Saturday, January 18, 2014

Daily Times Editorial Jan 19, 2014

Land of the gun and bomb If anyone thinks that the title of this piece is overly dramatic or exaggerated, they only have to look around at events on Friday and their backdrop to sober up and understand that far from overhyped, the thought may well be an understatement. Three passengers were killed and 18 injured in a train bombing near Rajanpur. No claim of responsibility has come forward so far, but there is speculation in some parts of the media that it may be the work of the insurgents of the Baloch Republican Army. If so, the tragedy is the price the country is paying for shortsighted policies in Balochistan that need urgent review for the sake of peace. In that cesspit of bloody mayhem called Karachi on the same day, the Sindh leader of the JUI-S was killed along with two of his companions and three journalists of Express TV were gunned down in a sinister ‘gangland’ type killing with silenced pistols. Mufti Muhammad Usman Yar Khan’s murder is being linked by his JUI-S with the mandate given to the party’s leader, Maulana Samiul Haq, to facilitate talks with the Taliban. The JUI-S thinks responsibility for this targeted killing rests with elements that want to sabotage the negotiations process. If that logic is accepted, topping the list of suspects may well be the Taliban themselves, since they are the only ones consistently rejecting talks. By now, even the credentials of Maulana Samiul Haq as the ‘father of the Taliban’ may not be relevant in the current phase of the strife that has the country in its grip. The attack on the Express TV van was the third attack on the media house in Karachi, including attacks on its headquarters. Interaction with Taliban spokespeople yielded a claim of responsibility from the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and a threat that media that does not toe the TTP’s line will be targeted. With this announcement, two things come to the fore. One, the TTP, which by and large has had a free run on our media, especially electronic, for years, may be feeling the tide of opinion slowly turning against it. This is not necessarily because the sections of the media that seemed ‘sympathetic’ to them before have had a burst of sudden enlightenment, rather it is the indiscriminate terrorism of the TTP that has alienated even those sections of the media and the public that might hitherto have had a soft spot for the fanatics. Two, the TTP may be showing a modicum of desperation if it has now declared open and universal war on all who oppose it, be it the public, political parties or the media. Is that not a sign of progress against them? This progress cannot be claimed by anyone except the self-defeating indiscriminate policies of murder and mayhem associated firmly in the public mind by now with these extremists impervious to reason. Nevertheless, there is no one more blind than those who refuse to see. Imran Khan now wants another All Parties Conference (APC) to review the outcome of the ‘mandate' of the precious APC to talk to the Taliban. Frankly, we were neither enamoured of the ‘wisdom’ that flowed out of the first APC, which reflected more the blinkered vision of the right wing parties than a sensible and effective antiterrorism strategy, nor do we believe another such exercise in futility will add anything except more noise to the tsunami of confusion wrought by the right wing parties. Imran Khan’s extraordinary logic on examination boils down to rhetorical questions whose answers are obvious to all but the purblind. For example, he asks why the dialogue with the Taliban has not been initiated so far. Obviously, Mr Khan, because it takes two to tango! He then asks how can the peace process fail before even starting. Obviously if it fails to start at all, a more than likely outcome on present trends! He then interrogates the federal government whether it has asked the US to stop drone strikes (his pet bĂȘte noir) and why the issue has not been taken to the UN as ‘mandated’ by the APC. The US has been asked (in the Obama-Nawaz meeting in Washington for instance) but it is not listening and will not listen so long as the Afghan Taliban have safe havens on our soil. As to the UN, clearly our professional diplomats in New York have indicated to the government that there are few takers for our proposal as Pakistan’s credentials on terrorism are suspect for the reason already stated in the previous sentence. Last but not least, Imran Khan wants to know how the PTI can be criticized for asking for talks when they have not even started yet. Obviously because the whole thing is a non-starter and a distraction/diversion from the task at hand! He then laments his party’s and its Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government’s inability to hold talks on its own as it is not in power at the Centre and therefore lacks the authority per se, as well as authority over the armed forces. Right, so why not rest content for the moment with what you have and run that better? From north to south, the country is under siege. If FATA in the north is a hotbed of terrorism, the southernmost port city of Karachi is arguably in even worse straits. A plethora of armed elements, terrorist, political, criminal, hold the city and its denizens hostage to their evil designs. Facing them, one policeman to 1,340 citizens as compared with the normal ratio in modern cities of one policeman to every hundred people. Sanctioned police strength in Karachi is 32,000 but a shortfall of 5,000 has still to be filled. Killings of policemen, including the assassination of SP Aslam Chaudhry, has climbed to an average of one a day since 2014 dawned, incrementally increasing over the years from 1992 to date. Of the 27,000 policemen on call in the city, 14,000 are posted at the 143 police stations, 8,000 are on VIP duty, and 3,000 in the intelligence agencies. Given this picture of the country, where is the government, where is the state, where is the response?

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