My choice this week: 30 June to 6 July 2008

Taliban knocking at our door… by Khurshid Nadeem

Ghaat – Nazir Naji

Our political class – Irshad Haqqani

5 July 1977 – Asghar Nadeem Syed

PPP, PML-N and vultures – Aftab Iqbal

From July to July: The military rule in Pakistan – Abbas Ather

Lal Masjid anniversary

After one year, the Lal Masjid has taken on the identity of a national icon which the state destroyed and now must pay for. The head of the seminary, Maulana Abdul Aziz, who escaped from the premises in a burqa while the others were dying inside, is now a hero awaiting his “restoration” along with the judges. His lawyer sits with other anti-Musharraf discussants on TV and recommends death for President Musharraf. The entire nation has performed a volte face on what transpired last year.

When the Supreme Court was on the warpath it ordered restoration of the two seminaries — Jamia Faridia and Hafsa — before their handover to the people who had begun applying their law to Islamabad, picking up people and punishing them to end what they called “munkiraat”. Then followed a form of general “repentance”. Maulana Fazlur Rehman was taken to task by the federation of the seminaries for opposing the Lal Masjid clerics. He then went and met Maulana Aziz. So did the lawyers’ leader Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan. Now the PMLN has Lal Masjid on its list of the “rectifications” it will make when it comes to power. And the PPP will probably trade on it. How unfortunate. (Daily Times, 4 July).

Turkish scene

THE political scene in
Turkey has entered a critical stage, with a key ruling expected soon on a constitutional petition seeking a ban on Prime Minister Recep Erdogan’s party. The ruling AKP received a blow the other day when the constitutional court scrapped a newly-made law that lifted the ban on headscarves in educational institutions. Now the issue is the very survival of a party which is in its second consecutive term in office. The petition before the constitutional court accuses the AKP of trying to undermine Turkey’s secularism — a feeling shared strongly by the powerful military, the judiciary and the academia. An even more disturbing development has been the arrest of 21 ultranationalists, including two former generals, all of whom have been accused of planning a series of terrorist attacks to invite an army coup.

More than eight decades after Kemal Ataturk established a secular republic, Turkey has still not been able to develop a stable political system. Military interventions have been frequent. During his two tenures as prime minister, Erdogan has managed to tame the generals and turned the once-powerful National Security Council into an advisory body. It is under his leadership that Turkey has been able to have a government that is not a patchwork of mutually hostile coalition parties. Erdogan has done a lot to rid the Islamists of Necmettin Erbekan’s baggage. He pledged support to secularism and finally has the satisfaction of seeing the European Union start entry talks. However, more than the Cyprus issue and the stiff EU entry conditions it is Turkey’s internal scene that has become cause for concern. Last year’s soft ‘e-coup’ by the generals sent alarm bells ringing.

If the AKP is banned and Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul are barred from politics for five years, the internal scene will undergo a radical change, the consequences of which are difficult to predict. A decision against the AKP will lead to an early general election, and the results could again be a weak coalition government that could be exposed to pressures from the military, lack the will to address the Cyprus and EU entry questions and carry out reforms to stick to the Copenhagen criteria. It is to be noted that each time Erbekan’s party was banned it re-emerged under a new name. Banning a political party is no solution to Turkey’s eternal quest for stability based on a secular system. (Dawn, 5 July).

How people see the war

By Khadim Hussain

SINCE Pakistan’s military operations began in 2002, the menace of terrorism and religious militancy has further deteriorated the situation in the length and breadth of the Pashtun belt, engulfing the very existence of the hapless Pashtuns.

Almost all seven agencies of Fata, Tank, Swat, Mardan and now Peshawar are reeling under the Taliban code of Salafi Islam (Wahabism). This is a modern phenomenon that started in the early eighties after the Soviet-American war in Afghanistan, though the influence of ‘Wahabism’ was present in some parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan even before the so-called jihad in Afghanistan.

The people in high conflict zones of the Pashtun belt have remained the victims of militancy and militarism and have been living in a state of utter confusion, fear and terror. No war has ever been won without the support of the common people and since 2002, the military operations in Fata and settled districts of NWFP have alienated the people who are deeply frustrated with state institutions. The people of Swat, Waziristan, Kurram and now Khyber Agency had initially welcomed the security forces but later on either became neutral or switched sides to the obscurantist forces as the operations seemed ill organised, badly coordinated and off the target.

The military started bombing Mamdheria in Swat after Fazlullah’s militia vacated their ‘markaz’. The organisational structure of the militia remained intact, but what was observed by the people, who had initially welcomed the soldiers with sweets in Matta, was the fact that the bombings were mostly on schools and private buildings. The common man in Swat does not understand why the military did not proceed to the hills of Peochar to dislodge the training camp of the militia which had by then accommodated trainers from Waziristan and other parts of Fata and Afghanistan.

Swat and Waziristan witnessed a series of target killings after the operation was formally called off by the military and the movement of the people remained severely hampered by the many checkposts across the Valley. Those who had in any way helped the security forces were killed and slaughtered. The killing of Bakht Baidar Khan, Asfandyar Amir Zeb, Abdul Kabir and scores of others occurred when the military had formally announced their victory over the militants. Anybody having any influence and opinion was either killed or forced to migrate from upper Swat after the security forces claimed a decisive victory against the militants.

Then the NWFP government signed the peace deal in May 2008 with Fazlullah’s militia which gave a golden opportunity to the militants to regroup and reorganise and get funding and weapons from sources still unknown to the well-known intelligence services of Pakistan. Almost the same scenario happened in Waziristan when the military struck a deal with Baitullah in South Waziristan.

The Fazlullah militia is now stronger and amply funded. It can threaten the administration of the state whenever it likes. They were recently able to strike from three different parts of the Swat valley simultaneously — Malam Jabba, where they destroyed the PTDC motel and the chairlift, Barikot where they set a school on fire and Sar Sinai where they burnt a police ‘chowki’ besides killing four people in Matta.

The provincial government now claims that the pact with the militants is intact while Fazlullah’s spokesman, Muslim Khan, has said in a statement that they have suspended talks with the government on the orders of Baitullah. One can observe the same pattern of perception amongst the people of Bajaur, Mohmand, Khyber and Peshawar; that the government and security forces are not serious about eliminating the spectre of a totally unacceptable code imposed by the Taliban on the people of high conflict zones.

The perception of the people in conflict-torn zones also brings another pertinent point to mind: they believe that despite sophisticated modern technology, the security forces usually target areas where the innocent and non-combatant suffer the most. The non-combatants in Waziristan, Swat and now Khyber Agency have incurred ten times more damage than the militants. It has been reported that the people in South Waziristan had built their own schools but when the military was leaving the area, they demolished all the schools, except a few where Baitullah has established his camps.

