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The Pak state of general panic

The Pak state of general panic

Author: Vikram Sood
Publication: The Asian Age
Date: September 24, 2007
URL: http://www.asianage.com/presentation/leftnavigation/opinion/op-ed/the-pak-state-of-general-panic.aspx

All is not well in Musharraf's realm as the General faces multiple crises - of legitimacy, credibility and authority. The entire trans-border of Pakistan-Afghanistan is today a vast SEZ of International Terror Inc. International terrorists like Tahir Yuldashev (Islamic Movement of Turkestan), various factions of the Taliban with Baitullah Mehsud as the most important leader in South Waziristan, Abu Kasha, the Iraqi, and Najmuddin, the Uzbek, operate in North Waziristan along with the Al Qaeda and others. They conduct their business from these safe havens.

The pattern of terrorist violence after the Lal Masjid episode has changed. Twelve soldiers were killed in Dera Ismail Khan in a suicide attack, about 300 soldiers were kidnapped by the Taliban in Waziristan early in September, 12 policemen were kidnapped from Bannu, a "settled area" of NWFP, unlike the ungovernable FATA. A bomb blast in Rawalpindi in September killed 29 personnel, mostly from the ISI. On the day US deputy secretary of state John Negroponte was in Islamabad, a Pushtoon officer blew himself up killing 19 commandos of the SSG in Tarbela, south of Islamabad. Terror now stalks the sanctum sanctorum of Pakistan - the Pakistan Army.

Meanwhile, helicopter gun ships were once again deployed this year in the Makeen area of South Waziristan. This was in retaliation against tribesmen who had repeatedly attacked a military post on the night of September 12, killing 124 security personnel. Artillery was used against tribesmen in Razmak and Datta Khel in North Waziristan.

It is not easy to kidnap 300 armed and trained personnel. It is not known whether these soldiers, surprised and overpowered by overwhelming force, had voluntarily surrendered without a fight, or had refused to fight. If they had surrendered, then they had no will to fight. But if they had refused to fight, possibly by saying that they were not trained to fight other Muslims, then this could only mean that the Pakistan Army has problems that are more serious than imagined.

Most of these incidents, especially the kidnapping, the bomb blasts in Rawalpindi against the ISI and the suicide attack in the high security SSG campus, mean that the attackers had accurate intelligence in each case. It also means that this intelligence emanated from within these set-ups. Recall that terrorists had perfect intelligence about Gen. Musharraf's movements when they almost succeeded in assassinating him three years ago in Rawalpindi. In his autobiography, In the Line of Fire, Musharraf has mentioned that one of the conspirators was from the SSG. Musharraf just got lucky.

Earlier this year, Pakistani authorities disclosed that about 1,400 people had been killed in over 100 military operations in South and North Waziristan. Clashes between the tribesmen and the security forces have continued for some years now, but the frequency and the efficacy of the attacks on the security forces have increased. This is especially noticeable after the commando action in Lal Masjid in July 2007: 300 persons were killed, many of whom were Pushtoons and from the Waziristan area. A Pakistan ministry of interior document admitted that government forces had forfeited authority to the Taliban and their allies, and even places like Peshawar, Kohat and Nowshera were facing Talibanisation, that the security forces in NWFP and the tribal region had been outgunned and outnumbered. (There are about 80,000 to 100,000 troops in the region.)

It is apparent that Islamic radicals have been gaining in Pakistan and their strength worries even elected parties like the MMA in NWFP. The regime invariably handles the Taliban and religious extremists with kid gloves, for they are Islamic warriors, armed and dangerous, with sympathisers in high places. On the other hand, Nawaz Sharif's short lived homecoming was handled swiftly and more with bravado than self assurance. It was the act of a regime that is getting desperate to cling to power and panicking that nothing is working in its favour. Musharraf may have succeeded, in his own eyes, of having got rid of the "problem," but this is likely to come back to haunt him.

Sixty years ago, Pakistan had only one monopoly shareholder - the United Kingdom. Then the United States took over and today Pakistan is actually like a failed MNC with the major stake holders - the US, the UK and Saudi Arabia trying to shore up this failing company. The "Chief Executive" (that was what Musharraf called himself when he ousted Nawaz) has been underperforming, but has to be rescued. That is why there have been international managers like Messrs Boucher and Negroponte rushing into Islamabad to support the CEO in public and admonish him in private.

China, the fourth shareholder in Pakistan, is worried too as its citizens continue to be killed in Baluchistan or are taken hostage elsewhere. Further, Uighur Islamists from Xinjiang have been receiving training along with Uzbeks, Tajiks and Chechens in the Waziristan areas. Pakistani troops began hunting for Uighur Muslims in Waziristan along with their Uzbek and Tajik sympathisers. Hasan Mahsum, the leader of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, who was wanted by the Chinese authorities, was killed in a gunfight with Pakistani troops in October 2004. A week later, militants kidnapped two Chinese engineers from South Waziristan, a uranium rich area. Earlier this year, the Pakistan Army launched a massive attack against the Uzbeks and Uighurs in South Waziristan suspected by the Chinese to be carrying out subversion in Xinjiang. Very few survived this attack and the rest fled to North Waziristan.

Across the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, the situation in the Pushtoon areas of south and east Afghanistan remains grim for President Hamid Karzai. Nato forces have been unable to assert themselves and the Taliban have killed 300 Afghan policemen in recent months. The battle now seems to be more than a battle between the Taliban and foreign troops or Afghan troops. It has become a battle between the Pushtoon in Afghanistan versus the foreigners, and between the Pushtoon in Pakistan and the rest of the Pakistanis in Pakistan. This is happening in a country where the regime is wary of even renaming NWFP as Pakhtoonkhwa for fear that this may sow the seeds of Pushtoon nationalism.

The Pakistan Army in the last 60 years has begun to resemble the East India Company, acquiring prime land at privileged prices, managing all trade and industrial houses in the country, running the country's logistic systems, constructing highways and playing politics, setting up the Mohajirs against the Punjabis and religious elements against the nationalists. The Pakistan Army has a country to exploit. This has made Pakistan a global rogue state but no one is willing to say so.

A regime that is running scared of unarmed politicians, and either connives with or appeases terrorists, and in the process violates every written statute, is staring at a bleak future. When leaders openly disregard laws and the Constitution, then the followers can only do worse. Gen. Vinod Sehgal in his book Restructuring Pakistan (2001) had five main worries about Pakistan. These were the Talibanisation of Pakistan, a civil war breaking out in the country, further spread of state sponsored terrorism from the Afghan-Pakistan frontier, the spread of nuclear materials from Pakistan and the spread of regressive Islam into the subcontinent. It seems all this is taking place. Maulana Abu Ala Mawdoodi was prophetic when seeing the bloodshed and the killings during the partition of India, he remarked that "the bloody birth pangs of Pakistan" were "predicting the birth of a monster and not a human being."

The worst is yet to be.

Vikram Sood is a former chief of RAW


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