The surprise Nawaz- Zardari meeting on Wednesday yielded a valuable consensus of the two leading political parties of the country to protect and strengthen democracy. It reinforced determination to commit to “undiluted democracy” as spelt out in the Charter of Democracy signed by Nawaz Sharif and late Benazir Bhutto in May 2006.

According to a press statement released after the 15th April 2014 meeting at the Prime Minister’s House, “both the political leaders agreed in principle that both the parties would unite all political forces to block any adventurism in the future so as to strengthen the parliamentary sovereignty…. They expressed their commitment to respect and strengthen all institutions in order to address the many challenges faced by Pakistan including those of security….” The meeting took place at a time when the media was abuzz with reports about an ISPR statement reflecting the army chief’s reaction to PML-N ministers’ remarks about Musharraf. The matter had been blown out of proportion by the media.

On Thursday, the Prime Minister held another high level national security meeting which was attended besides others by the COAS, General Raheel Sharif and the DG, ISI as well some of the ministers including Khawaja Asif. The meeting reviewed the security situation in the country, the possible fall-out of the end-game in Afghanistan and the ongoing talks with the Taliban.

To the above may be added the news that the Prime Minister has been invited to be the chief guest at the forthcoming Kakul Academy’s passing-out parade—a clear indication that the media-hyped tension between the army and the civil administration is ebbing away.

While considering civil-military relations and the above mentioned episode, one has to realize that this land of ours has been ruled for more than three decades by the military. Even today, the GHQ wields considerable influence in matters pertaining to national security and external relations. Because of this background, the civilian government has to handle its relations with the military with care and circumspection. Nawaz Sharif understands the delicate nature of this relationship as he and his party colleagues have, in the past, suffered grievously at the hands of army chiefs.

A former army chief is presently under trial in a court of law for the act of treason. He is expected to abide by the court’s directives. It is wrong on his part to stir up controversies involving the army as an institution. It is also desirable that the army keeps itself away from the ongoing court proceedings. If someone does something wrong and is held accountable, he should face the consequences and let the legal procedure take its course. Musharraf has every right to defend himself and engage lawyers to plead his case in the court. But for a retired officer to invoke the army’s sympathy or support for unconstitutional acts is obviously indecorous and improper.

The present federal government as I have written earlier is beset with formidable problems. The most menacing challenge it faces is terrorism which adversely affects all other activities. For the sake of peace, it has the mandate from all the political parties to talk to the militant Taliban. Unfortunately the urgency required by the task has been in short supply. The all-parties consensus for undertaking these talks was reached eight months ago. The results achieved so far are skimpy and unsatisfactory. The Taliban have declined to extend the cease-fire as they are not happy with the government’s response to their demand for the release of prisoners. They also complain that many of their followers have been attacked and killed by the military during the period of the cease-fire. (At the same time there have been casualties of civilians in many places on account of suicide bombings.)

One may here recall that it was because of extensive military operations launched by Musharraf at the behest of the Americans, that the erstwhile patriotic FATA Pakhtuns were turned into “enemies.” They have not only been fighting the military but also resorting to suicide bombings all over the country. These operations have been going on for more than a decade. The situation today is that the Taliban’s reach has spread to places as far as Karachi. There is no guarantee that the military operation will succeed in the foreseeable future. The conditions in fact will deteriorate after the withdrawal of the bulk of the American and Nato forces. It also needs to be noted that hundreds of thousands of FATA residents have been displaced and can be preyed on by foreign and local anti-Pakistan agencies. If there is a civil war in Afghanistan, we will be flooded with a fresh wave of refugees. Already most unwisely we have allowed millions of old refugees to stay on in Pakistan with dire consequences.

It is good that the Pakistan military is cooperating with the civil government in its pursuit of peace through dialogue. We have to ensure that we speedily succeed in bringing these talks to fruition. It is important that we do not hesitate to accept the legitimate demands of the Taliban. We have already paid a very heavy price in fighting them. More than 50,000 lives have been lost. Can we afford to let thousands more of our brave soldiers and officers suffer injuries and death fighting estranged and angry fellow country-men. A school of thought is deadly against holding dialogue with the militants. They plead that the writ of the state must prevail everywhere. They do not want any concessions to be given to these militant elements, and certainly, they have a right to their opinion.

But the question is: can we afford more of military operations? How long will that take? Displacing thousands more of our country men and women and turning them into vengeful monsters out to destroy peace all over the country would be disastrous for our efforts to build up our degraded economy, accelerate development and ensure peaceful living. The new developments arising out of elections in India and Afghanistan are bound to pose more challenges and difficulties for us. We have to put our house in order as early as possible.

n    The writer is an ex-federal secretary and ambassador, and a freelance political and international relations analyst.