Amir Mateen

ISLAMABAD: With the fulcrum of political activity moving to the Prime Minister House, the parliamentary debate over the Peshawar aftermath seemed meaningless.


Yet this did not deter backbenchers like Omer Ayub to contribute their two pence. As the grandson of the first dictator, whose family supported successive regimes also, Omer carried the torch to defend military courts. He sounded logical when he argued “extraordinary circumstances warrant extraordinary measures.” Omer portrayed a larger view of the terrorism malaise, mentioning the growing menace of religious extremism from the Middle East to our region. The Brits gave us the concept of fundamental rights but they had to introduce Terrorism Prevention Act (2011), which might be way harsher than what we want here. Even the Yanks introduced “enemy combatants” to justify the horrors of Guantanamo hell-hole.


But he dithered from the family traditions by supporting a more humane view of the situation. He believed that mere hanging of a few hundred terrorists would not resolve the problem. The action plan needs to be supplemented by alternative strategy to de-radicalise the society. There are many concerns that remain unanswered.


However, it made no sense for the parliamentarians to stress their vocal chords when everything was being decided outside the so-called August House.


Of course, there was sound justification for holding the closed-door discussion on Get-Taliban strategy at the PM House. For a start, Imran Khan continues to stay away from Parliament and it was important to have the ruling party in Peshawar on board. Also, the khakis must have felt more comfortable behind closed doors than sharing their views in the public glare. In any case, the PML (N) likes to conduct its important business outside Parliament – perhaps this has something to do with its moorings in the 1980s.


And if there was any possibility left of any parliamentary involvement, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ruled it out at the outset of his opening speech to the All Parties Conference (APC). He sounded categorical that action plan would be tabledin Parliament but there was no need for any further discussion on that. There was a touch of finality in his remarks that did not leave much room even for discussion in the APC, let alone in Parliament. The crux was:


We have had enough talks and now it is time to walk the talk.In a masterstroke he went on to request COAS General Raheel Sharif to talk before he gave the floor to fellow politicians.


One can only imagine how difficult it must have been for the Zardaris and his ilk to take an opposing line. Yet we are told many dared to speak up their mind. But in the end, we are told by TV hacks, everybody agreed on a draft for changes in laws as well as the Constitution.


Only time will tell whether the public concerns have been addressed.Obviously, the action plan is overly focused on military courts and ignores administrative reforms in police and judiciary. The biggest question remains how the judiciary will judge it: whether the proposed amendments will be seen as a violation of the fundamental rights; whether military courts will amount to a breach of separation between the executive and the judiciary. Many questions remain as a tinkering with fundamental rights might open the old debate about the basic structure theory. The PML (N) backbenches were worried about a possible rift with the judiciary.


Whatever the case, at stake is much more than many would realise. It may just be a defining moment for Nawaz Sharif, a make-or-break situation.


He seemed to have gambled everything on this. But then he did not have much choice either. The interior ministry failed to deliver and wasted more than a year- and about 55000 dead. Good that Nawaz is taking the lead by keeping Chaudhary Nisar in the background.


So far, the three-time Prime Minister has been lucky, very lucky. The three biggest issues of economy, energy and security show signs of improvement. And Nawaz Sharif has very little to do with that. The 40 per cent slide in world oil prices is a God-sent economic relief that my economist friends claim might result into a yearly billion-dollar benefit. The cheaper oil will also ease up the energy situation as 80 per cent electricity generation depends on oil.


About the security situation, the innocent kids had to sacrifice their lives to jolt this nation into action. Suddenly, Imran gave up his dharna and is contributing to the national consensus. The entire power elite from political parties and the Army is suddenly at the beck and call of Nawaz Sharif, who until recently was being dubbed as absentee Prime Minister. He is suddenly in the power seat calling the shots.


Well, this is one way of looking at things. The other interpretation is that Nawaz has got his neck on the line. He does not have a choice but to deliver. Will he, won’t he? One thing is sure: He will need to rely on things other than his stars also.

The News

January 3, 2015