Zardari Needs to Be a Bit More Articulate
By Salahuddin Haider
Karachi , Pakistan


A wonderful, wonderful thing happened on the night between 15th and 16th March when better sense prevailed and the decision taken in the Punjab had a favorable fallout on the rest of the country and enhanced  Pakistan's image abroad.

Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhury and his colleagues, laid off through a military general's order, were reinstated, and an unhappy episode lingering for two years, ended on a happy note. However nothing could be said with certainty yet a clash of interest between PML(N) and PPP, the two main players in the power game, is still posing problems. Apparently the issues seem to have been sorted out, but beneath the surface, things continue to simmer. Whatever happened on the 15th of March after the long March of Nawaz Sharif, was mainly due to Army chief General Ashraq Pervez Kaynai.
General Kayani chose to be guardian of democracy rather than an instrument of military adventurism. This augurs well for a country with a checkered history. Praise simultaneously goes to Prime Ministe Gilani for showing maturity and acting responsibly. Any unwise decision from them or even one of the two, could have been disastrous. Pakistan stood on the brink of a precipice on the night between March 15 and 16. The two played their roles well, persuading President Zardari to take the course of reason and logic. Appreciation is due to Zardari also for heeding to the voice of sanity. But let me be a bit blunt here to say that the Presidency needs to display a little more wisdom and sagacity. It is good to be soft or hard in a given situations but the time to make the judgment ought to be right. Politics or diplomacy are tricky games. They need mature handling. Slight miscalculation can send you hurtling down to an abyss of ignominy from where recovery is often difficult, if not altogether impossible.
The present government, almost a year old, does not have much to offer to the people in its defense. It has been slow to act, and on more than one occasion, faltered rather than being correct.

The halting of water supply for Chenab River by India should have been challenged at international fora and even the people of the country ought to have been taken into confidence. The foreign office fumbled. The issue was allowed to be handled by a bureaucrat without the necessary political backing.

Both the Prime Minister and the foreign minister kept mum at that time. India was naturally emboldened by our passive approach, and realizing that Pakistan is under the US and British pressure, used whatever it could lay its hands on to damage further the image of Islamabad in the eyes of Washington and London.

Today Pakistan, instead of being equated with India by US and Western powers, is being treated like Afghanistan. Our level in international diplomacy has been downgraded. Richard Holbrooke was given the task to handle Pakistan and Afghanistan and President Obama's promise to revive the Kashmir issue, stands shelved. The Pakistan foreign office, Pak embassy in Washington, should have spurred into action to remind the US of its commitment made during Obama''s candidature for the top slot. Whether it was done has not been told to the people. But the US media reports do insist that the duties of "related items" was deleted from Holbrooke's designation at the last minute and on pressure from the Indian lobby, which is really very strong. The Pakistan lobby is no match to what the New Delhi staff has been doing around the world. Resource constraint can be a problem, but the skill to handle the issue in given situations, is more relevant than money. Proper guidance from Islamabad, based on diligent home work, is what seems to be missing.
The Mumbai fallout of last November was equally ill-handled. The government was slow to react. The Indians were never checked in time and no alternate statement or counter statements were issued from Islamabad to apprise the world of the Pakistani position. It was only after the world had bought the Indian version, concocted or otherwise, that Pakistan woke up slowly from its slumber to check the Indians but perhaps it was then too late. Luckily someone in the foreign ministry realized later that there were other options too to inform the world about the Pakistani side of the story. The exchange of papers --questions and their answers, and investigations in Pakistan there on - were done quite smartly. The result was an obvious halt to the Indian onslaught against Islamabad.
Similarly, Hillary Clinton, US spokesman Richard Holbrooke and even England prime minister Gordon Brown, came to Pakistan and lambasted our policy handling on Afghanistan. No one blames Hamid Karzai or NATO forces for not being able to handle the situation efficiently in Afghanistan. The accusations come promptly and without hesitation that Pakistan fails to check the Taliban movement, and that Pakistan is harboring them by providing them "safe heavens". This is far from being true.

It is always a hot pursuit that is causing the problem. The responsibility of handling the Taliban basically lies with the Afghan administration and NATO and US troops. The blame game must now stop. Shah Mahmood Qureshi visited the US almost at the same when the Army chief General Kiyani was there too. But it was Kayani who explained the Swat agreement with the Taliban or Maulana Fazlur Rehman's followers to the American civil and military leadership more convincingly than the foreign minister. At least that was the impression available at home to readers from news reports emanating from America during the time they were away from here. The drone's issue too was allowed to persist. Now the foreign minister has said that it will be resolved in the month of May. What does that mean? National sovereignty will be allowed to be compromised till then? A government which cannot defend sovereignty of the State must admit its weakness and quit. The US needs to be told what our demands are and how best a compromise on issues can be reached. Have we done that effectively enough to achieve our objective? Mere statements here and there will just not work.
While the Punjab situation was simmering, two of the Congressmen moved a bill liking military aid to Pakistan with the tackling of the Talaiban issue. I am yet to see its rejoinder from Pakistan foreign office, or a statement from the minister concerned. Has the Pakistan envoy been alerted to negotiate a better deal with the Americans? If Kayani can convince the Americans about the efficacy of the Swat agreement, why can’t we do the same on matters of military aid? The Swat Agreement with Maulana Sufi and Fazlur Rehman has brought peace and soldiers have begun to withdraw from a territory turned into war zone because of the short-sighted policies of the Pakistan government. There is no considerable peace in the NWFP and in bordering areas of the province. Let us give a try to the new treaty. It is our interest which we have to safeguard.
Linked to whatever mentioned above, is the error of judgment from interior minister Rehman Malik and Punjab government Salman Taseer about the way they handled the Punjab situation. Nawaz Sharif collected a huge gathering to bring the federal government on its knees. Secondly, he even succeeded in instilling confidence in prime minister Gilani who is now talking of repealing the 17th Amendment. This is a good augury for the country. The President must be the titular head and the rest of the powers must remain with the Prime Minister. That is the fundamental objective of Parliamentary democracy which we all badly need. The country has suffered immeasurably for 60 years because of the non-participation of the people. The time has come to shed the mistakes of the past and begin a new era. -


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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