Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Aug 5, 2015

Conspiracy theory The wags have it that conspiracy theory is the only growth industry in Pakistan. Levity aside, there is some weight in the comment. Despite the opening up of the media and so many sources of news and information now available to citizens like the internet and social media, fanciful and subjective accounts of events and developments proliferate. On the other hand, the very proliferation of news and information sources may have led to a situation where doubtful accounts gain traction without rhyme or logic. Take for example Federal Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar’s refutation of any conspiracy within the military's ranks or at the behest of the government to replace COAS General Raheel Sharif. While fulsomely, and deservedly, praising General Raheel Sharif for being a thoroughly professional soldier and the architect of Pakistan’s successes against terrorism, Chaudhry Nisar reiterated the confidence the General commands in the country and with the government on the basis of his track record since assuming the command of the army. The minister’s refutation left people scratching their heads why he found it necessary to do this. The clue came not too long after. Brigadier (retd) Samson Sharaf of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) had apparently said in a television talk show that the party had been in touch with the ISI before (and perhaps during?) the PTI’s months-long dharna (sit-in) in Islamabad. He went on to assert that the PTI hoped the continuing dharna would so unsettle Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that he would in panic dismiss General Raheel Sharif, thereby causing a rupture in civil-military relations and possibly leading to the demise of the PML-N government. Brigadier Sharaf, otherwise known as a man of probity, then went on to assert that the prime minister in a meeting with the COAS had the tape of a telephone conversation between former ISI chief General Zaheerul Islam and the PTI played in which, it was asserted, it became clear that the ISI was backing the dharna against the government. Brigadier Sharaf then went on to assert that General Raheel Sharif summoned General Islam and asked him in front of the prime minister whether he had asked the ISI chief to do this. The answer, according to the good brigadier, was no. This, the account maintains, cemented confidence and the relationship between the incumbent COAS and the government. Of course Chaudhry Nisar has dismissed the entire account as ‘baseless allegations’. Many questions arise from the account that triggered the controversy and the response of the interior minister. Why did the brigadier find it necessary to come out with this version of events at this juncture? Placed in the context of reports in the media in recent days that former ISI chief General Pasha was the mastermind behind the rise of the PTI from relative obscurity and the dharna and that General Islam was a supporter of the sit-in, Samson Sharaf’s starling version of events has attempted to further muddy the waters. General Pasha has demanded an inquiry to clear his name, while his successor General Islam has so far maintained a discreet silence. Speculations in the media regarding the role of former or serving ISI chiefs in the whole dharna episode aside, it is difficult to disagree with Chaudhry Nisar’s pointing out that the country is at war and therefore such kite-flying is inappropriate (if not downright dangerous). All players should understand the sensitivity of the current conjuncture, the delicacy of speculative assertions about civil-military relations, and refrain from casting doubts and stirring up the pot unnecessarily to destabilise the situation when all energies need to be directed towards the ongoing struggle against terrorism. A sense of responsibility is required, which in the instant case, seems to have escaped the notice of the author of this latest brouhaha. Being a former military officer and that too of a senior rank, Brigadier Sharaf Samson should have known better than to throw up so much dust just for spurious political gains or point scoring. But the interior minister too, in his zeal to underline the excellent state of civil-military relations, perhaps ended up tilting at a windmill that could easily have been relegated to the dustbin all conspiracy theories eventually end up in.

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