By Saleem A Sethi, Weekly Pulse, August 26, 2013
Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif’s belated address to the nation was what most political observers expected it to be, except that, for clarity purposes, he should have dwelt upon some issues more. At best, this was an all-in-one package designed for everyone. And to larger extent, it was a success.
The first good thing about the address was the address itself. It seemed as if some government was formed after a long time in the country whose head was addressing his fellow countrymen. And this is because the PPP government faltered badly on this count and the people felt left out, even betrayed at times, when they wanted someone to talk to them. But there was none; at least, not formally. So, for all practical purposes, there was no communication between the masses and their government during the past five years. Or this is what the people felt.
The PM’s speech was typical but difficult in some respects. There were thorny policy matters to take people, and those-who-matter, into confidence about. There was political point-scoring. There were by-elections on the mind of the speech-writer. And there were dreams and wishes, some allege even wild, of the speaker to be shared with the audience in order to instill a bit of confidence in them. The substantive part of the hour-long address was not more than 10-15 minutes. But to be fair, people mostly didn’t repent the time spent on watching/listening it. It was a mix of positives and little negatives.
As expected the most important things discussed by the PM were energy crisis and terrorism in the country. People expected him to talk at length about these two issues and come forward with some effective prescription for its resolution. On the first issue the PM talked at length but offered little – the government will solve the problem within its mandated 5-year term. My goodness! On the second issue, he talked less but talked big. Terrorism, Afghanistan, India and foreign policy – were the core issues in his speech. But he apparently touched it in a casual manner. However, in reality this wasn’t the case. Because he just read the ‘titles’ of the above-mentioned issues in his speech. Details of these can be found in Interior Minister, ChauhdryNisar Ali Khan’s August 13 press conference (in which he talked about national security policy and then his speech in National Assembly yesterday before the PM’s address on Islamabad incident. Further on the issue are leaked parts of draft national security policy that have appeared in the press and which we have discussed in detail last week in these spaces.
There is no doubt that the intent of the present government is noble and the policies envisaged on paper are right for a good start. But problems seem to arise when we look at; a) the team available with the government for its implementation – no defense minister, no foreign minister, b) contradictory signals emanating from the official circles regarding different aspects of terrorism – like the postponement of execution of convicted criminals after a threat from TTP and c) the challenge of implementation of these policies on ground itself, keeping in view the perceived ‘differences’ between civilian setup and military establishment. Important points in the address regarding terrorism issue were the following;
• The state had more than one options available with it (negotiations or use of state force).
• A general recognition that administrative machinery (bureaucracy, police, etc.), security agencies (army) and judicial/legal system have all failed to meet the terrorism challenge during the past 12 years.
• An acceptance that the problem of terrorism is faced by the country due to vested interests and our flawed policies.
• The need to have a fresh look at our Afghan policy.
As pointed earlier these are fine points but how the government moves about it in practical terms will be seen in the days to come. Equally important will be the role and reaction of the armed forces for the success or failure of these announced intentions. But it is to be kept in mind that the overall response of the military establishment will not hinge on internal terrorism and Afghan issues solely. ‘Revisit’ of the country’s foreign policy, relations with India and Pakistan’s stand on Kashmir issue (have I heard someone whispering “Musharraf” also?) will play crucial role in formulation of army’s response/reaction and its future relationship with the civilian government. Announcement of policy guidelines won’t do much. It will need serious joint brainstorming by both the sides to understand each other’s perspective and why they stick to it.
It will be necessary to accommodate each other’s point of view as far as possible and allowed by greater national interest. The problems have become so complex that no individual, party or institution can handle these single-handedly. Its solution lies in cooperation and in every organ of the state playing according to the rules of the game and within its own legal and constitutional ambits. Achieving that goal necessitates some ‘give and take’ at the moment, because at stake here are not interests of some political party or the other, or that of an organ of the state. It is the state in its present shape whose survival is on the line. If the army fails, it will be Nawaz Sharif’s government and the state which will fail. And if Nawaz Sharif’s government fails it will be the armed forces and again the state which will fail.
As far as Prime Minister’s treatment of other internal issues in his address is concerned, these were well-meaning and ground of the mill at the same time. Some of his assertions and claims looked genuine but most appeared verbose and rhetorical. The way he explained the federal government’s behavior and relations with different provincial governments, the picture appeared so rosy. But cynics say it is not actually the case, though improvement can be seen compared to our past practices.
PM’s mentioning of the youth and housing schemes for low income groups gave the impression as if these were included to influence the by-elections. Minorities and women rights, health, education, etc. were also dealt with in a casual manner and there seemed no serious input or interest behind what was said.
To summarize, there were two important matters that the PM addressed in his speech to the nation; national security (foreign policy, Afghanistan, India and internal terrorism) and the energy crisis but these appeared to have consumed less of his time. On the one (energy), he was non-committal. On the other he was straightforward and clear. The rest of the issues discussed were for the good effects. But this was the need of the hour. People have long been given the impression as if there was no government or state existing to come to their rescue. With the multitude of problems faced by the country and no one responding from a position of authority, this was demoralizing for us as a nation. The PM should be encouraged to talk to his people more frequently.
In the given circumstances, this address was balanced and careful. No threats hurled but conveying the message in unambiguous terms. No one could have promised the moon in such a situation – though the PM sometimes crossed the limit in his penchant for using unnecessary romantic words.
But he tried to take the bull by the horns as long as this country’s gravest problem is concerned. He was very passionate when he said that due to the menace of internal terrorism our girl students cannot go to their schools in many parts of the country. Its playgrounds are deserted. Its tourism has died. Its worship places and educational institutions are bombed. Foreign hikers are killed. Jails are broken and hundreds of terrorists are freed. And we give the impression of being helpless. This situation is no more acceptable. ‘I cannot continue picking up bodies of my children… This situation should end; either through reconciliation or through full use of state force’, thus spoke the Prime Minister.