We all know that Pakistan needs peace and stability, and that both are in short supply.

Democracy takes root when elected governments deliver.

The situation in Balochistan has not appreciably improved. Explosions and killings continue. Little headway has been made to push the process of reconciliation despite the Chief Minister’s attempts to persuade the estranged and enraged Baloch leaders. How serious is the PML-N government in addressing the complex issues which keep the pot boiling? Aren’t they letting the dire conditions in the province slide from bad to worse? Off and on there are official statements that RAW and other hostile agencies are involved in subversive activities there, but no evidence is provided. The Indian Prime Minister, Mr. Manmohan Singh, was reported, quite some time ago, to have been provided with a dossier (at Sharm-al-Sheikh) containing information about India’s interference in the area. India however, has rebutted these accusations. It is time Islamabad makes its mind up and forges an actionable strategy to come to grips with the crisis. We can afford no more tinkering. If the Prime Minister cannot find time to visit the province and spend a week or two on the spot, let him appoint a high-level representative, armed with the authority to initiate contacts and exchange conditionalities. The sooner this is done, the better. The development of the province’s rich natural resources and the much neglected welfare of the benighted people can only take place on a sustained basis if the burning issues are resolved with determination and there is the requisite will to achieve results by resorting to whatever it takes.

It was commendable to launch an operation to restore peace in Karachi by mobilizing the Rangers and the police forces. Some success was achieved. The mega-city is again slipping back to a break-down of law and order with a toll of daily killings and other nefarious activities. The situation has to be reviewed thoroughly and a fortified comprehensive plan must evolve with the committed cooperation of all local political stakeholders. The minister of interior should also spend, at least a week, every month in Karachi. Further, a committee of senior leaders of the PPP, ANP and MQM needs to be set up to provide support to law enforcement agencies. At the same time, investigation and prosecution departments must be strengthened to be able to bring the culprits to book in the courts. The commercial capital of the country just cannot be left to the shenanigans of hooligans, murderers and extortionists.

Above, all the government cannot escape the indubitable responsibility to bring to an end the terrorist attacks perpetrated by the religions extremists and the Taliban. All the commendable efforts undertaken to improve the economy and provide relief and welfare, will fall short of the goals and targets if bomb blasts and wanton killings continue in various parts of the country week after week, month after month.

Sustained foreign investments will not come if the security of person and property remain in jeopardy. The country’s enormous potential for earning foreign exchange through tourism will remain untapped if we keep clinging to the dubious distinction of being the most dangerous country in the world.

As far as the religious extremists are concerned, it is puzzling to let their destructive activities continue. The government has all the information it needs and there is no reason why immediate steps are not taken to defang them.

Regarding the enormous Taliban challenge, one finds that the government has not been able to fully use the mandate given to it by all the political parties to come to a settlement. Around eight months have elapsed and the dialogue has not even properly begun. There has been talk between the government and Taliban intermediary committees but no direct negotiations between the decision-makers. For almost 45 days, the Taliban observed a cease-fire. There has since, been, sharp encounters between the security forces and the Taliban fighters. Taliban say that there was an inadequate response to some of their legitimate demands. Bomb blasts from their side have subsided but not stopped altogether. The security forces, in return, have been hitting them from the air and the ground. Despite strains arising out of Musharraf’s trial and the attack on Hamid Mir, the army has gone along with the governments’ decision to continue with the option of resolving the terrorist problem through talks, though the general feeling remains that the military would rather go for an operation.

In this connection, the speech delivered by the Chief of Army Staff on the occasion of the Youm-e-Shuhada at the GHQ, leaves little doubt that the army views the Taliban as “rebels” who need to be dealt with firmly by the armed forces.

Mark General Sharif’s words: “Today, we as a nation are faced with a war.” To his reckoning, the army’s support to the efforts to restore peace in the country rests on the condition that all elements operating against the state must “unconditionally submit to the country’s constitution.” Otherwise they will have to suffer a befitting punishment as the armed forces have the requisite capability to take them to task.

In other words, the army chief was sending an unambigous message to both the Taliban and the government.

Nawaz Sharif should heed Raheel Sharif’s call and quicken steps to directly talk with the Taliban. There will be no harm if in these talks, senior army officers are also present. Some give and take is bound to take place. One should not forget that the Taliban (most of them) are Pakistani nationals—and have been driven to become anti-state operators. They must be brought back to the mainstream to ensure a stoppage of suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks. Once they agree to abide by the law of the land and give up armed engagements, their support can be harnessed to identify and ferret out anti-Pakistan subversive elements.

The imperative of urgency has yet to dawn on the PML-N leadership for pursuing the dialogue with speed and vigour. They have little time left to bring this task to a satisfactory conclusion. They must accelerate efforts in view of the US/NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan, the spill-over thereafter, also considering the fall-out of the incoming Afghan government.

The Pakistan armed forces might not wait for too long to launch an operation if the government continues with its current handling of the process.   

 The writer is an ex-federal secretary and ambassador, and a freelance political and international relations analyst.