Monday, January 20, 2014

Daily Times Editorial Jan 21, 2014

War and peace The 20 soldiers killed and 30 injured in the bomb blast in Bannu in a private vehicle hired to transport the men’s convoy are victims of carelessness. If a private vehicle had to be hired for the purpose, should it not have been subjected to a thorough scrutiny? This is inexplicable, perhaps criminal negligence. The military is supposed to investigate the incident, according to Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar. We hope the authorities will fix responsibility and not shrink from punishing those whose lapse caused the loss of life and limb. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has claimed responsibility, saying the attack was in revenge for the deaths of Hakeemullah Mehsud and Waliur Rehman, both killed in drone strikes. At the same time, ironically, the TTP says it is ready for ‘purposeful, meaningful’ talks. And what does that mean? The TTP demands the drone strikes be halted and the troops withdrawn from the tribal areas. If conceded, the first would free them of the dread of what has become the most lethal weapon against high profile terrorist targets, and the second would give them a free run of the tribal areas to wreak further hell on the people of Pakistan. In the same breath, the TTP also threatens more attacks, which would obviously continue to be aimed at citizens, the armed and security forces, and now even the media. There are reports in the media of frustration within the army at the government’s almost exclusive emphasis on peace talks, which has left it ineffective and paralysed while the army’s hands are tied and it is being unable to take action despite being under attack. To avoid the negative fallout of absence from the country at the present time, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has cancelled his visit to Davos to attend the World Economic Forum. At the time of writing these lines, the federal cabinet was poised to receive and discuss the national security policy that Chaudhry Nisar has laboured over since the government took office. He says the decision to conduct a military operation, dialogue, or both, will be taken by ‘consensus’ and in the best national interest. What puzzles one is why the word ‘consensus’ pops up here when the federal cabinet is fully empowered to take such decisions and does not need the approval of any other forum or party. The clinging to the desire for that elusive ‘consensus’ can only be described as a hangover from the All Parties Conference confusion. The Chaudhry insists in the face of a widespread perception that the government is not sitting idle but is taking the peace process forward under a strategy. If so, we are still in the dark who the peace partner of the government is and what the ‘strategy’ is. Consensus or not, the minister wants the political parties to stop ‘point scoring’ and unite at this critical juncture to help the government bring peace. A hint of the probable ‘strategy’ or at least way forward can be gleaned from the minister’s elucidation that a Joint Intelligence Directorate will be set up for coordination and intelligence sharing amongst the 26 intelligence agencies in the country. The National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) will be the focal point of the strategy. A Rapid Response Force with an air wing will be set up at federal level and be replicated at the level of the provinces. The new apparatus will work round the clock to translate the tons of chatter collected into actionable intelligence. Mapping will be carried out in the cities to create identity databases of people. All this is neither new nor entirely objectionable. But the question remains why it is taking the government so long to get on with all this when the situation demands a rapid response to halt the growing number of terrorist attacks throughout the country. War and peace are dialectically connected. Sometimes, and especially when confronted with a fanatical, battle hardened, elusive enemy such as the Taliban, peace cannot be separated from war fighting. Only if the government gets its act together to govern, which in the present circumstances means grasping the terrorist nettle firmly, can the country hope to see a glimmer of hope on the horizon of better times.

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