It doesn’t matter how we got here. It doesn’t matter what mistakes have been made over the past few years, or by whom. It doesn’t matter who should have done what, when. All that matters at this point is that we restore the credibility of the state - not the Government, but the state. Now that we can look back on the extraordinary events of 2002, and place them in some perspective, we can recognize that our politicians - all of them - are irrelevant. Both our major parties have made their singular contributions to the situation, whether they are prepared to recognize it or not, but neither is in command of it.
What has happened is that all the agencies of the state have been undermined, and because the most important laws relating to murder and robbery under arms cannot be enforced, the lesser laws too are being disregarded. In a real sense, therefore, the legislative framework of the state is no longer intact. In some parts of this country, at least, we are living in warlord territory, with local chieftains raiding with impunity while an impotent central authority can do little more than look on.
Last week we made a minute step forward, and a bigger step backward. The little progress that came emanated from the President, who after eight months finally came to the none-too-hurried realization that the administration’s security plan is not working. He told the nation that he had sent his security chiefs back to the drawing board. Most citizens will be muttering ‘Hallelujah’ under their breath; however, this time around the Government had better come up with something more viable than the totally inadequate measures which have characterized their approach so far.
There have been calls for the President to proclaim a state of emergency and draw up the necessary regulations which might follow from that. However, a state of emergency will not in and of itself, solve the problem. For it to be of any use at all, it would have to be part and parcel of a larger security plan. Such a plan would need to address the problem of the professional gunmen, whose primary objectives - at least since the death of Andrew Douglas - appear to be unconnected to politics, as well as the second-tier gunmen. The latter are the ones who have been terrorizing Annandale and other Indian villages, and who seem in general to be very young. In addition to more commonplace motives, they may be inspired by political extremism.
While ordinary citizens are not security experts, they find it difficult to comprehend why it is that the front-line villages of Annandale, et al, cannot be protected on a round-the-clock basis from the youth gangs of Buxton/Friendship until the crisis is under control. And why has there apparently been no plan to catch these youngsters in flagrante, considering they are raiding on such a regular basis?
And as for the big-time gunmen, to the layman there seem to be the options of confrontation at some level after sealing off a sector, effectively quarantining the area for a time to stymie mobility, or some kind of combination of the two. The difficulties of the first are understood when there are so many women and children in the village, while the second would require considerably more manpower and resources than the Government has been prepared to throw at the problem to date. In addition, there are presumably other places on the East Coast which the gunmen either use currently, or could use, although purging Buxton/Friendship in the first instance, would seem to be the priority.
While the President was busy excoriating the army for its failures (and after all, he was the one to decide to employ military resources in a misconceived operation in the first place), he omitted to acknowledge the failure of his own administration over the last eleven months. One might have thought he would have been a little more reticent about blaming others so publicly when the one person above all others who should be shouldering the responsibility for the current fiasco is not doing so. But Minister Gajraj has shown no inclination to resign, and the President, for reasons which are quite unfathomable, has shown no inclination to ask him to do so.
And then we come to the main Opposition, whose pronouncements are as unfathomable as some of those of the Government. It wants the administration to take the measures which would ensure the public’s security, but it does not want to do the one thing which it could contribute to the long-term effectiveness of those measures. In an advertisement in the press last week, the PNCR announced that it would not be abandoning its “principled position” of boycotting the National Assembly - even temporarily for the sake of setting up the appointive committee which would start the process of securing us a new police chief - until the Government demonstrated it intended to make Parliament a functioning body in accordance with the constitution.
Apparently oblivious to the inconsistency, it had earlier announced that it would return to Parliament for the sole purpose of electing a Leader of the Opposition. Barring a case of central executive amnesia, this is political cynicism of the highest order. Surely the PNCR cannot believe that sane people will accept that it is acting in good faith, when it so blatantly seeks to manipulate Parliament for its own purposes?
It seems that the PNCR no less than the PPP/C is slow to recognize the full extent of the current crisis. It is slow to recognize too that the silent majority among its own constituency which gave it 42% of the vote in the last election, wants the killing to stop. Yes, that majority no doubt wants the Government to do what is necessary to make Parliament a functioning body, but above all else it wants the killing to stop. The people have made this last the priority; the PNCR, in contrast, has made the matter of Parliament the priority. If in order to achieve a priority goal, some concession has to be made on another goal, then rational people would accept the logic of making the concession. What is required now, therefore, is for the PNCR to bring its priority into line with that of most of its supporters, and act accordingly.
If the Government cannot do what it was elected to do, and if the PNCR cannot do whatever little it can to help in the present crisis, then they both will effectively be conceding the state to gunmen. And who on earth voted them into office?