Pakistani rulers are still confused. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, without any homework, announced the revoking of centuries-old system in tribal areas. His announcement in the National Assembly revoking Frontier Crime Regulation (FCR) through which tribal areas are governed has paved the way for Taliban government in tribal areas. Terrorists of international fame have been using the situation in their favour.
Pakistan media and politicians have no idea how to deal with the menace of terrorism. Just read the editorial of Daily Times. You will come to the conclusion that there is still confusion over the war on terror. The news on Friday was that the US Congress is preparing to discuss Senator Joe Biden's proposed package of assistance to Pakistan worth an unprecedented $7 billion. There will also be a democracy "dividend" of up to $1 billion, and $200 million would be approved by the US Congress in the coming few days. The Democratic Party, it appears, is endeavouring to de-link the assistance to Pakistan from the Pakistan army. If the package comes on line in the next few months, the civilian aid to Pakistan is estimated to rise to $1.5 billion a year.
This is an offer that Pakistan should not spurn. The British newspaper that reported the development says the Americans have also agreed that anti-terror aid would be based on performance, that Pakistan would be consulted before any "drone attacks" into its territory are made, and that all aid against terrorism would be given to civilian law-enforcement and intelligence agencies. The paper has also reported that the new coalition government in Islamabad led by the PPP has agreed to the package. Islamabad, on the other hand, has claimed that it has the US assent to its policy of holding talks with the Pashtun tribes along its Afghanistan border.
There is another signal in the way some government representatives have been revealing the early contours of the policy of "talks". The plan apparently is to talk to only those elements in the Tribal Areas that are not wielding arms and are not taking part in violence, although on ground these talks seem to be going forwards with the very people who are involved in what looks like an insurgency. The US and its allied forces in Afghanistan have looked at the policy of talks with suspicion because all the "peace agreements" that came about as a result of this policy increased the cross-border attacks by the Taliban-Al Qaeda combine.
The US is talking to Pakistan with money in a situation where Pakistan is in dire economic straits. Its trade gap is a shocking $20 billion and it is facing an oil bill of $11 billion at the end of this financial year that it can't pay without exhausting its foreign exchange reserves. It is impossible to imagine that the government would pass the entire oil price of $115 per barrel to the people without being overthrown. It has therefore been looking for a foreign exchange cushion to tide over its current account crisis. It has got $300 million from Saudi Arabia and half a billion dollars from China. It could do with more aid for some time before it can find a way out of its energy crisis.
The other interlocutor is Al Qaeda. And there is no doubt that both the US and Al Qaeda know that they are bidding for Pakistan in their own different styles. Al Qaeda's communication is based on ideology and a primitive reaction to infliction of pain. It has extracted from us the visceral response of "it's not our war" after the most intense suicide-bombing in the seven-year history of terrorism in Pakistan. The democratic forces unleashed by the 2008 elections are anti-Musharraf and inclined to interpret terrorism in Pakistan in the light of their animus for one man. If the persuasion was achieved through violence and infliction of pain, even more was achieved by Al Qaeda through the cessation of pain by switching off the attacks to enable the anti-Musharraf forces to gather speed.
The TV anchors are now saying "al-hamdulillah" the attacks have ceased because democracy has replaced "one-man rule". Their diagnosis is that the attacks have ceased because the new leaders want no part of "America's war" and are now willing to hold talks with the "militants". Such is the persuasion of the cessation of pain that no one is looking at Al Qaeda's signalling carefully. Despite the fact that suicide bombings have ceased after the last one at the Naval War College in Lahore, the capture of potential suicide-bombers and their explosives has not ceased, clearly indicating that Al Qaeda wants Pakistan to deliver on its pledge on its terms, or the bombings will resume.
The acceptance of US aid might be interpreted by some as surrender of "honour" because of the money Pakistan will get; the acceptance of Al Qaeda's terms will come because of weakness but weakness would be disguised as an act of solidarity with the Islamic forces battling for Afghanistan. The weakness is demonstrable in such cases as the rise of Mangal Bagh in Khyber as the "redeemer of Islam", whose army is most likely to gang up with Al Qaeda in the coming days. As if responding to the call of Al Qaeda, the lawyers are now parading the streets of Lahore - on days other than Thursdays - demanding a break in relations with Denmark because of the blasphemous cartoons and the release of Dr AQ Khan. The last demand is ominous for the West in today's pro-Al Qaeda atmosphere.
It is not difficult to conclude that Al Qaeda can't save Pakistan's economy. It can take over certain areas and make them viable only by violating all laws holding Pakistan together territorially. Therefore one expects the PPP government to make the "rational choice" instead of succumbing to the passion of the street.