Posted on Friday, April 11, 2014
in The Friday Times (Editorial)
The PMLN government should feel apprehensive about developments on two fronts and smug about prospects on a third. This means the scorecard is still in the red.
The peace talks with the Taliban are not going anywhere. Indeed, there is more confusion now about the aims and objectives of both the government and the TTP than ever before. The government has released some “non-combatant” Taliban prisoners. This contradicts the military’s view that there are no non-combatant Taliban in custody and that the government did not consult the military before ordering them freed. More surprisingly, the Taliban have also rejected the government’s position. They claim that not one among those released is on their list of 800 Taliban imprisoned by the agencies.
It is also unclear whether the government has made a unilateral gesture or whether there is some secret quid pro quo. The Taliban had earlier said that the kidnapped sons of ex Governor Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, and ex-Prime Minister Pakistan, Yousaf Raza Gilani, would not be released because they are combatants from an anti-TTP political party (PPP). This means that unless a clutch of Taliban from among the 800 named is released, there is no reciprocal deal.
The Taliban have also started fighting among themselves over the pros and cons of the peace process with the government. There are two dimensions in this division. First, the followers of Hakimullah Mehsud are slugging it out with the followers of Maulana Fazlullah. The former are not averse to a deal with Pakistan while the latter are inclined to fight it. This partly represents a power struggle in the TTP over leadership issues. Second, there are groups inside the TTP that have decided to strike out on their own and continue their ideological war on Pakistan. These groups are continuing to launch terrorist attacks across the country, despite the ceasefire announced by the TTP leadership. The spokesman of the TTP, Shahidullah Shahid, has denounced these groups as being outside the pale of the TTP and refused to take responsibility for their actions. Indeed, after one such senseless attack in Islamabad two days ago massacred a score of innocents in a fruit market, he has gone so far as to say that attacks on unarmed and innocent civilians are “haram” in Islam. This is rich, coming as it does after the same TTP and its spokesman have proudly acknowledged responsibility for over 40,000 similarly innocent civilians dead from TTP attacks across the country in the last eight years! Now the government is hard pressed to explain what is going on, who is the real protagonist and where the peace talks are headed.
The government’s approach towards General Musharraf’s treason trial is also leading to disquiet in powerful military circles. Apparently, the “understanding’” with the military was that the government would let go of General Musharraf after establishing the point that he was not “above the law”, meaning that he would have to appear before a court, be indicted and then be bailed out and allowed to leave Pakistan on some medical emergency or the other. But the contrary has transpired. Not only has the special court refused to entertain his plea for bail, a couple of other courts are insisting that he appear before them and face the music. Worse, at least two PMLN stalwarts, Khawaja Asif and khawaja Saad Rafique, have given voice to anti-army passions in parliament, provoking the new army chief, General Raheel Sharif, to consciously plan a visit to an SSG post and say that the military knows how to “protect its integrity and dignity”. This is a riposte to the anti-military sentiment among a section of the ruling party headed by no less than the prime minister himself. Clearly, Gen Sharif is under pressure from rank and file to stand up and be counted. This doesn’t auger well for civil-military relations and political stability.
The good news is on the economic front. On the heels of a Saudi injection of $1.5 billion into the State Bank that stabilized the Pak rupee, comes the news that Finance Minister Ishaq Dar’s Eurobond road show has been resoundingly successful. It is reported that Pakistan made a “historic return” to the international bond market after seven years with a US dollar denominated dual tranche offering, aggregating $2 billion, that raised $1 billion each in five-year and 10-year terms. This is the largest-ever international bond offering by Pakistan. It was heavily over-subscribed by $5 to $7 billion of which only $2 billion was accepted. The initial target was only $500 million. This reflects international confidence in the PMLN government’s ability to manage the Pakistan economy. The IMF had signaled approval earlier.
Mr Sharif should not rest on the laurels of his sole-success story. As both the IMF and China have warned, the Pak economy is most vulnerable to terrorism and political instability. And on both those counts, he is far from achieving notable results.