Morale across the country is low, as this year we celebrate Independence Day in the shadow of the terrible Quetta attack. As the military launched its first combing operations in Punjab targeting the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan’s splinter group Jamaatul Ahrar, Chief of Army Staff Gen Raheel Sharif publicly voiced frustration on over the government’s poor progress on the National Action Plan against terrorism. He is not the only one disappointed at the how NAP has progressed after December 2014. No one thinks that NAP is working, and we can only cling to the laurels of Zarb-e-Azb for so long.
While the COAS believes the military’s gains during Operation Zarb-e-Azb were being lost, this is something that had been predicted very early. A military operation, if not complemented by thorough policing and a civilian government’s unequivocal resolve to quash extremist religious ideology, will only result in backlash upon backlash from the enemy. But the civilian government is not the only one to blame. Our intelligence agencies have fallen woefully short in predicting and pre-empting attacks.
General Sharif’s remarks riled the political leadership and both the government and opposition angrily reacted. While considering the day today, we could argue that this is not the time for these institutions to be opposed and at odds, it would be wrong to do so. All the players, the military, the intelligence, the legislature, the executive, etc., need to be checking each other’s performance and openly calling out the weak links. The civilian setup has lagged behind, not just because of current inefficiencies and corruption, but due to historic misuse by the military in past dictatorships, class biases of a ruling political elite, the habitual practice of keeping “strategic assets” and a social misconception that extremist religious groups can be negotiated with or mainstreamed. Asking this to change under the NAP was a huge demand, but even then, the effort put in has not been satisfactory.
Yet, Pakistan is not a failed state, and those who look may find silver linings. We are in the phase of a slow but sure economic recovery, political opposition is weak but loud, and political competition will generate accountability, and despite all odds, the whole nation is wearing green, waving flags, and praying for Pakistan’s future. This is not much, but it is enough for today. Only when pushed to the edge, can a nation find within it the true strength to rebuild itself. This government and the next will fumble around towards better accountability and better plans, and there is no scenario in our minds that things will not get better. In the grand scheme of things, we are still a young country, and progress takes time. As always, we stay cautiously optimistic and hopeful about Pakistan, our homeland now and safe haven forever, God willing.