The same has just happened in Khyber Agency where security forces have destroyed houses that belonged to ordinary people. The people in the Agency are also of the opinion that security forces have started an operation against the wrong people. Lashkar-i-Islam and Ansar-ul-Islam are sectarian organisations at best and harbour no ambitions to establish their writ outside their sphere of influence. The people of high conflict areas also believe that the government has never paid any heed to their aspirations. They hold the justice system, colonial administrative structures and lack of economic initiatives responsible for all the mayhem around them. The people believe that lack of initiatives to empower them and lack of development are the primary reasons for this turmoil in the Pashtun belt.

Ill-coordinated operations have also created suspicions regarding the purpose of these actions. They maintain that it is not possible for any non-state organisation to survive the onslaught of state organisations if the state is serious about its endeavour, inferring that state institutions may be complicit in the activities of these non-state organisations. One can observe that the police force, Frontier Constabulary and other paramilitary forces are demoralised to the point of inaction. Constables deployed at checkposts may claim that their hands are tied and that they are mere scapegoats in this war against the militants, their training, remuneration and organisational structure plays a pivotal role in their state of disheartenment.

Common people feel that the state is unwilling to carry out serious operations; it targets non-combatants, allows target killings, enters into peace deals with militants but remains fairly apathetic about the well being of the people. (Dawn, 5 July).

The federation of Pakistan – Abbas Ather

The USA‘s veto in favour of Musharraf – Asadullah Ghalib

‘Khyber military action shows failure to rein in terrorists’

* Boston Globe suggests if Peshawar can be infested by Taliban, world has reason to worry about stability of nuclear Pakistan

By Khalid Hasan

WASHINGTON: Action taken in the Khyber Agency implies that the coalition government is losing ground to extremists and its efforts to negotiate a truce agreement with Pakistani Taliban groups have failed to rein in, or even constrain, the various jihadist bands in the region, writes Boston Globe in an editorial.

If Peshawar, a major city, can be infested even temporarily by the Pakistani Taliban, there is reason to worry about the long-term stability of this nuclear-armed state, according to the newspaper. The most immediate danger, it believes, for Americans comes from the sanctuary that Al Qaeda enjoys in the tribal areas of Pakistan. US intelligence officials estimate there are now about 2,000 recruits being trained at small Al Qaeda camps located in the inaccessible mountains and valleys of Waziristan. If there is to be another terrorist attack on America on the order of September 11, it is likely to originate from those camps, it is feared.

Of the two “nasty realities” the next American president will need to confront, writes Boston Globe, one is that Pakistan, despite having a secular civilian government elected in free and fair balloting, which seems unable to overcome, or even resist, the swelling power of its Islamist militias. Al Qaeda has been able to recreate a new version of the safe haven it lost when US forces toppled the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. The second nasty reality is that the Bush administration has been losing its proclaimed war on terrorism and it will be up to the next president to develop a coherent long-term strategy for coping with Al Qaeda and affiliated terrorist groups.

“[US President] Bush’s successor will need to reconsider the nature of the terrorist threat, starting with an understanding that the jihadist movement is aimed primarily at overthrowing regimes in the Muslim world which it deems insufficiently Islamic. In this internal war within the world of Islam, America has been targeted as the ‘far power’ propping up governments such as those in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and Morocco. The next US administration will need to lower the American profile in this war. It will have to cooperate more extensively, and quietly, with intelligence services and law enforcement agencies in the Arab world, central Asia, and Europe,” writes the Boston-based daily.

The newspaper points out that President Bush’s inflating of the terrorist threat to the scale of a third world war has helped Islamist ideologues propagate the notion that the US is waging a war against Islam. To win a war of ideas with violent Islamists, the next president must counter this dangerous propaganda by resisting any temptation to conduct military operations in Pakistan that can be depicted as an American occupation of yet one more Muslim country. (Daily Times, 4July).

China‘s economy and the USA – Nayyar Zaidi

Chief Justice LHC Syed Zahid Hussain – Ajmal Niazi

Musharraf and the USA – Abbas Ather

Nawaz Sharif and the USA – Asadullah Ghalib

Bara action is much ado about nothing

Security situation in NWFP exaggerated

Arif Yousafzai

PESHAWAR: Taliban at the gate, Taliban are taking over Peshawar, militants have tightened noose around provincial capital, Peshawar could fall to followers of Mulla Umer and Osama and Islamists could establish its rule in NWFP by taking control of Peshawar.

These are some of the phrases appearing in both print and electronic media these days aimed at paving way for another full-fledged military operation on the bleeding Pakhtoon soil.

Advisor to Prime Minister on Interior Rehman Malik on Sunday told media outside the Balahisar Fort in the provincial capital that Peshawar had been saved from the evil shadow of what he called as militants and enemies of peace. If Peshawar has been made safe now, one hopes that the troops deployed in Bara would be withdrawn and sent back to barracks so that the innocent tribesmen could take a sigh of relief.

The Bara operation which in actual terms is one-sided action from the security forces was launched not to crush the criminal gangs in Khyber Agency because most of these gangs had already been either killed or forced out of the agency by Amir Lashkar-e-Islam Haji Mangal Bagh. The people of NWFP in general and Peshawar in particular are aware of the situation in Bara Tehsil before and after Mangal Bagh took over its administration.

The law and order situation in Bara was so bad before Lashkar-e-Islam took over that a non-local who would visit the Khyber Agency was lucky to escape kidnapping and come back safe to Peshawar from the agency. However, unsafe Bara Tehsil became so safe that even a stranger could move freely in the entire Bara Tehsil and Teerah Valley after Lashkar-e-Islam established its rule there.

No one could dispute the fact that Taliban established complete peace in the war-shattered Afghanistan during their five-year in rule. In the same way Haji Mangal Bagh and his predecessor Mufti Munir Shakir, with the help of their fighting force Lashkar-e-Islam, restored complete peace in the once lawless Bara Tehsil.

It is regrettable that Pakistani media and Pakistani journalists working for foreign media, particularly those hailing from NWFP, indulged in professional dishonesty associating every incident of violence with the Taliban and other Islamic forces just to feed the foreign media.

It has become a common practice for some known anchors sitting in TV studios in Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi to pass baseless comments on the situation in Peshawar and its adjoining areas. Is it not strange that an anchor while doing a programme on the situation in Peshawar runs footage in the background of Swat, South Waziristan and Bajaur? This is my personal experience with my colleagues in other parts of the country that they even do not know the distance between Peshawar, Swat, Tank, Waziristan and Bajaur Agency but while doing a show on TV they are invited as guests to deliver lengthy speeches on law and order situation in the NWFP and tribal areas.

