Prime Minister: As economic and political chaos continue to explode in present-day Pakistan and the threat of further destabilization in the country mounts, the responsibility of the common citizens to engage in the political process and help the nation attain a constructive political discourse becomes self-evident. After all, that is what democracy is all about: a larger engagement of the elected representatives and the elected government with all segments of the society for greater input in national policy-making and the decision-making processes. Competent and efficient elected governments expand their public engagements in various manners and their modus operandi extends beyond the normal institutional parameters into bringing national politics to the public domain. I note with regret that this is not happening in today’s Pakistan. Instead, the general public perception is that the country is being run, more or less, in an autocratic manner. Indeed, that might be a debatable point of view with less creditability than credible constitutional evidence, but the existence of this perception points to the fact that all is not okay with the national polity. This nation is facing a precarious crisis.
I, as a common citizen, student and a professor of politics and media as well as a columnist, am obliged to share with the Pakistani political establishment some of my observations and perspectives on the current political situation in the country and offer some national policy options and alternatives.
First and foremost, an important political observation in the context of the future history of this country’s incumbent elected rulers: it is beyond a shred of doubt that the PMLN leadership’s political career and its future historical legacy will be on trial in the coming few weeks and months. What the PMLN leadership does with TTP in bringing peace and stability in the country, how it reacts to the fast changing political ground realities in the global political arena, and how it manages the dismal economic situation on the ground in the country will impact and determine the future of the PMLN leadership, and that of this country. But above all, the PMLN leadership’s eventual destiny is tied up with how it transforms itself from a traditional right wing pro-status quo, US-West-centric and foreign assistance-dependent political party to a progressive, nationalist, self-reliant political entity and powerhouse by making fundamental reforms in its party’s democratic structure, decision-making processes and political management style, within the party and outside of it.
What today’s Pakistan needs is a “soft revolution.” Should the PMLN leadership be able to pull off such a transformational change in the country, this could be one of those historic moments of political management that might leave a lasting imprint on society’s collective memory. But a “soft revolution” needs brave, daring and some conclusive departures from long-established political practices and mindsets, and taking head-on new challenges in domestic politics, diplomatic norms, alterations in foreign policy and in defining fresh parameters in national political management style and its substance (no more sentimental rhetoric, slogans, public perception manipulations, etc etc.)
As a political scientist, I wish to make some policy proposals that might help the PMLN leadership move towards a much needed “soft revolution” in the country and improve strategic planning to move the nation in the right direction for a political discourse that might pull it out of the prevailing crisis of terrorism and instability.
First, let us look at the PMLN’s peace initiatives with the TTP. Several vitally important factors need to be pointed out in this context. Firstly, Pakistan does not have to sternly follow the rules of conduct established by Washington, London and other Westerns powers with respect to engagement with TTP and their affiliated Tahreek-e-Taliban in Afghanistan.
Secondly, for Pakistan, the demonization (as the US-West has done) of ideological Taliban in Pakistan with a distinct political perspective and the counterpart Taliban fighting a foreign occupation in Afghanistan, should not be a strategic national policy. The fact is that so far we have towed this line at the urging of the US and the West. As I have said above, this is not a policy; in fact, it is an excuse for the absence of a sound policy. Now we need to change this politically flawed direction and correct our political discourse towards the legitimate demands of the TTP and help the Afghan Taliban integrate and participate in the Afghan political process.
Thirdly, I wish to propose to the Pakistani Prime Minister to directly take charge of peace negotiations and cut short the process by personally approaching Mullah Umar in Afghanistan, who is the spiritual, military and political leader of the entire Taliban movement, and ask for his help. Pakistani ideologically-orientated Taliban cannot ignore Mullah Umar’s directions. They will submit to Mullah Umar (on all matters, including identifying the criminal elements and bands of foreign- supported terrorists) should we decide to give the reclusive leader the honor and dignity that an anti-occupation and anti-imperialist leader deserves. President Karzai has already called the Taliban “his brothers” and the Pakistani leadership should grab this opportunity to acknowledge the legitimacy of the Taliban movement.
Fourthly, this policy option will be a daunting task. The Prime Minister would be well-advised to take some knowledgeable people on board to facilitate establishing quick channels of communication with Mullah Umar. For instance, there is not another person anywhere who is so understanding, knowledgeable, cognizant and perceptive of the Taliban’s entire political movement than General Hamid Gul, the former ISI DG. General Hamid Gul could be of immense assistance to the Prime Minister in sorting out this entire mess in a relatively short time. The Prime Minister would be well-advised to ask the General to come on board to assist him in his ongoing peace initiative. General Hamid Gul’s inclusion would also give the military establishment a presence in the negotiations by proxy, which would be vitally important for the Pakistani armed forces.
Fifthly, indeed, the US will be angered, but Pakistan’s peace and stability is more important than American anger, is it not? For peace in Pakistan and sustainable peace between Pakistan and Afghanistan, peace will have to be between people, not only agreements between governments. Hence, Pakistan will have to support an all-inclusive and conciliatory approach that is focused on the mutuality of historical, religious, cultural and social bonds between the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan. That is the only way forward in solving the problematic of terrorism. We will have to anger the US at least once.
On taming the wild boar, namely the US and its allies, and on other domestic and foreign policy issues confronting the nation, I intend to address them in forthcoming articles.
Prime Minister: Will you, in the meantime, consider the above-mentioned peace proposal? It has its merits.
The writer is UAE-based academic, policy analyst, conflict resolution expert and author of several books on Pakistan and foreign policy issues. He holds a doctorate and a masters degree from Columbia University in New York.