Friday, February 27, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Feb 28, 2015

Armed militias Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif sent out a strongly optimistic message to the audience, foreign and local, at the inauguration of the Ninth Expo Pakistan in Karachi on Thursday. First and foremost, he made the ringing declaration that armed militias in Karachi are not acceptable. The ongoing operation in the city would not be abandoned halfway and would be continued until its logical end. Peace would be restored to the metropolis by 2018 (the end of the incumbent government’s tenure). The government, the prime minister emphasised, was firm in eradicating militancy and would take solid steps to restore peace in the country. The decisive moment had arrived, he underlined, to bring peace back to Karachi and free the city of the hold of militants of all hues. The power of the gun, he said, resided with the government, not the militants. It must be said that this is true in an eventual sense, i.e. that the state can and will overcome the armed power of militancy, but the timeline of 2018 in itself is an indication of the fact that this will be a long drawn out and difficult affair. Referring to the campaign against terrorists in the tribal areas, the prime minister wished that Operation Zarb-e-Azb had been launched much earlier. Peace, he argued, was the necessary condition for economic revival and prosperity. Pakistan, he said, was successfully countering its security challenges and would swiftly be restored to normalcy. He appealed to businessmen to set up industries to fulfil his vision of making Pakistan a preferred destination for investment since the country offered a business-friendly environment. Referring to the bottleneck presented by the energy crisis, he claimed it would be overcome by 2017. He mentioned how the government’s efforts had resulted in a rise of the country’s exports to $ 25 billion, and vowed this figure would rise to twice this amount in the next three years. What the prime minister has outlined is the strategy of restoring Pakistan to peace and development. Karachi in particular plays a central role in that revival, being the industrial and commercial hub and the sole port of the country. Unfortunately, for far too long the city has been brought to its knees by the plethora of armed militias that have fought each other for turf and made the life of its denizens a fearful and uncertain misery. In particular, the rash of kidnappings for ransom have persuaded many wealthy people to migrate from Karachi either up country or abroad, taking their resources away from the city with them. This has only served to deepen the impoverishment of the inhabitants of what was once a thriving business centre. The militias range from armed wings of political parties to criminal mafias to now terrorist outfits. Without cleaning up this mess that has been allowed to fester for decades, the other plank of the revival strategy, i.e. economic development and prosperity, will remain a pipe dream since a troubled and insecure metropolis is hardly likely to attract investment, whether local or foreign. Once Karachi is cleaned up, its advantages of business experience and culture, and its former cosmopolitan and tolerant character can also be restored, providing the ambiance for making the city once again a bright star in the Pakistani and South Asian firmament. What is true for Karachi is only the thin edge of the wedge for the country as a whole. Pakistan has suffered beyond imagination from the law of unintended consequences that has been the aftermath of shortsighted policies of relying on proxy militias to project power in the region. That venture has come back to haunt us with a vengeance. Time to lay these ghosts of the past to rest and move on to brighter horizons, a goal well within the reach of the people of Pakistan.

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