Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif moved fast to visit Peshawar, condoled with the families of the victims of the carnage perpetrated at the Army Public School, and met COAS, the Governor and KPK Chief Minister. The next day he held a meeting with party leaders including Imran Khan, where a decision was taken to set up a representative political committee to hammer out a plan for action within a week.

Despite this prompt action there has been criticism in sections of the media and some political circles that even if the said committee comes up with a plan, it may lack a realistic strategy with the result that the plan will remain largely unimplemented. While such criticism is somewhat premature, there is good reason to look back and see how the government’s performance with regards to putting flesh and blood on the bones of a national security policy has remained unsatisfactory, if not disappointing. NECTA has yet to become fully operational and one has yet to find out if the National Intelligence Directorate has found its feet and is operating as expected.      Although Imran Khan has declared his support for the government to fight the menace of terrorism, how far he will go to fully align himself with an all-out war against the militants remains to be seen. As he speaks from conviction, one may assume that he will continue to harbour reservations about the policy adopted. Relevant here is the way the New York Times has viewed the aspect of the matter in its Thursday editorial: “Imran Khan, the dangerously disruptive politician whose party controls the province where the massacre took place, was wise to postpone country wide protests that are part of his push to bring down Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. But he should also drop his demand that the government negotiate with the militants rather than fight them. That has been tried and failed.”  

It is important here to say a few words about how and why the dialogue with the Taliban failed to yield results. In spite of calls for urgency because of frequent suicide attacks, it took the new government three months to call the All Parties Conference. The Conference unanimously gave a mandate to the ruling party to start talking to Taliban leaders who did show willingness to respond. Committees were appointed and a few meetings were held. It was however, soon discovered that the will to urgently make the best of the situation was not strong enough to ensure the process to move forward meaningfully. Precious time was frittered away on one excuse or another. The army had (possibly reluctantly) agreed to stand by the civilian government policy. When it found that hardly any substantial results were coming forth and the attacks by militants were continuing (after a month-long ceasefire) the COAS went ahead and launched a full-fledged military operation targeting North Waziristan. North Waziristan had remained, so to say, out of bounds for the military because of their special relationship with the Afghan Haqqani Group. Pakistan was accused of playing “a double game”. To quote the said NYT editorial, Pakistan was “taking American aid while supporting and exploiting various Taliban groups”. Reference here may also be made of a book titled, “The Deadly Embrace” by Bruce Reidel (who served as advisor to five American Presidents), and another publication printed last year called “The Wrong Enemy” in which evidence has been provided to establish the charge of Pakistan’s chicanery and “double dealing”. Both these books make the point that it is Pakistan which needs to be dealt with firmly if American interests in the region are to be safeguarded.

The New York Times has further advised the country’s military and political leaders to, “reconsider their conflicted approach to the insurgency that is threatening the State’s survival.”

Taking a cue from General Raheel Sharif’s dash to Kabul to meet President Ashraf Ghani and ISAF commanders, it is a fairly safe bet that henceforth the GHQ will be very much on its own in matters relating to national security and to a large extent, also external relations. Whatever the approach of the committee set up at Peshawar is, to prepare a plan of action, the last word will most probably be of the top brass.

For this none-too-happy state of affairs, the PML-N government has to accept responsibility because of its style of governance.

One fallout of the horrible tragedy in Peshawar has been Imran Khan’s decision to call off the dharna and related programmes. The dharna, he has warned, could be resumed if PTI’s major demands are not met.

The end of the dharna is a windfall for Nawaz Sharif. He should act quickly to meet Imran’s demands in the light of the country’s Constitution and if there are hurdles he would be well-advised to sit with Imran to sort differences out.

As far as terrorism is concerned, not only should a comprehensive counter-terrorism policy be devised, but it should be included in the establishment of appropriate national organizations, supporting mechanisms and doable implementation strategies. These policies and strategies must be pursued with vigour and wisdom. Any delay in this vital national task will further damage the credibility of the government.

The challenge is hugely daunting and highly complex, with regional and international dimensions. Steps already announced regarding the executions of convicted criminals have only a reactive connotation. Much more work to identify the sources of insurgency and terrorism including those providing funds for such nefarious activities, reform of the madrassah curricula and revamping of the investigation and prosecution systems will have to be taken in hand without delay.  Sectarian outfits will also have to be sorted out. The media needs to review its approach to national affairs and strive to help build up national unity and solidarity. No more lethargy, ego and hubris please. Non-stop, unflagging action linked to a long term vision and view, is called for. Too much is at stake and the task is enormously difficult. It, however, must be done—intelligently, quickly and soulfully. 

The writer is an ex-federal secretary and ambassador, and a freelance political and international relations analyst. He can be contacted at pacadepak@gmail.com