Salman Masood

The government’s political and military elite huddled together Tuesday in Islamabad to review the internal security situation of the country. The high-profile meeting, which lasted over four hours at the Prime Minister’s House, came at the heels of ongoing discussion about the modalities of future talks between Taliban negotiators and government officials.

Apart from continuing the discussions on the strategy about the peace talks, the participants were given briefings by military and intelligence officials on the ever-so-precarious law and order situation and the myriad of insurgent groups operating within the frontiers. Terrorism continues to pose an existential threat to the country and the state’s response to the plethora of daunting challenges has been lacking in recent past. Void of a centralised, comprehensive security strategy apart from a general unwillingness to even acknowledge the problems, the past responses can be at best described as firefighting on need-be basis. The current government, to its credit, however, has at least started taking the initial steps to counter the spectre of terrorism. This is despite the criticism heaped on Prime Minister Sharif for being too keen on exploring the option of peace talks and dithering on using full-fledged force against the elements who continue to challenge the writ of the state.

A veteran politician with the mind of an entrepreneur, Prime Minister Sharif is compelled by considerations that put ensuring stability and peace over everything else. The foremost concern for the prime minister is about the potential blowback in Punjab, his political power-base, and Karachi, the business hub where violence can spiral out of control with just a spark, if and when the military campaign is initiated in North Waziristan. And, therefore, giving a short shrift to the critics, the pragmatic prime minister has moved ahead with the strategy of peace talks, no matter how fractured and disjointed the whole process might seem to be. The visit of prime minister to Imran Khan’s residence was a shrewd political move to neutralise the most vocal opposition leader in the apparent garb of co-option and cooperation.

While attempting to rally the disparate opposition figures, Prime Minister Sharif also intends to plug the holes in the existing laws that pertain to dealing with terrorists and the dysfunction between different entities of the civil and military security apparatus. It was in this context the meeting yesterday was of peculiar importance. Rapid Response Force, at both provincial and federal levels, was a much needed operational need as it can play a pivotal role in dealing with emergency security threats. Prime Minister Sharif reviewed the situation after the promulgation of the Protection of Pakistan Ordinance, which has come under criticism by some rights groups, and prime minister urged the provincial heads to make use of the changes in law that strengthen the hands of the security forces, both in field operations and in judicial process.

The prime minister also gave orders to streamline the intelligence agencies and bring their input under one roof: National Intelligence Directorate. Unlike the Pakistan Peoples Party, which made a botched attempt at bringing the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate under the Interior Ministry, the current government has attempted to avoid any such confrontation. It was, therefore, no surprise that after the meeting, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, the interior minister, stressed that the civilian and military leadership were on the same page. The issue of civil-military imbalance has always cast a dark pall on the country’s chequered history. In recent months, despite the public posturing to stress that the civil and military leadership are in sync on matters of national and international importance, the treason trial of former military ruler Pervez Musharraf continues to be an irritant, adding uncertainty in the whole equation.

The writer is The Nation’s Resident Editor

in Islamabad.