic societies to have their own brand of extremists and militants. They are not specific to Pakistan or the Muslim world. You can find them in India, the UK, the US, Russia and any other country which is trying to grapple with multi-ethnic issues and complex economic and social problems.