The speech of General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani on the Martyr’s Day rang familiar bells. Each phrase and word was well chosen to articulate a desired message of historical significance. The intent that he was unambiguous was evident when he shifted his fingers over each line; nothing less and nothing more.

He set the tone by reiterating that elections would be held as scheduled. He continued that despite tremendous sacrifices, the dream of our founding fathers under the leadership of Quaid-i-Azam and Alama Iqbal is yet to be realised. He made a bold statement that the political evolution of the country has not conformed to the ideologies of its founding fathers and a lot needs to be accomplished towards the unfinished agenda. He also hinted at the national truth and reconciliation and sustainable democracy by suggesting: “If (IFS) we succeed in rising above all ethnic, linguistic and sectarian biases to vote solely on the basis of honesty, sincerity, merit and competence, there would be no reason to fear dictatorship or to grudge the inadequacies of our present democratic system.” Echoing Imran Khan, he rejected the notion of right or left and pegged the centrality of Pakistan’s politics to Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Allama Iqbal.

The second significant statement flowed from the dream of Jinnah’s Pakistan, but not without a stick. He squarely took ownership of the war on terror and set conditions for the militants for reconciliation. He avoided reference to the absence of a cohesive national counter-terrorism policy. More than disapproval of the political parties that disown it, the statement was explicit in suggesting a consensus-based national counter-terrorism policy built around the evolutionary principles with the Constitution of Pakistan providing a realistic space for a negotiated settlement. He reached out to all segments of Pakistan to back the armed forces for the success in this conflict. The presence of the members of ANP that has lost most lives in this conflict was beyond symbolic. This was a bold and conspicuous gesture to announce that the party had a major role to play towards the attainment of ‘Dream Pakistan’.

It appears that the winds of change have also hit the confines of military headquarters. Does it mean that, within the context of the US-led war in Afghanistan, Pakistan has succeeded in creating space to put its own house in order and carryout the onerous task of nation building to its logical conclusion?

As written in the past, the second term Obama administration has made a clear pathway into the next decade in which the stability of Pakistan will be critical to regional stability. The threat of diverse non-state actors and outside interference is most likely to decrease. The rider clause will be the ability of the armed forces to inflict maximum damage to TTP and its affiliates well before the US withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014; hence, the empathic suggestion to own the war and end it through instruments of statecraft. The overhang of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and the attainment of internal stability within a year are the two interlinked challenges for a democratically-elected government. Post-withdrawal, Pakistan will have to control the surge in militancy astride the Durand Line. The Tirah Operation is a beginning. Reports indicate that to contest such a scenario, Pakistan during the previous government had begun negotiations with USA and its allies to buy off some of the defensive equipment.

Though the speech may be music to the ears of the secular parties, there is more to it. The biggest challenge will confront ANP and MQM, who will be required to shed off their narrow ethno-nationalist agendas and embrace the concept of Pakistan’s founding fathers in totality. What greater affirmation of Pakistani nationalism than the burial of Shaheed Bashir Bilour in Pakistan’s national colours? The suggestion also opens doors to the leftists and progressives of the Pakistan Movement, who had been sidelined as traitors for six decades through distortion of history. Dream Pakistan will also connect the poetry of Allama Iqbal to Faiz Ahmad Faiz, a trusted leftist companion of Quaid-i-Azam, who along with Dr M.D. Taseer and Mian Iftikharuddin of Progressive Papers was the founder of Kashmir independence movement.

But this is how far the wish list of General Kayani may go. The final decision to adopt these suggestions will rest with the future Parliament and government. In one scenario, it may be seen as an intrusion of the army in the domain of civilian leadership and the resultant resolve to harness the armed forces under civilian control. In the past two years, all political parties have attended workshops on how to impose civilian control over the armed forces. One cannot rule out the Bonapartists eager to put their sketchy knowledge of civil-military relations to test for supremacy. In another, the larger notion of strengthening democracy and removing the IFS could fall in line with the suggestions of reconciliation. A split mandate followed by compromises would most likely denude the effectiveness of this exercise, following which a future political dispensation could take the shape of an NRO II.

Though the parties representing status quo may already be familiar with the contours of these suggestions, the parties like PTI crying for change will need to get back to the drawing board and analyse the message. Based on the assumption that the party is the likely frontrunner in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with split results in Punjab and a small presence in Sindh and Balochistan, the preoccupation with counter terrorism may become the major agenda of PTI to contend. In such a scenario, it is likely to get least support from the centre. However, dynamics could change if it also becomes the frontrunner in Punjab and correspondingly, a major stakeholder at the centre.

In either case, being part of a coalition will warrant modifications in planning and methodologies. The party must put its researchers and analysts to evolve modified plans for different scenarios so that it loses no time once the elections are completed.

It is difficult to analyse the intention of a person such as General Kayani who thinks more for his few words. I recall my interactions with him as his staff officer in 2001-2002. He firmly believed that removal of contradictions in the politic body of Pakistan were essential to national reconciliation and exit from the war on terror. The war then had just begun and I waited eleven long years for this message. In the interim, I cursed him.

The writer is a retired army officer, current affairs host on television and political economist.