I will appeal to media to stop playing with the lives of people of the NWFP and tribal areas. Stop telecasting a totally baseless picture of the Pakhtoon society. Stop associating each and every incident with Taliban. Stop inviting foreign forces, especially America, to bomb innocent people of the NWFP like it has been doing in Afghanistan in the name of search for Osama bin Laden and in Iraq in the name of Weapons of Mass Destruction. Stop maligning Muslims and Pakhtoons and branding them as terrorists. Stop becoming a part, intentionally or inadvertently, of the great game of disintegration of Pakistan.

Those who live in Peshawar know well how safe this city is. It is quite painful when we receive telephone calls from media-influenced people from other cities, asking us as to why we were living in a city which is falling to Taliban and terrorists. I also got telephone calls from friends in Bara who asked me why we were showing highly exaggerated picture to the world about the ongoing action in their area. Those who have visited Bara during the past five days might have seen the routine business going on in the area but the picture media shows to the world is entirely different, giving an impression as if a major operation is currently underway in Khyber Agency. This operation is a matter of few days. It will be over soon and Mangal Bagh will come back to Bara to take control of his seat. Government will announce compensation for the nine people killed during the operation and houses and compounds demolished and finally the game will be over.

However, the military action could turn out to be bloody if America demanded more dead bodies and collateral damage.

Bazaars in Peshawar like other parts of the country remain open till late at night and people enjoy going to parks and having dinners in hotels. The playgrounds of the city present the same look as they present in other cities like Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi.

It is on record that Haji Mangal Bagh has recovered dozens of kids and youths from the possession of the kidnappers and handed them over to their relatives following the failure of government security agencies to do so.

What kind of operation is being conducted in Bara? Who the security forces are fighting in Bara? No a single bullet has so far been fired by the Islamic militia. Haji Mangal Bagh has met this correspondent several times and he has always told that he would stop militancy if government ensures protection to helpless people.

Mangal Bagh has never talked about attack on security forces as he always says that army and paramilitary forces are like brothers to him. This is what Mangal Bagh has been demonstrating during the past five days is that his men have not fired a single bullet on the paramilitary forces though forces are destroying their compounds, seminaries and houses.

It is also on record that the people of Peshawar have started contacting groups like Taliban and Lashkar-e-Islam for help against the criminal gangs who used to tease people and picked up kids, boys and even women from the posh Peshawar areas.

Why facts are being neglected so blatantly? I might disagree with dozens of steps of Taliban and Lashkar-e-Islam but in my close association with these groups I have never found them against Pakistan and common people. Their sentiments against America and other enemies of Islam are also so clear and they don not feel hesitation to express such feelings publicly.

It is commonly said that Peshawar is being captured by Taliban but the question arises as to how it is possible without public support. What is the need of thousands of soldiers, paramilitary forces, 11 corps and thousands of police force in Peshawar if Taliban move forward to capture the provincial capital so easily? Taliban can do so only with public support which they are gaining day by day. Though secret reports suggest that Peshawar could fall to Taliban in eight months but how the city would fall to the militants is the real question which no one is ready to answer.

It will not be wrong to say that the basic aim of the operation in Bara was to offer a gift of few more dead bodies of innocent people and demolished houses to the visiting Assistant American secretary of State Richard Boucher to show him that Islamabad is actively engaged in the so-called war against terrorism and to justify the embezzlement of $140 million package, US has recently sanctioned for Pakistan for fighting terror war. (The Post, 3 July).

Azad Kashmir: women versus jihadis

Nearly 50 women travelled 80 km from Athmuqam to an army camp in the Neelum Valley in Azad Kashmir on Tuesday to stage a peaceful protest against the “growing activities of some militant groups” which they feared could harm the truce along the Line of Control (LoC). Their demand was that the military authorities stop the militants from operating in the border areas. They feared that the jihadi militants would cause grave violations of the LoC, after which the Indians would resort to indiscriminate bombing of their houses.

The reply given to the ladies by the assistant commissioner, Neelum Valley, was inadequate. He said that the Indians were merely test-firing on their side of the LoC and that the ladies had just become scared unnecessarily. The women had actually complained of jihadi activity. It may be recalled that the Neelum valley was a scene of death and destruction caused by artillery fire for nearly 14 years until Pakistan and India agreed a ceasefire in Kashmir in November 2003, the year the same women had staged their first rally. There was a time when our army allowed the jihadis to commit crimes on both sides of the LoC. But those days are gone. If they are allowed to repeat their activities again, Pakistan’s policy on Kashmir would be confirmed to the world as being duplicitous. (Daily Times, 3 July).

America and Nawaz Sharif

The US Assistant Secretary of State for
South and Central Asian Affairs, Mr Richard Boucher, met the PMLN leader Mr Nawaz Sharif at the latter’s residence a couple of days ago and discussed matters that clarify American policy on Pakistan as well as Washington’s view of Mr Sharif’s brand of politics. As one of Pakistan’s most popular leaders, whose party happens to be a part of the ruling coalition “from the outside”, Mr Sharif has firmly expressed his position on US policy towards Pakistan, especially as relates to the fate of President Pervez Musharraf and the war on terror. Therefore this can be considered an important meeting.

According to reports leaked by the PMLN, Mr Boucher asked Mr Sharif to avoid a move to impeach President Pervez Musharraf, and allow the President to use his own discretion to leave since his stay in power had become irrelevant. The ongoing “operation” in Khyber Agency also came under discussion and the matter of the sacked judges was apparently touched upon too. Mr Boucher dwelt on the political situation in the region. Mr Sharif responded by deeming President Musharraf’s impeachment essential to the survival of democracy. When he asserted that restoration of the judiciary was at the top of his party’s agenda, Mr Boucher said the sooner the judges’ issue was resolved the better it would be for everyone.

It is being said that Mr Boucher’s visit was aimed at introducing flexibility into the stance of Mr Sharif and his party, as well as to impress upon him that America was willing to spend big money on the economic development of Pakistan but was hampered in its plans by the rising trend of terrorism and the bad law and order situation in Pakistan. To this Mr Sharif produced the stock answer that his party and his supporters reiterate all the time: “Eradication of terrorism and the maintenance of law and order are Pakistan’s domestic concerns and external forces, including the US, should refrain from intervening”.

Pakistan has a political situation in which different groups are trying to force their agenda on the democratic set-up. Everyone has the right to protest, but the argument favoured most by the anti-Musharraf forces — and anti-American ones too — is that the February 2008 elections had “a mandate requiring the removal of President Musharraf”. It is also expected from the PPP that it should offer itself as a burnt offering on the altar of this “presumed” mandate and the deposed judges who will throw Musharraf out upon restoration as well as revive corruption cases against the PPP leader, Mr Asif Ali Zardari.

