The PPP has often been accused of appeasing the Taliban and other extremists in the wake of their violent excesses. Some critics believe the PPP has deviated from its progressive ideology by leaning towards the rightist politics
Soon after assuming the office in 2008, the current government of Pakistan led by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), was confronted with a continuously deteriorating law and order situation and a rising tide of terrorist attacks on civilians and military personnel. How did the coalition government cope with these daunting challenges over last four and a half years, has been garnering criticism from masses and experts every now and then. Yet given the multi-faceted nature of terrorist acts and extremist violence in Pakistan the issue cannot be analyzed in black and white and in isolation from the country’s own strategic interests as well as security threats.
According to some analysts, following the assassination of Benazir Bhutto and a tacit ‘power sharing deal’ between the PPP and the military, present government’s fight against terrorism cannot be calculated in terms of absolute success or total failure.
As Zaigham Khan, head of Civic Action Resources Islamabad, puts it, “Creating a straight performance scorecard of PPP and its federal and provincial allies on the basis of their counter- terror efforts seems very hard. In 2008 the public opinion was divided on how to tackle terrorism as people believed terrorists were amenable to dialogue. It was an achievement of PPP and ANP to build some sort of consensus on how to fight the war against Taliban”.
In February 2009, when Maulana Fazallullah occupied Malakand, ANP’s provincial government---with the approval of PPP---struck a deal with him to enforce ‘Sharia Law’ in Swat in return of ceasefire by Fazalullah and his militia. The controversial ‘Nizam e Adl’ bill signed by President Zardari was widely criticized and raised questions on government’s writ in the region. Zaigham Khan, however, thinks that the step was taken due to public pressure “without having had the experience of Swat in 2009 the masses, demanding negotiations with the Taliban, would never realize that the only option to deal with Taliban is to fight with them”.
However, Maqbool Malik, senior editor Deutsche Welle Radio, thinks that the ‘Swat deal’ sets the benchmark for PPP government’s counter terror policy which has been mainly about using delaying tactics due to political considerations.
Malik says, “The elected government has been avoiding a direct confrontation with the Taliban and has been delaying military operation in areas such as North Waziristan where it could have theoretically produced results for lasting peace”.
“The government has not vigorously clamped down on the terrorist outfits in FATA and Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa (KP) province because it lacked clearly defined objectives and a strong political will to fight the militants. In fact, the PPP rulers did not want to turn the public opinion against their party”, he explains.
Since 2003 Pakistan has witnessed a constantly rising tide of suicide bombings and various acts of terrorism. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, 14598 civilian causalities in terror attacks have been recorded since 2003 to 2012 while at least 476 major terrorist attacks were reported in 2011 alone. The Government of Pakistan has been facing enormous pressure from the United States to ‘do more’ and crush the Taliban and other militant organization whereas an anti-American sentiment at home --- sparked off by an anti-drone rhetoric---totally disapproves the PPP government’s fight against terrorism.
Raza Rumi, director policy and program at Jinnah Institute Islamabad, believes that since the main coalition parties PPP, ANP, and MQM uphold secular values and openly oppose Talibanisation they are seen as obstacles by terrorists. “ANP Minister Mian Ifitkhar lost his son while 600 party workers were attacked whereas PPP has suffered the loss of top leaders: BB, Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti. We need to understand the climate of fear and ultra-radicalization in the country before passing a judgment on the PPP government’s counter terror strategy,” stresses Rumi.
“Terrorism in Pakistan is linked to its security and foreign policy and unfortunately they are not in the hands of civilian government since when it comes to the war on terror or dealing with the Taliban it is the Pak army that calls shots,” he adds.
“The general election held in 2008 did not lead to a transfer of power. In fact, it was a power-sharing agreement. Democracy in Pakistan is in transition for last few years. To combat terrorism or extremist violence, we need to establish civilian authority in the country. Data shows that the incidents of terrorism have gone down across the country. It shows that once the democrats are transferred power we’ll be in better situation but to expect revolutionary steps during a transition from military to civilian rule is improbable”, Rumi claims.
