Courtesy  : Dawn

IF a prosperous and progressive Pakistan is what you wish to see in your lifetime, then the first thing you learn to do is to be grateful for small mercies. Yes, small mercies. A bigger ask will be too ambitious and will more than likely cause you heartbreak and lead to serious disillusionment.

So, when I read the Dawn scoop in Thursday’s newspaper on the discussion between the civilian leadership and senior military and intelligence officials about the increasing international isolation of Pakistan due to its support to some jihadi terror groups, the relief was palpable. Relief at the mere fact that what so many of us have seen as an existential threat to the Pakistan of Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah was finally being recognised as such at the apex civil and military policy formulation and implementation levels.

Then, of course, Friday’s Dawn carried a rather vehement denial of its scoop of the day earlier. This was understandable. After all, a civilian government besieged by a scandal such as the Panama leaks can afford to play hardball with the country’s powerful military only up to an extent and no more.

Why issues of national interest, and critical ones at that, have to become a bone of contention in a silly, self-destructive zero-sum game is beyond my comprehension. But of course one can’t deny the historical context of power tussles and civil-military relations in the country.

Nonetheless, gratefully, this wasn’t to remain the focus of matters for long. Dawn’s scoop as well as the news on Geo TV which was carried as a main story by The News on its front page on Friday clearly spelt out the measures agreed to at the meeting and that a changed policy rollout was under way.

The key point men of this rollout were named as the prime minister’s national security adviser, retired Lt-Gen Nasser Janjua and ISI chief Lt-Gen Rizwan Akhtar. They will work in tandem with provincial civil and military law-and-order officials including the so-called apex committees and intelligence officials and agree on the implementation of specific measures to curb the activities of the groups.

While Pakistan has come under pressure from the US and other Western powers for not doing enough to curb the activities of groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba and dismissed demands for action, at the latest consultations in the capital where the foreign secretary briefed the high-level participants even China’s reported unease was discussed.

This easily verifiable concern by the Chinese who have thrown a 50-billion-dollar-plus lifeline to Pakistan in the form of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, whereby Beijing seeks to bring rapid development to its remote and distant western regions by connecting it to the Gwadar port, will also see huge infrastructure development in Pakistan leading to higher growth and generation of employment.

The military understands well that the days of unlimited funds to bolster national defence from Western allies such as the US are now a fading memory and to ensure the country’s military preparedness to meet external and internal threats in a volatile region its needs can only be met by its share in a growing economy. So, both the civil and military leaders are on the same page on the criticality of the CPEC project and the need to let no distractions stand in its way.

Therefore even though the news may have appeared dramatic, to the philosophical mind it would have sat simply as the next logical step in an evolutionary process.

I, for one, am optimistic that if Pakistan indeed desires to curb the influence of the jihadi terror groups by disarming them, choking off their finances and by mainstreaming the ‘reconcilable(s)’ into whatever welfare work their organisational prowess lays itself to doing, it can only take baby steps, a few at a time, away from what is assured disaster.

Some observers have raised concerns that any measures now would be seen against the backdrop of the Indian propaganda war particularly its claim of having carried out surgical strikes on Azad Kashmir as a reprisal for the attack on its Uri military camp.

That may be a concern but to me not as big a concern as the need to put Pakistan back on the right path. After all, what we do will strengthen the case of the rights of the oppressed people in India-held Kashmir, the legitimacy of whose indigenous, popular uprising seems to come into question each time a terror attack is blamed on Pakistan-backed groups.

Then there are cynics who say nothing will change and the military will pounce at the civilian government and point to two key dates to support their contention. Oct 28 is one when some of the luminaries of the so-called Defence of Pakistan Council will have their rally in Islamabad on a Friday hoping their ranks will be swollen by the Friday congregations.

Then two days later Imran Khan’s promised lockdown of the capital will start. Conspiracy theorists say this could be the tipping point in the troubled civil-military relations as any trouble at the two gatherings could potentially destabilise the government. The rallies are also being somehow linked to the retirement of the current army chief on Nov 27 this year.

I’ll tell you what I believe and yes I often indulge in wishful thinking. I think the government will concede ground for an acceptable Panama probe, Gen Raheel Sharif, the soldier’s soldier, will blaze into retirement with even greater glory than his anti-terror feats, having shunned extension offers.

And the army and its new chief will also commit themselves to saner policies. A power with both strategic and tactical nuclear arms does not need to and will not rely on loose cannons, the non-state actors, anymore. This is what I think.