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Shifting of Focus From War On Terror Will Be Dangerous

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No one knows what the future of Pakistan will be, but one thing is clear to all, that if something wrong has happened to this country, it will be a great setback to war on terrorism.  At this moment, efforts are being made by the terrorists to weaken the country.

They have succeeded in creating the aritificial crisis in the country. The terrorists are enjoying the support of the government officials, and have been trying to divert the attention of the rulers from the real issues. The real issue at the moment is elimination of terrorism as the whole world has put their resources and their existence at stake. Winning the war against terrorism is a must. This is not the issue of who will be the president of Pakistan in the future. Many tribesmen think this is also not the issue as to whom the next president of United States will be. The people cannot see the horrible incident like 9/11.

A newspaper comment discussed the situation in Pakistan. It stated that from a rather vague statement made by PMLN chief Nawaz Sharif during a TV interview, many observers think that “national reconciliation” could be in the offing in Pakistan. The idea, not yet clear, is that President General Pervez Musharraf will call a meeting of all the parties and arrive at a consensus with them, which will be termed “national reconciliation”. Messengers are being sent out to the PMLN leaders in London to “mould” their minds to “reconciliation” with President Musharraf and his party in power, the PMLQ.

What is going on is “negotiation”, and it doesn’t look anything like “reconciliation” which, from historical examples, is always offered by a victor, who, instead of taking revenge on his adversaries, offers them the option of “forgive and forget”. In the case of South Africa, national reconciliation, spearheaded by a Church leader, was aimed mainly at the victorious black population, and not at the “defeated” white minority. The idea was conceived in the Christian spirit of not taking revenge when it is easy to do so.

What is happening here is the widening of the “deal” that President Musharraf has been offering earlier to the PPP on “foreign persuasion” after suffering repeated setbacks in his efforts to roll back extremism and terrorism in the country. Unfortunately, he is prey to the same weaknesses that rulers in the past have suffered: start talking when the advantage is slipping. All negotiation assumes an equality of force. At its best, it is conducted by leaders with insight and ability to foresee reversal. Democracy, by keeping the doors of communication open, always offers an opportunity to leaders who possess the requisite insight and wisdom so that their nation is thus spared stagnation and conflict.

But from our past experience, we can say that our rulers have come reluctantly to the negotiating table even when defeat stared them in the face. This was never called “national reconciliation”; at best, it was called an all-parties conference, in which the troubled ruler was usually asked by the opposition to capitulate. No surprise therefore that all such APCs led to further confrontation and instability. Finally, the ruler in most cases had to be pulled down from the throne.

President Musharraf is negotiating after losing ground politically. His position is growing weaker vis-à-vis the main opposition parties and the conglomerate called the APDM. Being a military man, however, he knows that talking to the adversary from a position of weakness will look like capitulation. Unless he gets some leverage over the opposition parties, one party at a time, he will face proposals at the APC that will require nothing short of his head on the chopping block. If “national reconciliation” is to be effected through an APC, it will mean getting the APDM and its low-stakes warrior leaders to sit opposite him. That will either be national “capitulation” or a deadlock with further negative consequences.

President Musharraf is, therefore, clawing himself back into a position of some leverage after losing out at the Supreme Court. He has this leverage with both the mainstream parties, the PPP and the PMLN. He has had an ongoing dialogue with Ms Benazir Bhutto who seems ready to give him the best “safe passage” out of the mess he is in. No matter what she had earlier agreed with Ms Sharif at the ARD, she is willing to accept him as president without the uniform. Her weak point is her need for presidential assent to an act of parliament through simple majority that would let her be prime minister for the third time, and an “amnesty” to prevent her from being thrown in jail upon arrival in the country.

Surprisingly, this is the situation that Mr Sharif too is now facing. Despite the Supreme Court short order in his favour he is being told by President Musharraf’s emissaries that he could still be arrested upon arrival and that earlier convictions could disqualify him from taking part in elections. One emissary has allegedly gone and threatened him with martial law if he became too uppity within the APDM. Apparently, in return for President Musharraf’s generosity towards him — letting him return and play politics after amnesty — he has to accept President Musharraf’s re-election as president. But he has said clearly that this is unacceptable to him.

Therefore there is hardly any prospect of “national reconciliation”. There is no national precedent for it and it goes against the grain of the Pakistani temperament. Revenge has been the driving force behind politics in this country. What is going on is this: President Musharraf is trying to talk to everyone he thinks is still vulnerable, and that includes Maulana Fazlur Rehman from the MMA too. That is why both Mr Sharif and Ms Bhutto seem to be hesitating about coming back to Pakistan. Will his almost certain decision to end his dual office later in 2007 yet anoint the wheels of a “deal” which might be accepted in place of “national reconciliation” whose terms are not yet defined? We shall know the answer in the next few weeks.

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Muhammad Khurshid, a resident of Bajaur Agency, tribal areas situated on Pak-Afghan border is journalist by profession. He contributes articles and news stories to various online and print newspapers. His subject matter is terrorism. He is also (more...)
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