2016 — year of dark clouds

Yousaf Rafiq

The outgoing year turned out very different than expected, to say the least. There was hope and optimism going in. The country had, after a long time, finally lifted itself from the shadow of the Peshawar tragedy. The main reason was the continuing success, or so we were told and thought and believed, of Zarb-e-Azb. ’16 would be the year to finally finish them off was the going sentiment. And that, of course, would usher in peace, development, and so on and so forth.
Sadly, though, the assumption did not hold true. Taking nothing away from the many, many successes of Zarb-e-Azb, the final nail in the terrorist coffin has still not come. The main initial thrust of the operation — which comprised mostly of bullets and bombs in the tribal area — had more or less been wrapped up by the fall of ’15. The operation was to transpose into intel-intensive and combing ops as the net widened to urban centres and main cities.
One of the main features of the National Action Plan — that post-Peshawar blueprint of the war going forward — was integrating and sharing intelligence between the many dozen security and intelligence agencies that litter the landscape. ’16 was supposed to be the time when these aspects of the plan came together. More intel-based operations would take out the remainder of the enemy on home soil. Sadly, again, that too did not happen. Not only did NAP remain frozen for the entire length of the year — more or less — but the attacks also did not stop altogether. They are fewer than before, but the enemy’s ability to attack at will has not been neutralised. Also, lately the attacks have been high profile, killing upwards of fifty people per hit towards the end of the year, especially in Balochistan.
Of course, terrorism was not the year’s only problem. Foreign aggression also raised its head in an unprecedented manner. Modi’s ascent in Delhi was always going to be problematic. But apparently he’s coupled his diplomatic onslaught by setting the LoC and working boundary alight. There are growing casualties on both sides with even the present lull not quite going as far as the ceasefire agreement of ’03. And it’s not just India that wants Pakistan out of the game. Afghan enmity has also returned with a vengeance. There was a brief moment, shortly after Ghani took charge in Kabul, when it seemed everybody would agree to reset the bilateral equation. But that’s not happening anytime soon either. To make matters worse, the foreign office is no more competent, or better structured, than a year before. The ministry is still rudderless, and the prime minister — who still holds the foreign ministry portfolio — is neck deep in political and personal survival to give the international environment much of his time.
And that, of course, brings us to the biggest political scandal of the year. Panamagate has lingered for most of the year. And it’s still not clear which direction it is really going to take. Expectations that Pakistani democracy was maturing, and politicians had become sensible enough to give corruption, however alleged, very serious consideration are also now fading away.
Still, that is not all the tragedy that this year brought us. In addition to the sad, unfortunate yet completely random deaths and killings that plague our country, some stood out. Abdul Sattar Edhi for one; that unique, unparalleled soul. He finally breathed his last after a long illness. Junaid Jamshed for another; his death a different sort of tragedy. Qandeel Baloch was another shocker. Another reminder that for all the strides we take, we have not gone very far after all.
However bleak the situation, one thing did go Pakistan’s way this year, and in a very big way. Finally, after long talk and deliberation, CPEC took off. That, perhaps, was the one thing to write home about this particular year. Little surprise, really, that enemies inside the country and out are already trying to sabotage it. If it goes all the way and comes to fruition — which is should in due course — it will certainly change the course of this region, particularly Pakistan, forever. However, even though the enemy’s efforts against it have been countered well enough by the security agencies, there are bigger problems that threaten to derail this goldmine if not taken care of in time.
Much grimmer than armies of any enemy of ours are the forces of religious and sectarian hatred that continue to tear Pakistan from the core. They have been spreading their disgusting orgy of death and destruction up and down the country for many years now. Yet there’s still no check on them beyond mere politically correct formalities. And they’ve been more active in Balochistan than the rest of the country — though their footprint has not been insignificant in any part.
And Balochistan, for better or worse, is the most important point of CPEC and the region most desperately in need for that turnaround that it is going to bring.
We must not close our eyes to the fact that so far, despite the obvious threat, we have been unable to secure Balochistan. Even Quetta, not one of our biggest cities, with such obvious threats is not nearly protected well enough. There is, therefore, an urgent need to take stock of our strengths and weaknesses. If ’17 too is allowed to drift on its own, we will not be in a much better position in another year’s time. Hopefully ’16 would have made enough of an impact on our leaders to steer a better course for next year.


JUI-F’s countrywide road blockade in full swing