Mr Sharif knows — as per his adviser and ex-ambassador Mr Tariq Fatemi — that the Americans had planned the return of Ms Benazir Bhutto, armed with an NRO, to Pakistan to rule in tandem with PMLQ, and not the PMLN, after a free and fair general election. So while he likes the idea of flaunting his party as an anti-American force in step with the sentiments of most Pakistanis, he would like the Americans to note his popular PMLN as the party to reckon with when formulating policy on Pakistan. For this, he has put together a lot of support among the masses and civil society of Pakistan.

The PMLN stance, however, has a domestic consequence. The PPP cannot afford to become the sacrificial goat simply to satisfy the PMLN’s passion for the judiciary as a political tool to achieve its objectives. Reference to the so-called “mandate” is simply bad politics. It would have been better had the PMLN and its allies among the lawyers and the APDM indicated a way to get rid of President Musharraf after making sure that the process would not hurt the PPP. So the PPP says the President should quit on his own before it can put together the numbers required in parliament to impeach him.

As for the “subordination” of terrorism to the issue of the judiciary, the world is not with Mr Sharif and his allies. The state has lost whatever writ it had in nearly half the territory of the country. The terrorists with whom Mr Sharif recommends “talks” keep on repeating the vow that they will continue to raid across the Durand Line. The world looks at FATA as the training ground of international groups preparing terrorist attacks in the United States and the European Union. This “world” is composed of those states that absorb all of our exports and can bail us out economically. The PPP tends to agree. And the PPP can’t be toppled from power constitutionally, unless an aggressive dharna is able make it run away and leave the feast of power to the PMLN.

It would, therefore, be wiser for the PMLN to remain allied to the PPP and take advantage from this partnership to rule efficiently in Punjab and guide the country out of its economic troubles. The national economy, alas, sees no value in “principles”, and recommends endless “opportunism” to follow policies beneficial to it. It is finally pragmatism and not passion on the basis of which Pakistan will survive. (Daiy Times, 3 July).

FATA is not about eating muesli —Ejaz Haider

Counter-insurgency is murky business; very murky in fact. It needs those who can get their hands dirty so the rest of us, the liberals, can eat muesli, show good manners and talk about probity

If it is accepted, as it should be, that effective media usage in today’s world is essential for winning public acceptance of a policy, especially one which relies on use of force or the threat of its use, then the government, in its current effort in Khyber Agency, has failed — again. Consider.

Knives are out and questions being asked: who is responsible for this operation; what and who is being targeted; how would this be effective in putting down the militants; who are these militants — Taliban or local, religio-sectarian groups; is it a charade played out for the benefit of Washington in the backdrop of increasing pressure on Pakistan to do something and the visit here of Richard Boucher, assistant secretary of state for south and central Asia?

Stories from the ground and analyses make various allegations: Frontier Corps and army troops have gone in after an understanding with the local groups; they have gone into an area which was quiet anyway; leaders of lashkars in Khyber are agencies’ boys; once troops pull out, the groups will rebuild their assets; the buildings destroyed by the troops were empty; et cetera.

These allegations do not add up to any coherent criticism and, in most cases, are at odds with each other. But that does not take away from the fact that they are lethal for whatever policy is being pursued.

Here’s an example: one major criticism against the previous government has been that it was fighting America’s war and it used force instead of dialoguing with the tribesmen (let’s not quibble about dialogue with whom, how and through what medium). Let’s now suppose that the current government decided, on the basis of this criticism, to do the following: select an area with the least degree of difficulty; talk to local lashkar commanders and organise an operation; time it to sync with the visit here of Mr Boucher.

If we suppose all this — and this is hypothetical — and juxtapose it with the criticism with which we began this exercise, should the critics not applaud the government for being very smart on the following counts: it has adopted a policy which has brought into harmony two conflicting requirements — making the US, international community and Afghanistan happy without having to kill its own people and getting own troops killed.

No. It is still being criticised.

If it acts in ‘reality’, it is criticised for killing its own people and getting its troops killed; if it plays out a charade, it is pooh-poohed and critics smirk because not a bullet is being fired, no soldiers have fallen, and no real culprits are being arrested (leave aside the fact that in this conflict critics upon critics have tried to tell us that there is only one culprit — the USA — while the Pashtun are reacting to its presence).

Note: This argument itself would necessitate, given international pressure on Pakistan to fight its own people and the presumed injustice of that demand, to play this game and far from faulting the government for doing so, critics should absolutely hail it.

That the government is getting the short end of the stick no matter what it does shows it needs to get its act together.

Let’s now move from suppositions to some facts.

Khyber Agency, far from being a quiet place, has been posing much trouble to Islamabad.

This is what Kathy Gannon of AP reported on May 20 under the caption, “Attacks on Khyber trucking threaten US supply line”:

“Thieves, feuding tribesmen and Taliban militants are creating chaos along the main Pakistan-Afghanistan highway, threatening a vital supply line for US and NATO forces.

“Abductions and arson attacks on the hundreds of cargo trucks plying the switchback road through the Khyber Pass have become commonplace this year. Many of the trucks carry fuel and other material for foreign troops based in Afghanistan.

“US and NATO officials play down their losses in these arid mountains of north-western Pakistan — even though the local arms bazaar offers US-made assault rifles and Beretta pistols, and the alliance is negotiating to open routes through other countries.”

Tankers were being blown up and Pakistan’s envoy to Kabul was kidnapped by criminal gangs in the Agency who then sold him to the Taliban. The situation was exacerbated by sectarian feuding between Lashkar-e Islami of Mangal Bagh Afridi and Pir Saifur Rehman’s Ansar-ul Islam which is many years old but has flared up again in the Tirah Valley. Bagh’s men recently kidnapped several Christians from Peshawar and also tried to kidnap the son of Amir Muqam, a PMLQ leader.

If this is not reason enough to move in and show force I don’t know what is. Equally, to expect that some of these characters will not return to their bad habits or that if they do the operation would have been a failure betrays little knowledge of the area and how tribes and groups operate.

Khyber Agency is bounded in the north and north-west by Mohmand Agency, in the south and south-east by Orakzai Agency and in the west by Afghanistan. Taliban groups have been infiltrating into the Agency to temporarily link up with criminal and other gangs there. Indeed, in a joint effort US-Pakistan intelligence operatives paid Haji Namdar to lure in Taliban groups which he did and then betrayed them. Namdar is salafi and heads an organisation called Amr bil Ma’roof wa nahi Anil Munkar. He makes the usual rhetoric but can be relied upon to deliver if paid well (Syed Saleem Shahzad, “Taliban bitten by a snake in the grass”; Asia Times Online, April 26).

Now we have Maulvi Nazir and Gul Bahadur, two Wazirs from South and North Waziristan Agencies, being put up against Baitullah Mehsud. This is a legitimate counter-insurgency effort and is far more effective than employing troops to attack insurgents from outside. The efficacy of this can be judged from Mehsud’s reported initiative to distribute pamphlets in Miranshah pledging never to fight against Gul Bahadur (see Daily Times, “Mehsud challenged by new militant bloc”; July 2). Earlier, Nazir was used to throw out Uzbeks from the area.

