The power corridors are abuzz. The political pundits are hard at work. A storm is brewing in a cup.
And to think that all this uproar is attributed to a few written words makes one believe that the pen must indeed be more powerful than the sword.
For anyone who – for reasons entirely comprehensible – still hasn’t heard, the commotion in the ranks of Pakistan’s civil and military leadership began with a front page story in Dawn newspaper on 6 October, 2016 titled, “Act Against Militants or Face International Isolation, Civilians Tell Military.” Dawn correspondent, Cyril Almedia in this exclusive story revealed a paradigm shift during a closed door briefing held for the civilian and military leadership by the Foreign Office Secretary, Aizaz Chuadry who briefed the participants on the developments of the recent diplomatic outreach to garner international support for the Kashmir cause. The campaign did not meet the desired results that the Foreign Office hoped for and consensus on the diplomatic front was that Pakistan needs to take action against the non-state actors.
The article also highlighted an alleged verbal argument between Chief Minister Punjab, Mian Shahbaz Sharif and Director General ISI, Lt. General Rizwan Akhter when the younger Sharif accused the agencies of protecting non-state actors from local law enforcement agencies. However, after intervention from the Prime Minister, the article states, the discussion ended on an amicable note. The civil-military leadership decided that a two member committee comprising of DG ISI and the national Security Adviser will be formed and they will visit provincial capitals to meet with local intelligence apparatus and convey a strong non-interference message to ensure successful actions against banned outfits by civilian law enforcement agencies.
The tone of the article and the story itself conveyed that high politics took place behind closed doors and needless to say within hours of publication the story became the single most talked about topic in the country.
The controversial revelations forced the spokesperson from Prime Minister house to issue a statement refuting the story and termed it misleading and speculative. Soon after a rejoinder was also published on behalf of CM Shahbaz Sharif who denied the comments that were associated with him and further added that he holds Gen Rizwan Akhtar in the highest esteem. The series of clarifications did not end with this because a third statement was issued by the Prime Minister House after the meeting of civilian and military leadership on October 10, 2016.
However, it seems that despite all the refutations and clarifications there is at least some substance to the story. A few incidents before the high-level meeting go on to validate this hypothesis.
Just one day prior to the publication of Almedia’s story PML-N lawmaker, Rana Muhammad Afzal during the meeting of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs asked a pertinent question, “What eggs is Hafiz Saeed laying for us that we are nurturing him?” This is the first statement of its kind coming from the ruling party that directly pin points Hafiz Saeed and the futility of tolerating his presence.
At the same time, the impending diplomatic isolation of Pakistan cannot be negated as the cancellation of the SAARC Summit following its boycott by India, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Afghanistan is a rather disturbing affirmation of Pakistan falling out of favor. True that the dynamics of the boycott led by India are not merely a reflection of Modi’s principled stance against terrorism given the Indian Prime Minister’s own history of extremist violence, but the point that needs to be taken stock of is that India has a certain sway over regional and international actors that Pakistan currently does not enjoy. And so the country’s civil-military leadership needs to focus its energies to rebuild Pakistan’s image as a responsible emerging economy that ought to be taken seriously.
However, contrary to what the focus should have been, following the series of denials, the Government hastily committed a PR disaster by putting Cyril Almedia’s name on the Exit Control List, thus barring him from leaving Pakistan and inviting – completely avoidable – international flake. The decision was revoked after a few days, however by then the damage had been caused and Pakistan left embarrassed in the international arena.
So what exactly is Cyril’s crime? He simply highlighted the uncomfortable realities that the state has been hoodwinking for ages. The paradigm of national security can no longer be used to avoid these thorny issues and we must introspect upon putting our house in order first before we embark on adventures elsewhere. The freedom of press ensures that voices of the masses are heard and those who run the realms of affairs can be held accountable for their actions. It is absolutely imperative for the government to rise above petty politics and pay serious heed to the writing on the wall rather than shooting the messenger.