The Big Squeeze

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Rocks and hard places do not come much rockier or harder than the ground the current government finds itself traversing. Two widely separated and unrelated attacks within 24 hours – Orakzai and the Chinese consulate – the Chinese getting fractious over laggardly institutional reforms now coupled with anxiety over the safety of their nationals, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) wanting painful measures in advance of any…advance, and the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) making it clear that Pakistan is falling short of compliance on the majority of fronts.

And all of that on the table in large main-course servings here and now. The dessert is uncontrolled population growth, worries about water that may or may not be as real as a simple-minded media would have us all believe and any amount of unfinished business with assorted terrorist and extremist groups. The national diabetes and obesity crises barely register on the Oh-my-goodness scale.

There has been much chuntering in the social media and by foreign observers (not always the most reliable of analysts) about the failure to address the arguably treasonable remarks made by a certain wheelchair-bound cleric.

In essence he has called for the downfall of the state and its replacement with his own version thereof slandering the army along the way and has caused considerable damage and mayhem in pursuit of his goals and those of his numerous followers. He has also challenged the verdict in the Aasia Bibi case to further disruption and all seemingly with little consequence as far as governmental response is concerned – until the night of the 23/24th November that is.

Having stood back thus far the government moved in the shadows of the night and said cleric is now in protective custody – presumably not in the same safe house as Aasia Bibi – and 143 (and counting) of his fellow leaders and acolytes were lifted as well. Quite what he is being protected from is obscure and the rumour mill is hard at work.

Rumours aside the real interest in this development is what will happen in the days after the cleric was taken out of circulation. Precautionary measures in terms of security deployments at previous squeeze-points are reportedly taken in the hope of pre-empting the kind of squeeze the extremists were so effective at applying in the past. November 25th was the potential flashpoint that our clerical friend was due to apply ignition and accelerant. At the time of writing that appears to have been dampened.

Sitting now on the cusp of 100 Days the big squeeze is on from all sides. There is to be no bail out by the Chinese and the IMF which let us not forget is funded in large part by America, is going to be in no mood to give the government a soft landing.

There is a real possibility that the FATF will blacklist the country which is going to have a knock-on effect respective of other potential lenders, none of whom is anyway able or inclined to cough up the kind of money we need to keep head above water. The recent deposit of $1bn – against its commitment of 3bn, mostly in kind not cash – in the central bank by the KSA is fiscal sticking plaster, not a solution.

Militancy has metastasized from being a local irritant to a deep-seated cancer that has proved difficult to treat, the recent arrests notwithstanding, as well as the equally deep-seated links that there are between the government, some political parties and the PM as well as many of his long-term fellow travelers.  The albatross is the failure of successive governments to construct a countervailing narrative allowing militancy the seed bed and nutrition that encouraged it to grow into the gangrel beast it is today. There is not the slightest indication that the current government has any intention – or indeed the capacity – to create the anti-terror vaccine that ought to have been protecting all of us for years.

It is that fundamental failure that underpins the national malaise. Many do not see it that way. They see it as success rather than failure by those that have worked hard to see the extremist narrative prevail, and the capacity to squeeze back has withered on the vine. Sooo…protective custody for an endangered species? Tootle-pip!