The point is that counter-insurgency operations, which rely heavily on effective intelligence, are not about dealing with angels. One rogue is used to put down another and some concessions are given for controlled activity to one in order to take out the other. This is not the stuff a squeamish liberal stomach can take (Ejaz Haider, “Eroding insurgency from the inside”, Daily Times, June 28).

There is always a downside to this approach; sometimes the rogue one is relying on and playing against another gets out of control. That’s a risk one has to take. When CIA was dealing with Manuel Noriega, the latter was also linked to Cuba and running drugs. But Noriega was useful because he was prepared to provide Contra training facilities to CIA. Examples abound.

Counter-insurgency is murky business; very murky in fact. The situation in FATA requires multiple approaches and tactics even as there is only one strategic objective: bringing the area under control. This will require a running effort, not a one-off operation that can provide us the final solution.

FATA needs those who can get their hands dirty so the rest of us, the liberals, can eat muesli, show good manners and talk about probity.

Jamaat Islami and the ‘Afghan Jihad’ – Irshad Ahmed Haqqani

Pervez Musharraf – Nazir Naji

PML(N)’s ambiguous policy on terrorism – Asadullah Ghalib

Unfortunate opposition to ‘action’ in Bara

The PMLN and the JUI(S) have opposed the Bara Operation — or ‘action’ as the government would have us believe — because they were not “consulted” before the operation was undertaken. The third coalition partner, the ruling ANP in the NWFP, says it was consulted in two meetings that took place in Peshawar but insists that Peshawar is not “under siege” from the Bara warlord, Mangal Bagh. It apparently has no opinion on the Bara Operation because “Khyber is outside the jurisdiction of the NWFP government”.

The PMLN view was expressed by an outraged Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan in the National Assembly. It was elaborated by its leader from Peshawar, Mr Iqbal Zafar Jhagra, on TV when he said that apart from the fact that his party was kept out of the loop it had always opposed military operation against Pakistan’s “own people”. He insisted that the only way to deal with the situation in the Tribal Areas was through the “political process” (whatever that means), negotiation and peace agreements.

As for the position of the JUI(S), it has always been well known. It represents not so much Islam as the Pakhtun population living in the Tribal Areas and Balochistan. Its leader Maulana Ghafur Haideri has repeated the plaint that his party was not consulted. He went on to say that military action would be counter-productive and his party would not support it. But will the JUI(S) leave the coalition on this issue? No. Much the same response can be expected from the PMLN. Mr Jhagra made it clear that his party would not abandon the coalition. He must however be conscious of the fact that his party’s status in the coalition is different from that of the other partners who are also a part of the government. By getting out of the government, however, the PMLN has obtained the freedom to openly disagree with decisions taken by the prime minister and his cabinet.

The ANP and the JUI(S) have taken positions that are likely to encourage the building up of opposition to the operation among the Pakhtun. Indirectly, the ANP has opted out of the Islamabad policy on the Taliban, by defending its “peace deals” and by denying that the settled areas are under threat or that Peshawar is under siege from the terrorists. This ambivalence can only be understood in light of the ANP’s restricted electorate among the Pakhtun. As opposed to the policy of moulding Pakhtun opinion, it has unfortunately preferred to defer to a collective mind already formed by the religious parties and the Taliban propaganda on the real “intention” of the operation.

The result is that the PPP will have to face up to the backlash that is going to come from the general public who support the views of the PMLN, and from the Pakhtun hinterland. In the coming days, we may expect the TV channels to reflect this “consensus” with the kind of emphasis expected from the “process of repetition” inherent in competition. But the objective fact is that the operation had become unavoidable. And it is no excuse that it should not have been undertaken because it was not thought of three years ago when the warlords of Khyber first came on the scene.

Pakistan’s best known modern physicist Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy has reflected on the “confusion” in Pakistan over the violent events taking place these days. He marvels at the way we ignore Pakistanis kidnapped and killed by the warlords and our violent reaction to the NATO-ISAF forces on the Mohmand border with Afghanistan: “Had the killers been the Taliban, this would have been a non-event…Compare the response to Gora Prai with the near silence about the recent kidnapping and slaughter by Baitullah Mehsud’s fighters of 28 men near Tank, some of whom were shot and others had their throats cut. Even this pales before the hundred or more attacks by suicide bombers over the last year that made bloody carnage of soldiers and officers, devastated peace jirgas and public rallies, and killed hundreds praying in mosques and at funerals”.

Pakistan is in deeper trouble than it thinks. Considering that the top popular concern is the “judges’ restoration”, over which there is no solution in sight, it is unfortunate that we continue to ignore the fact that our economy can only survive if the world helps us. Eminent Pakistani economist Mr Shahid Javed Burki thinks that Pakistan should not return to the IMF because the Fund will impose “stabilisation” and ignore growth pledges because it doesn’t believe that Pakistan can pull it off. He recommends approaching the “donors” for help. The problem is that all the “donors” want Pakistan to take action against the warlords. (Daily Times, 2 July).

Beyond Bara

MONDAY’S kidnapping of 30 paramilitary troops in Kurram Agency — who were subsequently released — confirms, yet again, the enormity of the task ahead. If the military machine cannot protect its own men, how does it intend taming the militants and offering citizens an enduring sense of security? The state may be making its presence felt in Khyber Agency’s Bara area, which after all is right outside Peshawar, but it is all too clear that pro-Taliban militants still call the shots in the less accessible areas of the tribal belt. The Bara operation’s place in the overall scheme of things is also unclear. Is it simply a side issue or part of a larger strategy for establishing the writ of the state wherever it is challenged? The signs are that it may be a one-off move with limited objectives in mind. Indeed, the operation could be deemed a success if the main road to Afghanistan is secured, for the benefit of travellers as well as movement of goods, and if kidnappers operating out of Khyber Agency are brought under a measure of control. Still there is no knowing whether such security gains, if they are indeed achieved, can be sustained over time. Many believe that once the troops pull back, Mangal Bagh’s Lashkar-i-Islam and other militant outfits will return to Bara just as easily as they left the area last week. If that happens, we will be back to square one. As it is the conspiracy theorists are having a field day, with claims abounding that the ongoing operation is just a show staged to appease those who have been demanding action against militants.

