Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Daily Times Editorial Feb 27, 2014

Altaf’s inappropriate suggestion Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) chief Altaf Hussain has come up with yet another startling statement. In an interview with a television channel, Altaf said if the government does not support the elimination of terrorism, the army should take over to deal with this menace on its own steam. He went on to pose the continued existence of Pakistan and democracy as a mutually exclusive binary, plumping for the country ‘against’ democracy on the ground that the latter can only flourish if the country survives. Altaf appealed to the prime minister and army chief to come onto the same page for tackling the terrorists. Dialogue, he said, could only be held with those who are ready to lay down their arms, accept the state and the constitution. If the Taliban were unwilling to accept these conditions, Altaf added, a war should be launched against them instead of the (currently stalled) talks. Referring to the Quaid’s vision, Altaf argued that he had stated clearly that every citizen of Pakistan would be free to worship according to his faith and beliefs, that there was no compulsion in religion and no one could impose his own view on others through the bullet. He went on to say that people were unable to speak up against the Taliban because of fear. Altaf boasted that he had changed this atmosphere of fear by organising a rally of solidarity with the army and security forces in Karachi. The Taliban, he emphasized, were terrorists who have killed and slaughtered our army, law enforcement agencies personnel and policemen. They lash girls, kill them when they express joy in weddings, attack people in mosques and imambargahs and want to impose their version of sharia on these lines on us, which we reject on the basis of the constitution and Islam. While it is possible to agree with Altaf Hussain’s railing against the Taliban, it remains a mystery how he has come to the conclusion that the government and the army are not on the same page or that the government is not willing to take the fight to the terrorists. At best the government’s approach to terrorism could be criticised on the basis of putting too much faith in the possibility of peace through talks. But does that justify asking for a military takeover? As it is, events have increasingly convinced the government that it has to take a tougher line with the terrorists even if the door to negotiations is kept open, which it should. The government and military seem to be of one mind in the limited targeted aerial strikes that are ongoing against the terrorists. If push comes to shove and the state has to go all-out against the Taliban, no one in their right mind thinks that would have to be carried out through the agency of another military coup. Even the suggestion of such a course could be likened to treason against the constitution, for which the MQM’s erstwhile mentor and military dictator Musharraf is on trial currently. Nor does the history and results of military takeovers and interventions in our past lead in the direction of advocating such a step. On the contrary, the consensus after the first democratic transition in the country’s history last year is that the military has its job to do (currently a very difficult one as it is) and must remain out of the political quagmire. The present command seems inclined to respect the civilian democratic government and refrain from any sign that it is even remotely interested in politics. If anything, the military wants the political government, the polity and society generally to support its efforts against terrorism. Therefore Altaf’s inappropriate suggestion of a military takeover flies in the face of the constitution, political consensus, history and logic. The MQM leadership at home was at pains to limit the damage done by Altaf’s indiscretion. But nothing short of a clear and firm rejection of military takeovers from Altaf himself can undo the havoc his statement has wrought on the image, status and profile of the MQM.

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