Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Business Recorder editorial May 2, 2017

A strange case In the backdrop of the civil-military tensions over the Dawn leaks affair, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar has taken umbrage at the security/intelligence agencies’ inability to secure sensitive installations such as the Pakistan Ordnance Factory (POF) Wah. In an exceedingly strange case, the ‘boss’ has questioned his own security/intelligence setup’s capability. Ordinarily this would have been strange enough, but given the current context, his critical remarks are likely to fuel speculation whether he was also having a dig at the military. Reportedly, and according to Chaudhry Nisar’s remarks while addressing the POF workers on May Day, in the light of intelligence information concerning a possible terrorist attack on the POF rally, Chaudhry Nisar was advised against visiting POF on Monday, May 1. According to the minister, this ‘drama’ had been going on for some days. Reports speak of an exchange of fire early Monday morning with two terrorists holed up in the town, resulting in both being killed. A cache of weapons and suicide jackets was recovered from the house they were holed up in. This incident justified the security agencies’ concern, since the minister could have been a target. However, the minister was critical of the agencies being unable to secure the venue of the rally. Normally, one would expect that the ‘boss’ would take responsibility for his underlings’ acts of omission and commission, without seeming to distance himself from accepting that the buck stops at the top. In a ‘defiant’ statement, Chaudhry Nisar declared in his address that he had ignored the advice to refrain from addressing the rally. This is partly because he says he had committed to attend and announce an incentive package for the POF workers, partly because Wah is the minister’s constituency. But he did have a valid point when he argued that succumbing to the terrorist threat would embolden the fanatics. Normal life continuing as far as possible, he argued, was the best response to the terrorists’ threats. This strange to do is not the first time Chaudhry Nisar has seemed the ‘odd man out’ in the present scheme of things. To take another recent example, Chaudhry Nisar held one of his by now famous press conferences in the wake of the ISPR DG’s tweet rejecting the notification issued by the Prime Minister’s office regarding the Dawn leaks affair. The investigation report on which the notification was based is still to see the light of day. The interior minister tried a novel method of damage control by stating that any notification based on the report should only have been issued by the interior ministry, not the Prime Minister’s office. So we were treated to the spectacle of the military rejecting the notification as being not entirely in conformity with the findings/recommendations of the report, while the government’s own interior minister was ‘rejecting’ it on procedural grounds. Chaudhry Nisar had also criticized the resort to tweets as a method of communication between institutions. Yet his advice fell on deaf ears apparently as far as Maryum Nawaz is concerned. Reacting to media reports that Chaudhry Nisar, Ishaq Dar and Shahbaz Sharif had (once again) been asked to speak to the brass over the Dawn leaks notification, Maryum Nawaz tweeted that no one had been tasked to do anything. Maryum’s refutation of the matter may have been prompted by embarrassment, but this would not be the first time this trio from amongst the PML-N leadership had been asked to pull the government’s chestnuts out of the fire vis-à-vis relations with the military. This perhaps is the area of greatest utility as far as retaining Chaudhry Nisar on such an important ministry is concerned. Otherwise he has failed to discharge his duties as interior minister satisfactorily and in line with the National Action Plan. Given his reputed closeness to military circles, it should not surprise anyone that Chaudhry Nisar is likely to be around as long as a PML-N government is in power, even if, more often than not, he appears to be out of sync with his colleagues, sometimes even the prime minister and the cabinet. In these circumstances, the ‘odd man out’ seems set to prevail.

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