In any case the likes of Mangal Bagh and Haji Namdar, leader of Amr Bil Maroof wa Nahi Anil Munkir, are mere irritants compared to Baitullah Mehsud of South Waziristan and Swat’s Fazlullah. True, they have their nuisance value but they are hardly major players in the Taliban game plan. In fact, motivated as they are less by ideology and more by the rewards of criminal activity, Mangal Bagh and Haji Namdar are not even Taliban in the political sense. Their strength too is limited vis-à-vis the state, which is perhaps one of the reasons why the outlaws put up little or no resistance in Bara. In stark contrast, the Tehrik-i-Taliban is a force to be reckoned with, if not a veritable army. The root of the problem lies not in Bara but in places like Swat, Kurram and South Waziristan. The fight against militancy, irrespective of the form it ultimately takes, must begin there. Success will elude us so long as such havens exist for those bent on destabilising our country, providing refuge to foreign sympathisers and helping insurgents across the border. (Daily Dawn, 2 July).

Benazir Bhutto and Pervez Musharraf – Irshad Ahmed Haqqani

Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Combodia – Nazir Naji

Amin Fahim versus Zardari – Asadullah Ghalib

Uzbeks in the Tribal Areas

Talking to journalists in Lahore, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani stated that “foreign elements hailing from Central Asian Republics (CAR) are disturbing peace in the Tribal Areas and they are behind the current unrest and spike in violence in the tribal belt”. He was referring to around 2,000 Uzbek warriors belonging to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) who are allegedly spread around in the Tribal Areas of Pakistan. They moved into Pakistan from Afghanistan after the US bombardment of 2001 and formed a part of the “multinational” force that accompanied Al Qaeda as it fled across the Tora Bora mountain range into the tribal areas of Pakistan.

First reports about them and others like the Arabs and Chechens were dismissed as false by the MMA government in the NWFP at the time which said that the “foreigners” were actually the mujahideen who had come here to join the jihad against the Soviet Union and had remained here after marrying into the local Pakhtuns. Most observers in Pakistan agreed with this version and all news about the “foreigners” were labelled “plants” organised by an allegedly pro-US government. But the fact was that commanders in Waziristan like Nek Muhammad looked after the Uzbeks under the tutelage of Al Qaeda and deliberately spread the falsehood that there was no “foreign” presence in the Tribal Areas.

The IMU was led by Qari Tahir Yuldashev whose position about jihad was close to that of Al Qaeda’s second-in-command, Aiman Al Zawahiri. He believed that jihad should first target not the US but those “hypocrite Muslims” who support the US. The Uzbeks soon became known for their cruelty and disregard for local Pakhtun culture in Waziristan. This led last year to a cleavage within the Al Qaeda power in the region. One pro-Al Qaeda commander Maulvi Nazir fell out with the Uzbeks and mounted a bloody operation against them. Today his organisation is under attack from Baitullah Mehsud, which means that the Uzbeks are in the ascendant as followers of Al Qaeda.

The Uzbeks were seen by Pakistani journalists when they came to Swat as a part of the Taliban force in the wake of the storming of Lal Masjid in Islamabad in 2007. They stood out because of their savage conduct among the innocent people of Swat. They were a part of the faction that beheaded local people and placed their headless corpses in the streets. They were partly masked, seemed to look racially different and did not speak because they did not know the local language. Later, news trickled in about training camps established especially for the training of Uzbeks in the Tribal Areas.

The IMU targets Pakistan as compensation for Al Qaeda’s support to IMU’s activities in Uzbekistan. The training camps in Waziristan prepare terrorist squads that stage attacks in Tashkent against the ruling elite there. The Uzbekistan government has also formed its Afghan policy in response to Al Qaeda “plans” for Uzbekistan. Even as the Taliban were conducting their war around Mazar-e-Sharif in the late 1990s, Uzbekistan was in the process of strengthening what later became the Northern Alliance. Pakistan, at that time pursuing the doctrine of “strategic depth” in Afghanistan, was at cross-purposes with Uzbekistan, which was then also backed by Turkey.

Tashkent knows that Uzbek killers are being trained in Waziristan. Tahir Yuldashev is actually running two campaigns for Al Qaeda. One, to bring down the government of Pakistan and replace it with a caliphate supported by Al Qaeda; two, to bring down the government of President Karimov in Tashkent. The camps are thus training two sets of terrorists: Pakistanis from such organisations as Jaish-e-Muhammad and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, and Uzbeks that keep trickling in from Uzbekistan who are meant to return and create trouble in their homeland. Their three routes are internationally known: they reach Waziristan by travelling through Kazakhstan, through Azerbaijan and through Iran.

There are Chechens in the Tribal Areas too. They came in with Al Qaeda but “fresh” Chechens from the Russian Federation also keep coming in. The troubled province there is Dagestan where the armed rebels, mostly Chechens, are not having much success against the government. With Uighurs of Chinese Sinkiang added to the number, Waziristan will therefore decide the international move against Pakistan in reaction to its “cross-border” raids into Afghanistan. As a reaction, then, we can be sure that intervention or pre-emptive strikes in the Tribal Areas, violating the sovereignty of Pakistan, will be supported by most of Afghanistan’s neighbours including Russia and India. The game is set for a blazing row across borders. (Daily Times, 1 July).

The Taliban challenge

THE operation against the militants in the Khyber Agency raises questions that are germane to a successful culmination of the war against the Taliban. One question concerns what appears to be the ambivalent attitude of officialdom toward the militants. Conversely, the Taliban are absolutely clear about their war aims. After the army action began they have scrapped the previous deals and suspended the talks. Baitullah Mehsud has even threatened attacks in ‘Punjab and Sindh’. This clarity is missing on the government side. There are several parties involved in the crackdown: the federal government has ordered it, the actual operation is being conducted by the paramilitary forces under the command of the army, and the provincial government is a stakeholder as well considering that some of the operation is in its territorial jurisdiction and the now defunct deal in Swat was negotiated by the rulers in Peshawar. Is the coordination among all sides adequate? And do they see eye to eye on the issue? It is time the ANP-led government came out with a clear policy it deems best in the given situation. If the federal government is the key decision maker — one presumes that the army is taking the cue from Islamabad — it should take the NWFP government on board. The Taliban’s decision to suspend negotiations also calls for a clear-cut response and the authorities should not fudge the issue.

This is also the time for an open debate on the ‘war on terror’ in the national and provincial assemblies, so that we know exactly who stands where. The operation that is on now is a continuation of the anti-terrorist operations that have been carried out in the past and will continue into the future. For that reason it must have a national consensus behind it. A civilian government is in power, and obviously the ultimate responsibility rests with the PPP-led coalition. But given Pakistan’s history and the army’s preponderant role in times of crisis the need for the civilian administration to define its policy in clear terms could not have been more urgent.

The challenge to Pakistan is immense. The economic crisis, especially food inflation, is no less important than the Taliban’s creeping advance. Our success or failure will depend on how as a nation we respond to a challenge that is a threat to our traditional way of life. Regrettably, the opposition thinks fighting the Taliban and terrorists is the government’s responsibility. That is where it is wrong. Today’s opposition could be in power tomorrow, and for that reason it is incumbent on it to take a long-term view of the political scene instead of focusing all its attention on party-specific goals. The same holds good for every section of civil society which will be affected by this crisis — that is if it already has not been. (Dawn, 1 July).