Zaigham Khan shares Raza Rumi’s observation: “Current political government doesn’t enjoy full authority of the Pakistani state. They cannot be in control overnight. The federally administered areas need to be integrated into the Pakistani state. But Pakistani security establishment wants to keep these areas as a strategic base and doesn’t like civilian government to interfere.”
Both Khan and Rumi believe that the political environment is changing and there is realization of the civilian supremacy. The PPP tried to rein in the ISI by reprimanding the intelligence agencies over the issue of OBL but what followed was the media and opposition’s outrage against the government on the issues of Memo.
Maqbol Malik dismisses the impression, “that Pakistani security establishment is steering the war on terror alone since legitimacy of its offensives relies on the support of civilian government. The viability and strategic success of any army operation against militant networks depends on a political consensus of all democratic forces along with a mutual agreement of civil military establishments. The PPP coalition has an absolute political strength in the parliament which it could have exploited to devise its anti-terror policy”.
The PPP has often been accused of appeasing the Taliban and other extremists in the wake of their violent excesses. Some critics believe the PPP has deviated from its progressive ideology by leaning towards the rightist politics. Announcement of a. Ishq-e-Rasool Day following the right wing calls to protest an ‘anti-Islam’ film, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf’s straight refusal to touch blasphemy law, PM’s wife’s presence and endorsement of orthodox views about women at the Hijab Conference organized by its arch ideological rival, Jamat-e-Islami, reinforce this impression. There has been too much hullabaloo in the PPP camp over what PTI Chief Imran Khan says or should say. However, a silence is maintained when cabinet ministers and leaders announce bounties on the enemies of Islam or vowing to shoot the blasphemers.
Raza Rumi thinks “there is no denying the fact that the PPP government adopted a policy of appeasement instead of eliminating the extremist outfits. But these compromises also show PPP’s political pragmatism that acknowledges the significance of sustaining a democratic system. If they take radical steps they will be marginalized by the armed forces”.
Zaigham Kahn does not agree with the view that the PPP government has capitulated to extremist outfits or Taliban “rather the government tried to brave terrorism despite all the constraints and detraction it has faced”.
Maqbol Malik, however, argues: “Given the majority the PPP enjoys in the parliament it could have resolved the issue of blasphemy constitutionally by repealing or at least amending the law that triggered widespread violence”. On the contrary, Raza Rumi asserts: “Blasphemy law cannot be amended right now for PPP cannot risk the lives of its leaders”.
In his view, the real PPP failure in countering terrorism is not appeasement but a lack of hardcore reforms empowering country’s police. He holds all major political parties responsible in this failure. “They have not invested more in the capacity building of police which is actually supposed to take control from the army to ensure law and order in the country,” he argues. Zaigham Khan admits: “PPP has not been able to make any headway in relation to the surging violence against minorities especially their persecution through blasphemy law. No doubt the progressive segments of the society look to the PPP government for bringing some radical reforms to end religious violence but we cannot overlook the threats posed to the party”.
He adds: “PPP is not the only stakeholder in Pakistan’s war on terror, the buck stops with other stakeholders as well. In fact, an important player, PMLN, has been appeasing the Taliban more than the PPP in order to secure their political gains in Punjab. Sectarian violence and religious terrorism are the two sides of the same coin but the PMLN-led Punjab government is not willing to weed sectarian violence out. Instead the high ups in the Punjab government maintain close relationship with the banned organizations such ads Sipah-e-Sahaba and Lashkar-e- Jhangvi.”
Maqbol Malik disagrees: “In the traditional Pakistani political set up, a coalition government can neither rely on its allies to take bold initiatives nor can it pass the buck to them who act merely as a pressure groups to stay in power”.
According to Raza Rumi failure of the PPP government in combating terrorism is also a collapse of civil-military bureaucracy since they have always been in power and will stay so.
“No doubt the PPP government cannot be blamed for the operation against Osama bin Laden which was a sheer intelligence failure of Pakistan’s security forces,” Malik says.
Zaigham Khan tends to agree with the other two. While he agrees that one ‘institution of the state cannot be held accountable for the failures in combating terrorism, he thinks the PPP government cannot be fully absolved.
|Duriya Hashmi is a passive activist, blogger and aspiring film maker who writes to vent anguish and believes in art as a catalyst for change. Her cyber self can be followed at