Political Fiction II: Silence of the Boots

“If at all there is anyone behind Qadri and Khan’s protest movement, that someone would have in his mind one of two objectives.
…….
Second; to build enough pressure to make the dictator style PM give up his independence and discretionary powers in local and international policy making and be prepared to take dictation from someone.”

The above paragraphs are from an earlier piece: “Political Fiction”, from August this year.

During the protests in Islamabad, the Prime Minister (PM), Chief Minister Punjab (CM) and Interior Minister (IM) had several meetings with Chief of the Army Staff (COAS). There were a few days when the CM and IM became ping pong balls being smashed to and from PM house and GHQ. Some of these meetings were made public, while some – I heard – were not. The result of these meetings were twofold.

While the government suddenly gained its lost confidence and started with stubborn, arrogant statements against the protestors, refusing to take any pressure at all, it apparently lost its control on foreign and, to some extent, defense policy. The new found confidence in the government’s attitude seemed a result of someone’s assurance that they will not be sent packing. Similarly the PM’s speech in the UN General Assembly – in which echoed his sudden shift of stance on India – seemed to have not been written by PM or his foreign office, but ‘someone’ else.

The Prime Minister who used to take decisions without much thinking, was now following orders without thinking at all. It wasn’t a bad deal, at first. Being thrown out of power for the third time was far worse than giving partial control to someone else. The government was again cozy in its warm, not so powerful yet lucrative seat. And then the worst happened.

On the unfortunate morning of 16th December, a group of animals entered the Army Public School in Peshawar, seeking to avenge the ongoing operation Zarb-e-Azab. They butchered hundreds of innocent children. In seven hours they changed the course of our future foreign, defense and anti terrorism policy – which were already not under the government’s complete control. In the aftermath of the Peshawar atrocity, two very distinct reactions were witnessed.

One came from the COAS who immediately put pressure on the PM to lift the moratorium on death penalty, to which the PM obliged. He then signed six death warrants for convicted terrorists – all of whom have already been hanged. The COAS along with DG ISI made an immediate visit to Afghanistan wherein he is said to have firmly demanded stern action against TTP leadership and cells operating from Afghan territory. There is also murmur of the GHQ preparing a set of proposed amendments and legislation to change anti-terrorism laws, including the establishment of military courts. The Army is clear in its views and policy on terrorism, clearer than ever before.

The other reaction came from the government and political parties. A committee was made, which has yet to give any plan of action against terrorists or terrorism. Statements were made, from the ruling and opposition parties. Despite lifting the moratorium on death penalty, not a single convicted terrorist has yet been hanged on the civilian government’s orders. Imran Khan ended his dharna in Islamabad and in his last address from the container, yet again omitted to condemn the Taliban in clear, unflinching words. The reaction from the political people can best be described in two words; indecision and confusion.

The government and political forces have been exposed. While news pours in of terrorist being killed in Zarb-e-azab and being hanged on death warrants issued by the COAS, there is no such news from the civilian side that can neutralize or gratify the overwhelming national anger.

Someone who has always been accused of conspiring to overthrow civilian regimes, is once again faced with a tough situation. They may not necessarily have to march in, they appear to be practically in control already. But if a puppet refuses to move as the puppeteer wants, it may as well be thrown away bringing the puppeteer to the forefront. Especially when the audience begins to despise the puppet and love the puppeteer.

This is also a warning bell for other, hopeful political forces. The Army has been hit in its heart with the December 16th attack. They are not going to back out of the war on terrorism, instead they will go all in. The internal policy of the establishment is going to change entirely. In a way this is our 9/11. Before 9/11 attacks the US occasionally criticized countries like Pakistan who were apparently pro-Taliban or pro-‘terrorists’. Immediately after 9/11, the occasional snubbing turned into “you are either with us or against us”. Likewise, Imran Khan who has been long alleged of establishment’s backing will now have to come out with a clear stance for or against the Taliban and will be seen accordingly.

If the establishment were to support any political force into power, it would most certainly look for hardliners against Taliban and terrorism. In the aftermath of an attack on our children, political parties with soft corners for Taliban may not find place in the establishment’s lap. At the moment Pervez Musharraf, MQM and PPP are the only ones who are bold enough to have a clear enough stance against Taliban. While PMLN and PTI are very clear about their confusion on the subject.

The boots may not be marching loud and noisy, but they are marching.

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