Calm hand missing at Pakistani helm, says Dawn

December 7th, 2008 - 6:56 pm ICT by IANS  

Islamabad, Dec 7 (IANS) The manner in which Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari fell for a “prank” call threatening action by India in the wake of the Mumbai terror attacks reveals the lack of a calm hand at the helm and calls for urgently reviewing the government’s communications procedures, an editorial in a leading daily said Sunday.”Statecraft demands a calm hand at the helm in moments of crisis. It is not clear if such a hand exists in Islamabad at the moment,” the Dawn said in an editorial headlined “A dangerous prank”.

The newspaper reported Saturday that a prankster posing as Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee was patched through to Zardari Nov 28 and threatened military action by India if Pakistan did not act against the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks.

In a knee-jerk reaction, Pakistan put its armed forces on alert and threatened to remove its troops from the border with Afghanistan and send them to the border with India.

It was only after US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke to Mukherjee, who denied telephoning Zardari, “did it become clear that the presidency had been the victim of a prank and the tension in the region began to lower”, the Dawn editorial said.

In New Delhi Sunday, Mukherjee turned the tables on the incident, saying such stories were being spread by those seeking to “divert attention from the fact of an attack on India from Pakistani territory by elements in Pakistan”.

Mukherjee clarified that the only Pakistani leader he spoke to after the Nov 26 Mumbai attacks was his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi. Mukherjee spoke to Qureshi on the evening of Nov 28 and told him about India’s suspicion of the involvement of “elements in Pakistan” in the Mumbai attacks.

Mukherjee also cautioned those in Pakistan who sought to “confuse the public by releasing the story in part”.

According to the Dawn editorial, the caller “should never have been allowed to speak to the president”.

“Pakistan is long used to its officials abdicating their responsibilities and never paying the price, but this is surely an occasion when tradition must be broken and the culprits identified and punished,” it said.

“As the incident demonstrates, checks and procedures bypassed on the occasion exist precisely to ensure reliable communications between the Pakistani head of state and world leaders. Only an amateur would place a premium on speed over reliability, and there is no room for amateurs in a crisis,” the editorial contended.

After the incident, “the dim view that world capitals take of Pakistan will only have grown dimmer now that it has been revealed that a major non-NATO ally of the US, a nuclear-armed nation and a country flush with militants and weapons and with the world’s seventh largest standing army nearly catastrophically raised tensions in South Asia in reaction to a prank call,” the editorial said in a strongly worded editorial.

Pakistan also needed to “urgently review its procedures for communications both internal and external.

“The officials handling such communications must be career professionals who are well-trained and have up-to-date knowledge about safety procedures and possible threats. Political appointees, if any, must be shown the door,” Dawn said.

“Making the mistake was bad enough; not learning from it would be even worse - with potential consequences we do not even want to contemplate,” it added.

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