Anti-Americanism & Taliban

By Pervez Hoodbhoy

THE recent killing of eleven Pakistani soldiers at Gora Prai by American and Nato forces across the border in Afghanistan unleashed an amazing storm.

Prime Minister Gilani declared, “We will take a stand for sovereignty, integrity and self-respect.” The military announced defiantly, “We reserve the right to protect our citizens and soldiers against aggression,” while Army chief, Gen Pervez Ashfaq Kayani, called the attack ‘cowardly’. The dead became ‘shaheeds’ and large numbers of people turned up to pray at their funerals.

But had the killers been the Taliban, this would have been a non-event. The storm we saw was more about cause than consequence. Protecting the sovereignty of the state, self-respect, citizens and soldiers against aggression, and the lives of Pakistani soldiers, suddenly all acquired value because the killers were American and Nato troops.

Compare the response to Gora Prai with the near silence about the recent kidnapping and slaughter by Baitullah Mehsud’s fighters of 28 men near Tank, some of whom were shot and others had their throats cut. Even this pales before the hundred or more attacks by suicide bombers over the last year that made bloody carnage of soldiers and officers, devastated peace jirgas and public rallies, and killed hundreds praying in mosques and at funerals.

These murders were largely ignored or, when noted, simply shrugged off. The very different reactions to the casualties of American and Nato violence, compared to those inflicted by the Taliban, reflect a desperate confusion about what is happening in Pakistan and how to respond.

Some newspaper and television commentators want Pakistan to withdraw from the American-led war on Al Qaeda and the Taliban, to stop US fuel and ammunition supplies into Afghanistan, and hit hard against Afghan troops when provoked. One far-right commentator even urges turning our guns against the Americans and Nato, darkly hinting that Pakistan is a nuclear power.

There is, of course, reason for people in Pakistan and across the world to feel negatively about America. In pursuit of its self-interest, wealth and security, the United States has for decades waged illegal wars, bribed, bullied and overthrown governments, supported tyrants, undermined movements for progressive change, and now feels free to kidnap, torture, imprison, and kill anywhere in the world with impunity. All this, while talking about supporting democracy and human rights.

Even Americans — or at least the fair-minded ones among them — admit that there is a genuine problem. A June 2008 report of the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs entitled The Decline in America’s Reputation: Why? concluded that contemporary anti-Americanism stemmed from “the perception that the proclaimed American values of democracy, human rights, tolerance, and the rule of law have been selectively ignored by successive administrations when American security or economic considerations are in play”.

American hypocrisy has played into the hands of Islamic militants. They have been vigorously promoting the notion that this is a bipolar conflict of Islam, which they claim to represent, versus imperialism. Many Pakistanis, who desperately want someone to stand up to the Americans, buy into this.

This is a fatal mistake. The militants are using America as a smokescreen for their real agenda. Created by poverty, a war-culture, and the macabre manipulations of Pakistan’s intelligence services, the militants want more than just to fight an aggressor from across the oceans. Their goal is to establish their writ over that of the Pakistani state. For this, they have been attacking and killing people in Pakistan through the 1990s, well before 9/11. Remember also that the 4,000-plus victims of jihad in Pakistan over the last year have been Muslims with no connection at all to America. In fact, the Taliban are waging an armed struggle to remake society. They will keep fighting this war even if America were to miraculously evaporate into space.

A Taliban victory would transport us into the darkest of dark ages. These fanatics dream of transforming the country into a religious state where they will be the law. They stone women to death, cut off limbs, kill doctors for administering polio shots, force girl-children into burqa, threaten beard-shaving barbers with death, blow up girls schools at a current average of two per week, forbid music, punish musicians, destroy 2000-year statues. Even flying kites is a life-threatening sin.

The Taliban agenda has no place for social justice and economic development. There is silence from Taliban leaders about poverty, and the need to create jobs for the unemployed, building homes, providing education, land reform, or doing away with feudalism and tribalism. They see no need for worldly things like roads, hospitals and infrastructure.

If the militants of Pakistan ever win it is clear what our future will be like. Education, bad as it is today, would at best be replaced by the mind-numbing indoctrination of the madressahs whose gift to society would be an army of suicide bombers. In a society policed by vice-and-virtue squads, music, art, drama, and cultural expressions would disappear. Pakistan would re-tribalise and resemble a cross between Fata and Saudi Arabia (minus the oil).

Pakistanis tolerate these narrow-minded, unforgiving men because they claim to fight for Islam. But the Baitullahs and Fazlullahs know nothing of the diversity, and creative richness of Muslims, whether today or in the past. Intellectual freedom led to science, architecture, medicine, arts and crafts, and literature that were the hallmark of Islamic civilisation in its golden age. They grew because of an open-minded, tolerant, cosmopolitan, and multi-cultural character. Caliphs, such as Haroon-al-Rashid and Al-Mamoun, brought together scholars of diverse faiths and helped establish a flourishing culture. Today’s self-declared amir-ul-momineen, like Mullah Omar, would gladly behead great Islamic scholars like Ibn Sina and Al-Razi for heresy and burn their books.

Pakistan must find the will to fight the Taliban. The state, at both the national and provincial level, must assert its responsibility to protect life and law rather than simply make deals. State functionaries, and even the khasadars, have disappeared from much of the tribal areas. Pakistan is an Islamic state falling into anarchy and chaos, being rapidly destroyed from within by those who claim to fight for Islam.

Pakistanis must not be deceived. This is no clash of civilisations. To the Americans, Pakistan is an instrument to be used for their strategic ends. It is necessary and possible to say no. But the Taliban seek to capture and bind the soul and future of Pakistan in the dark prison fashioned by their ignorance. As they now set their sights on Peshawar and beyond, they must be resisted by all possible means, including adequate military force. (Dawn, 1 July).

The NWFP operation – Hamid Mir

Taliban knocking at our door – Khurshid Nadeem

Those who are criticising Musharraf today…. Hasan Nisar

Action in Khyber, reaction in FATA

Paramilitary forces, whose personnel were freely held for ransom by warlord Mangal Bagh, have gone into the Khyber Agency in the neighbourhood of Peshawar and destroyed the warlord’s house and made his “hundred-thousand strong” army flee from its stronghold. What started three years ago and swelled into a near autonomous state is finally being challenged by the state of Pakistan. It will be adjudged to be a late operation by historians and blame will be apportioned to President Pervez Musharraf during whose watch the problem arose and the civilian rulers of the day who woke up late.

