This Article appeared in Daily Dawn on  July 22nd, 2008.

PAKISTAN is heading towards a political meltdown. It has fallen into a state of non-governance in the face of grave threats to its security. The situation can change if the country reinvents and rediscovers itself miraculously at this eleventh hour. This article is not designed to create despondency but to give an objective assessment of what is happening within the country and outside. An ostrich-like attitude will not really help.

The fact is that Talibanisation is taking over the country rapidly due to the lack of any tangible counter-strategy from the government’s side. The religious extremists are openly challenging the government’s writ every day and personnel of the police, Frontier Constabulary, Frontier Corps and other security agencies are being killed or kidnapped by the dozens. The government appears to be clueless about how to respond to the crisis. The extremists are not considerable in number but through sheer terror tactics they are forcing more and more people into submission. The area under their control is increasing day by day and that under the government’s jurisdiction is shrinking.

The government is resorting to shadow boxing in the media. It is constantly debating whether negotiation or the use of force is the best option. Is the threat to Peshawar real or imaginary? These are actually irrelevant discussions at this point in time. While we just talk, on the other side of the border the US-led coalition forces have redeployed themselves in Afghanistan.

They are massed across the Durand Line facing Pakistan. USS Abraham Lincoln, the aircraft carrier, has moved closer to our shores. Scores of foreign journalists are swarming all over Peshawar as they probably expect some military action in the near future. The rhetoric in Washington against Pakistan is increasing by the day. The statements from Afghanistan are assuming threatening proportions. Pakistan appears to be on a collision course and the die appears to be heavily loaded against it.

Are our leaders aware of the dangers that lurk around us? Do they have plans to deal with the situation? Let us hope they do but the people are not convinced.

The problems are enormous but not insurmountable. This is the time for the elected leadership to rise to the occasion and mobilise the people behind it. There is need for a debate in parliament with all the political parties participating irrespective of their affiliations.

All the agreements Pakistan, as a front-line state, has reached with the US in this war on terror must be brought into the open and debated. Only those commitments which are in the best interest of Pakistan should be retained while the remaining need to be scrapped with the contempt that they deserve. The policy thus worked out for dealing with internal strife and external threats should be implemented by all the agencies of the state including the army and the ISI.

Anyone failing to do so must be dealt with in accordance with the law of the land. If a robust policy is articulated at that level, the challenge can be met with the resources available. Even if we are in the midst of an international conspiracy, as many believe, we cannot deny that the stated aim of the US in the region is to fight its war on terror. Yet some people strongly feel that the Americans have a hidden agenda that is directed against Pakistan. US military maps do not show countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan but a Eurasian landmass with air bases and arcs of coverage. The US would like to stay in this region because of its proximity to Russia which could become a superpower if it reorders its economy. China, which also borders this region, is another superpower in the making.

The US also has an interest in Iran. Pakistan is the only nuclear state in the Islamic world and it is felt that the centre of gravity of the war on terror in Afghanistan is being pushed towards Pakistan with a purpose and under a plan. After all the US is the senior-most and most powerful member of the tripartite commission. Why can’t it coordinate with the other two members on vital issues?

Afghanistan is an occupied country for all practical purposes and the statements by President Hamid Karzai should not be taken lightly because he may be speaking in his master’s voice. The blast outside the Indian embassy in Kabul cannot be attributed to the ISI so easily because the time selected is most inopportune from Pakistan’s point of view. It appears, according to some circles, that some big game is being orchestrated from somewhere and that the target is Pakistan.
Will our leadership rise and measure up to the occasion? If it does, the nation will not fail its leaders.

The writer, a retired brigadier of the Pakistan Army, is a former secretary home and tribal affairs, NWFP and secretary FATA.