Monday, February 25, 2008

Pakistani Momentum for Change: Can It Make a Difference?

The Pakistan People's Party apologized to the people of Baluchistan, offering "an olive branch to nationalists and dissidents:"
A lead role in Balochistan —which a key party leader from the province called a “100 per cent possibility” — will give the PPP a rare position of controlling not only the centre but also sharing power in all the four provinces. As some party circles predicted this possibility, the would-be national ruling party showed an olive branch to nationalists and dissidents in Balochistan by offering an apology for “the atrocities and injustices committed” in the province in the past and calling for an immediate halt to the ongoing military operation there and release of all political prisoners, including former chief minister Akhtar Mengal. It seemed a major gesture for peace in the country’s largest but least populated province, which has gone through an insurgency for more than two years mainly over demands for more provincial autonomy and a greater control over natural resources.

Can FATA be far behind?

The double trend toward moderate coalition government and taking the road of "healing and mutual respect," as the PPP pledge put it, toward Pakistani minorities seems to be increasing the electoral momentum toward a new governmental attitude of listening to its own people that may leave external forces of all stripes out in the cold unless they can modify their attitudes and behavior fast enough to get back in step with the new moderate and nationalist approach. As for the man who still holds both the presidency and the guns, he seems increasingly an anachronism.

Background Video: "New Pak Government Against Extreme U.S. Military Action"

However real one may judge this "momentum toward a new governmental attitude," the fact is that countercurrents remain all too real. The very same issue of the same paper reported a suicide attack in Baluchistan, a separate attack that killed a general, dismissal by Musharraf's spokesman of Senator Biden's suggestion that he opt for "graceful" retirement, and rejection by the army of the idea that it end its anti-insurgent campaign in Swat. One test with serious long-term implications of whether the old-style military dictatorship or a new momentum toward mutual respect is now in control will be whether or not the army heeds the PPP's call for an end to military operations in Baluchistan. Dashing the hopes of Pakistanis for a new and more humane approach to domestic conflict resolution would put ammunition in the hands of extremists.

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