In the non-stop soap opera of politics in Pakistan that goes on and on, important issues are ignored, submerged or sidelined. News and views about conspiracies are tossed up. Controversies rage in the press and TV channels only to peter out, followed by another set of alarming revelations and scandalous happenings laced with accusations and counter-accusation.

In all this theatrical merry-go-round, many vital issues remain unaddressed. Take terrorism. Do we have an understanding and an agreed policy as to how to deal with it? Yes, Parliament unanimously passed two resolutions laying out an approach for the government to follow. But did we develop a policy on the basis of this approach? We claim to be a working democracy. Democracy is a government by the people. The people are represented by their chosen nominees. In other words, a number of elected civilians are given the authority to run the affairs of the state. In the present dispensation, the general impression is that in the matter of defence and foreign affairs, the policies are set by the top brass. The civilians only follow their lead.

After the 9/11 incident, the armed forces started fighting in the tribal areas of northwest Pakistan. Pakistanis living in this part of the country reacted sharply and took to violent and vengeful activities.

Across the border, Afghanistan had been bombed and occupied by the US and Nato forces. The Afghans - mostly Pakhtuns including Taliban - put up a stiff resistance. The so-called al-Qaeda leadership escaped into the tribal areas of Pakistan and established sanctuaries there. Many non-Pakhtun erstwhile Mujahids too crossed over.

A war has been going on in the said areas for the last nine years or so. Hundreds of thousands of our soldiers and quite a few air force units are involved. More than 5,000 of our troops have lost their lives. 40,000 Pakistani civilians too have been killed. And there have been financial losses exceeding $50 billion.

With all the military might that Pakistan has deployed and the non-stop American drone attacks, the so-called Taliban and other tribal groups remain undefeated. In fact, their attacks are increasing by the day. The offer of talks by the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has evoked a response from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government. The Awami National Party (ANP) has held an all parties conference, which has responded positively to the TTP’s call to hold a dialogue.

Strangely enough, Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf (PTI) and Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), which have been clamouring for putting a stop to the war (imposed on Pakistan) and holding talks with the militants, boycotted the all parties meeting. They say, the ANP’s initiative, when only a few weeks are left for the governments’ dissolution, is mere political gimmickry aimed at scoring points prior to elections.

It, however, would have been appropriate for them to have joined other parties to prepare the ground for talks with the Taliban. Reportedly, the top brass has rejected the TTP offer. The commanders want the militants to first lay down their arms and commit allegiance to Pakistan’s statehood before they could be engaged in talks.

Pakistan badly needs peace. Violence has taken a very heavy toll of thousands of precious lives, damaging industry and adversely affecting the lives of the people at large. Halting of war in Fata and parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa will be a big step for drastic reduction, if not elimination of free-for-all terroristic violence in the country. Nawaz Sharif, Asif Zardari and Imran Khan should overcome their differences, join  hands to steer the country out of the vicious circle of death and destruction.

Another ignored and sidelined issue is the making of a clear-cut policy on Kashmir. For decades now, we have been tinkering with this issue. It practically has gone off the international radar after the terribly messed up Kargil misadventure. The last military dictator further damaged our case by offering to move away from the UN resolutions on Kashmir (which provides the authentic locus standi for Pakistan). Thank God, his bizarre solutions did not find favour with India.

For the last many years, we have been going out of the way to woo India. We have conceded most of what India in the previous decades was working for, namely, enhanced trade relations and more of cultural and people to people activities. All along our stand had been: let us solve the disputes first, especially the Kashmir issue, and then we will take up trade and other matters.

With the passage of time, we fell headlong into India’s agenda. After having secured a considerable part of its demands (drastically reducing the list of negative trade items and easing of visa facilities), India has changed its approach to Indo-Pak relations and hardened its stand vis-à-vis Pakistan.

We recently have seen the Line of Control (LoC) heating up. Pakistan has been accused of violating the 2003 ceasefire and of mutilating the body of an Indian soldier. Islamabad’s proposal of an investigation by the UN (which keeps a monitoring military unit on LoC) was turned down. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh warned that henceforth there would be “no business as usual.” Pakistani artists and other eminent visitors were asked to return. And earlier this month, Afzal Guru was hanged and unceremoniously buried in the Tihar Jail without even informing his relatives. His hanging has been rightly described as “a miscarriage of future” by Arundhati Roy in a remarkable piece. She has analysed the case in detail and has concluded it in the following words: “Like most surrendered militants, Afzal was easy meat in Kashmir - a victim of torture, blackmail, extortion.......Now that Afzal Guru has been hanged, I hope our ‘collective conscience’ has been satisfied. Or is our cup of blood still only half full?”

Even Sheikh Abdullah’s grandson, the present Chief Minister of Indian Helf Kashmir (IHK), has remarked: “Whether you like it or not, the execution of Afzal Guru has reinforced the point that there is no justice for them and that to my mind is far more disturbing and worrying than the short-term implications for security front.  How we would be able to correct or address that sense of injustice and alienation is a question I do not have answers.” The brutal suppression of protestors in Srinagar and other places by the Indian troops is another story of India’s uncivilised behaviour.

Pakistanis’ official reaction has been weak and somewhat disappointing. The OIC’s recent resolution to send a fact-finding mission to Kashmir has met with a contemptuous ‘No’ from New Delhi.

It needs to be pointed out that Pakistan is an internationally acknowledged party to the Kashmir dispute. It has every right to raise the issue internationally whenever the other party, i.e. India, does something manifestly wrong or objectionable. It is unfortunate that we have failed all along to do our duty and are found wanting in pursuing the required minimum for the hapless and brutally suppressed Kashmiris. We must keep the issue alive through print and electronic media and effectively highlight the preposterous violation of human rights at the international forums.      

The writer is an ex-federal secretary and ambassador, and a freelance political

    and international relations analyst.