Warlord Mangal Bagh has fled to Tirah, the high altitude valley that Pakistan once proudly called a tribal no-man’s land. He became the ruler of Khyber after killing those who resisted him. He got his income by imposing heavy fines on the local inhabitants for petty neglect of religious pieties and began recruiting his army. The syndrome that surfaced in Khyber is the same as that which appeared in South Waziristan and Swat: intimidation followed by “empowerment” of those abandoned by the state of Pakistan as soldiers and suicide-bombers of “Islam”.

When his “government” became too big for Khyber’s capacity to generate revenues to pay for it, Mangal Bagh descended on Peshawar, cherry-picking rich parties in borderline Hayatabad for extortion, then threatening the rich of Peshawar into paying him big cash. The snowballing of his business of death gave him the charisma he needed. As he killed innocent people in the Agency, people owing allegiance to his “Islamic order” increased by the day in the NWFP and in other parts of the country. He began courting the TV channels when he saw that the rest of Pakistan too was ready for the plucking.

The whole thing was tiresomely old hat. A hundred years ago a water-carrier by the name of Batcha Saqao appeared in Afghanistan, holding aloft the banner of “Islam”, and actually toppled the throne in Kabul to establish his rule there. The only difference today is that in Pakistan, 20 years of jihad, allowed by the state itself, has softened it for adventurists. The sacrifice made by Pakistan for jihad was not spiritual but political: an unwise abdication from its internal sovereignty. The Jihad brought Al Qaeda to Pakistan as the generals foolishly sought “strategic depth” in Afghanistan.

The warlords of the Tribal Areas gain sustenance from the umbrella control of Al Qaeda which can supplement the income of anyone who has exhausted his capacity to live off the retreating authority of the state and the helplessness of the citizens abandoned by the state. According to one Islamabad observer, the who’s who of Al Qaeda surrogates of the state can be listed like this: “South Waziristan now belongs to Baitullah Mehsud; Maulvi Faqir Muhammad controls Bajaur; Mangal Bagh and Haji Namdar rule Khyber; Commander Umar Khalid is the boss of Mohmand”.

How much has the state of Pakistan retreated since 2001 and what is the extent of the terrain the Pakistan army now has to win back? In all, 20,000 square kilometres. We have to leave out Balochistan for now or we will stray from the topic in hand. There are other more lethal “losses” to consider, however. What all these Al Qaeda warlords — who call themselves the Taliban — know may not be a part of our consciousness. But they know that they have conquered the minds of many Pakistanis through their methods of intimidation.

If there is action in Khyber, there is bound to be predictable reaction from Al Qaeda too. This has come from Baitullah Mehsud. He has suspended all peace talks with the army and declared that he will attack Sindh and Punjab. The opposition politicians will cringe. They will have to decide whether to support the government in this action or hang on to the reprieve they won earlier this year by dismissing the war in the Tribal Areas as “not our war” and by focusing on the lawyers’ movement where they even swore to lay down their lives for the sake of “democracy” in Pakistan.

Under the circumstances, the response of different groups of people will be important. Will the politicians and the TV channels disapprove of the military operation and expect that when Baitullah Mehsud strikes in Punjab he will let them off the hook because of their “neutrality”? Will the basis of this disapproval be their interpretation of the operation that the Americans have imposed another war on Pakistan and the PPP government has succumbed to it and is now guilty of killing innocent people? If so, that would be a tragedy of the highest order.

The army knows the pattern from its memory of the Lal Masjid Operation last year. First there is a public demand for “doing something” against a public flouting of state authority, then there is the moral reneging on it, then the operation is made grounds for removing the government in power. The army this time has clearly got a public fiat from the government to launch the operation. If we don’t want Pakistan to go down, we should fully support the operation all the way. (Daily Times, 30 June)

ANP must wake up!

An elder of the Awami National Party (ANP) in Swat, Mr Muhammad Afzal Khan, has stated that the Peshawar government had lost its writ in Swat. He said on Saturday that the militants continued to be as strongly in control as they were before May 21 when the ANP government made its “peace deal” with warlord Fazlullah. Two tehsils of Swat were never vacated by the outlaws and they continued to swoop down and attack any place they thought they didn’t like.

“Lala” Afzal, as he is known to the people of Swat, was attacked by the outlaws last year in September when he refused to succumb to the Stockholm Syndrome of the beheadings staged by Al Qaeda’s Uzbek savages. He survived miraculously after receiving a number of bullets in his body. He now asks the PPP not to go the way the supine ANP has gone. He has called its attention to the systematic target-killing of the PPP leaders in Swat and has asked the Peshawar coalition to act. The ANP government, after yielding on the so-called sharia in Swat, should know that its misplaced pacifism will soon be exposed as subterfuge rather than policy. (Daily Times, 30 June).

Afghan opium trade

HAMID Karzai of Kabul may have his concerns, some of them valid, about Pakistan’s role in combating militancy. That said, he is doing little to tackle a major insurgency-related problem that is entirely Afghan in nature. His country saw a record poppy harvest in 2007 that accounted for as much as 92 per cent of global opium production. Worth an estimated $4bn in the international market, Afghanistan’s opium output last year was equivalent to 53 per cent of the country’s licit GDP and another ‘shockingly high’ harvest is expected in 2008, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. True, more than 80 per cent of Afghanistan’s opium is supplied by the Taliban-controlled southern provinces but surely parts of his own country ought to fall under Mr Karzai’s jurisdiction. While the military might of the Taliban may be a factor, Kabul’s hesitancy in cracking down on opium production is also influenced by the systemic corruption plaguing the country. If drug lords sit in parliament, as many allege, is it likely that Mr Karzai will allow meaningful and decisive action against people whose support he needs to stay in power? But then this is just one of many areas where Mr Karzai’s rhetoric, if not vitriol, doesn’t quite match his actions on the ground.

Besides lining the pockets of tribal chiefs and politicians of criminal bent, the Afghan drug trade is fuelling the very insurgency that the country’s government and Nato troops are attempting to quell. By taxing poppy farmers and extorting protection money from operators of morphine and heroin laboratories, the Taliban are estimated to have earned more than $100m last year from Afghanistan’s thriving opium trade. The connection between insurgency and drug trafficking is well established not only in Mr Karzai’s country but across the world, Colombia and its narco-fuelled Farc rebels being a prime example. The Afghan president needs to sever the opium lifeline that feeds home-grown militants and has turned over a million of his people — nearly 3.5 per cent of the country’s population — into heroin addicts with little hope of recovery. He would be doing the rest of the world a favour too, particularly neighbours like Pakistan and Iran. Heroin addiction not only destroys individual lives, it shatters families and perpetuates poverty. It also fuels crime and contributes to the spread of potentially fatal diseases that are transmitted through sexual contact or sharing of needles. Afghanistan, with its monopoly on opium production, needs to get its act together, for its own benefit as well as that of others. (Dawn, 30 June).



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