by Ibrahim Khalil
At the risk of sounding unpatriotic, let me quote a joke that was making the round couple of years ago.
After a meeting between Manmohan Singh and Pervez Musharraf, an announcement is made that Kashmir issue has been resolved. At the press conference, Manmohan Singh says that “Pakistan has agreed to give up its claim of holding a plebiscite in Kashmir. General Musharraf will inform you of the rest of the details”. General Musharraf comes on the microphone and says, “We have fought three wars with India over Kashmir. Our army is always alert on our eastern border. By resolving the Kashmir issue not only will we have peaceful and prosperous relations with India but also our defense expenditures will come down as our huge army will not need to be high alert all the time.” There is muted response from the Pakistani press. So the General continues “In return for giving up the right on Kashmir, India will give a strip of land to Pakistan along India-Pakistan border where we will establish DHA societies that will act as our first line of defense.”
After listening to President Zardari’s solution of establishing cantonments in Swat for continued peace in region, the above joke starts to feel like a serious contender for a peace proposal.
One could have forgiven President Zardari for coming up with such an immature solution given that he has a certified mental condition as well as he may be farther from ground realities on account of spending more time outside the country on his so called fund raising trips. However, the solution was not his brain child and came after he held a high level meeting with military high command as well as his political advisors. If this is the case, it shows a total lack of administrative insight, leadership foresight and political acumen in our leaders military and civilian.
Let’s take the example of Karachi. Despite so many Askari residential schemes as well as cantonment areas such as Faisal cantonment area, Saddar cantonment area, Clifton cantonment area plus areas reserved for air force and navy personnel Karachi is a vice den with record number of mobile snatchings, car liftings, target killings, rioting, kidnapping for ransom etc. with the latest news being that ransom amount is used for financing Taliban etc.
However, supporters of Zardari’s proposal might fight back with the statement that problems of Swat and Karachi are different. Taliban insurgency is not the problem in Karachi, at least for now. Ok. Then take Peshawar for example. The question is: if we set up a cantonment in Peshawar, would we be able to avoid the suicide blast in Pearl Continental? But suicide blasts are a new phenomenon with no sure shot way of tackling it if we go by media appearances of our security experts and advisors. Ok. Establishing a cantonment in Peshawar will discourage the Taliban, fear of whom has forced the foreign bankers to wear shalwar kameez and lady doctors to take up Chadors. But wait, Peshawar already has a cantonment!
The problem in Swat is not unique. We are facing similar insurgencies in other Tribal Areas and similar trouble can also arise in any other part of the country as well e.g. southern Punjab. The solution that should be implemented in Swat should be such that firstly, it has chances of being successful and secondly, it should be easily replicable in other areas. The proposed solution is found wanting in the first condition (as shown in Peshawar) and if it fulfills the second condition the national expenditure will be part of defense expenditure rather than the other way around.
Even if we go through with the plan, how are we going to fund the costs of setting up these cantonment areas? The budget presented in the parliament is already ludicrous with expenses far exceeding realizable receipts. Defense takes up significant proportion of our national expenditure and if we start setting up these cantonment areas (which have proven to be ineffective in metropolitan areas) every where there is a threat of talibanization or law and order situation, we will just be over burdening our budget with more defense expenditures.
I believe the solution to the Swat problem is much simpler and less costly:
- Proper law enforcement force i.e., well trained and well armed Police
- Functioning courts
- Elimination of status of Swat as Tribal Area and bring it under constitution of Pakistan
If the government drags its feet in the later two areas even then the first step, establishment of a proper law enforcement force, can be much more effective than a military cantonment. The third step may appear unnecessary but it prevents vested interests to implement such hastily cooked up decisions, without debating them in the parliament, through provincial chief minister or President. If we debate the issue in the parliament, at least we will have some discussion of pros and cons of each strategy even if we decide to go with the cantonment plan.
The speed with which the proposal was devised and the subtle manner it has been ignored or given a silent nod by media, I am sure we will be hearing in a few days that land has been marked for cantonment area (which was incidentally flattened by non-stop shelling and bombing) and construction has started even before IDPs have been rehabilitated.