Now that the two mainstream parties have virtually declared the doors of reconciliation shut, commentators are already talking of the possibility of the army stepping in “to bring the country back to normal”. We sincerely hope this doesn’t happen. The army is incapable of providing any political solutions as we have learnt from our bitter experience time and again. But if this does come to pass, this time too the politicians would be to blame. From the hostile mood being displayed on both sides of the barricades, one can conjecture that violence will characterise the Long March right from its start and that it would be countrywide.
Punjab will clearly be the arena where the battles will erupt as the PMLN mobilisation gets underway. The government will try to tackle the opposition at the district level and prevent the small streams from joining the big current on the Grand Trunk Road. There are reports already that “non-state actors” might get busy during the Long March. Rising from South Punjab, we know whom the suicide-bombers will target, but collateral damage will be borne by the PMLN and its supporters.
What should be kept in mind, however, is that the strategy of the terrorists will not be simple. They have no love lost for the PMLN; they can kill its workers and lawyers in order to sharpen the contradiction between the protesters and the government. So far, despite violent rhetoric, the PMLN says its campaign will be peaceful. The government too says it will do nothing against the Long March if it is peaceful. But what if a “third party” makes it violent through its separate strategy? Everybody agrees that the Long March could become violent. Even the lawyers know this. It is quite possible that the protesters will come prepared for it. Some of them will definitely be armed.
If the army steps in, the PMLN may think that this will realise its hidden desire for mid-term elections. But given the genuinely abnormal conditions prevailing in the country — complete with many “failed state” symptoms — that won’t happen; or it may happen but with long-term damage to the prospects of both parties. The game will go to the terrorists, after which the world might step in, leaning on the desperate military measures that Pakistan has been warding off so far. (Daily Times, Editorial, 10 March 2009)