Courtesy: daily dawn
Even by the wretched standards of the cesspit of lies and cravenness that can be the Pakistani political establishment, the comments made on Sunday by Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif are extraordinary and demand the most vigorous condemnation possible.
Essentially, Mr Sharif has argued that his party, the PML-N, shares a common cause with the Taliban —that of opposing Gen Musharraf and his policies and rejecting ‘dictation’ from abroad — and therefore the Taliban should ‘spare’ Punjab. The very thought that any mainstream politician, let alone one as high-profile and powerful as the serving Punjab chief minister, could find anything in common with the Taliban ideology is despicable.
But Mr Sharif has gone so much further than that. By asking the Taliban to ‘spare’ Punjab, what does the Punjab CM mean? Does he mean that the Taliban should launch their attacks elsewhere, in Sindh, Balochistan, the NWFP, Fata, Pata or other places? And what does the CM mean when he says that his party is fighting foreign ‘dictation’ just like the Taliban are? Does he mean that Pakistan should not fight the threat of militancy? What does Mr Sharif want to do instead — accommodate the Taliban like they were accommodated in Swat last year? Or should ‘peace deals’ be struck with the Taliban like they were in South Waziristan for years? The chief minister’s half-hearted ‘clarification’ issued later will not suffice; he must apologise to Punjab and the nation.
That Mr Sharif could possibly be ignorant of the threat posed by the Taliban is impossible. As chief minister of Punjab he has sat at the apex of that province’s administration for over a year and a half now. Countless secret and not-so-secret memos will have arrived on his desk detailing the atrocities and crimes committed and planned by the Taliban. The secret interrogation cell that was attacked in Model Town, Lahore, only a few days ago was run by provincial authorities. The Punjab chief minister is mocking the sacrifices made by the very people who serve his administration by finding common cause with the enemy.
Why is it so difficult for the PML-N to condemn terrorism outright, with no ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’? It surely cannot be a question of the reluctance to use violence against ‘fellow Pakistanis’. Like Mr Sharif’s first tenure as chief minister in the late 1990s, Punjab is once again witnessing a spike in ‘encounter’ killings of alleged dacoits, kidnappers and sundry criminals. The men who have been killed in dubious circumstances are also ‘fellow Pakistanis’. But Mr Sharif has no sympathy for these men; in fact, he has on many occasions announced rewards for the policemen for ‘cleaning up’ the province of criminal elements. There has been no talk of an amnesty for such criminals, no appeals to their better sides, no exhortations to recognise that they have much in common with the largest party in Punjab. The ordinary criminals must be wondering what they must do to get on Mr Sharif’s good side. Perhaps a statement against Mr Musharraf will do the trick.
The PML-N needs to come clean with the people of Pakistan. On which side of the divide does it stand? Is it against militancy in all shapes and forms or is it ideologically sympathetic to the ‘justness’ of some facets of the militants’ cause? This is not about political expediency but about the very worst form of moral corruption. Pakistan’s leaders have a sacred duty to protect the people and the sovereignty of the state. There is absolutely nothing in the Taliban’s agenda that is any way even remotely compatible with that sacred duty. In fact, finding common cause with the Taliban is to take the country one step closer to the abyss. Ordinary Pakistanis have shown remarkable courage in resolutely backing the fight against the militants for a year now. Shahbaz Sharif and the PML-N need to accept who the enemy is. Otherwise, they have no business being involved in the affairs of the state.
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