Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
from Afghan Journal:
Reuters' journalist Myra Macdonald travelled to Pakistan's northwest on the border with Afghanistan to find that some of the Kiplingesque images of xenophobic Pasthuns and ungovernable lands may be a bit off the mark especially now when the Pakistani army has taken the battle to the Islamist militants. Here's her account :
By Myra MacDonald
KHAR, Pakistan - I had not expected Pakistan's tribal areas to be so neat and so prosperous.
These are meant to be the badlands, mythologised as no-go areas by Kiplingesque images of xenophobic Pashtuns, jezail musket in hand, defying British troops from rugged clifftops.
They are the "ungovernable" lands where al Qaeda took sanctuary after the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan; the bastion of Islamist militants said to threaten the entire world.
President Asif Ali Zardari has said that an agreement signed last month to allow Islamic law in the troubled Swat Valley in return for a ceasefire was made with religious clerics, and not the Taliban. The Pakistani state had not negotiated with the Taliban and other extremist elements, and nor will it ever do so, Zardari wrote in an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal.
But some people are questioning the distinction that Zardari is drawing between the “traditional local clerics” and the Swat Taliban militants who effectively control what was once an idyllic holiday destination. In the light of the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore, the first major strike on international sport since the Munich Olympic massacre of 1972, the debate over the deal has acquired a sharper edge as some see it as having emboldened the militants in the first place.
The truce comes after nearly two years of fighting in which the Taliban have extended their control of the alpine region barely 130 km (80 km) northwest of Islamabad, destroyed the police force, established a shadow government and implemented an austere form of Islamic law.
America’s ramped-up Predator drone campaign against al Qaeda in Pakistan’s northwest is starting to pay off, according to U.S. and Pakistani intelligence authorities quoted in a clutch of media reports.
Eleven of the group’s top 20 “high value targets” along the Afghan border have been eliminated in the past six months Newsweek magazine reports, citing Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
The first U.S. missiles have struck Pakistan since U.S. President Barack Obama took office, dispelling any possibility that he might relent on these raids that have so angered Pakistanis, many of whom think it only engenders reprisal attacks from militants on their cities.
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari protested to the U.S. ambassador over Friday’s twin raids in South and North Waziristan and newspaper editorialists and commentators are worried this is just a foretaste of things to come. The strikes, the first since Jan 2, have led the Dawn newspaper to recall Obama’s statements during the presidential camapaign when he repeatedly said he would “take out high value terrorist targets” inside Pakistan if it was unable or unwilling to do so.
The governor of Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province has been quoted as saying that there are 15,000 militants in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).
The fighters, who would very nearly constitute a small army division, “have no dearth of rations, ammunition, equipment, even anti-tank mines,” Owais Ahmad Ghani told a team from the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan led by Asma Jahangir, according to newspaper reports. A militant or a foot soldier earned between 6,000 ($75) to 8000 rupees a month while commanders took home 20,000 rupees to 30,000 rupees, the governor said.
With 15,000 armed fighters, give or take a few thousand, you would have to wonder who is control of the area, them or the security forces?
Pakistan and its nuclear weapons are back in the centre of the U.S. foreign policy frame as a steady stream of reports from think tanks and newspapers build the case for President-elect Barack Obama to recognise and act urgently with regard to the potential threat from the troubled state.
The New York Times Magazine in an extensive article headlined Obama’s Worst Pakistan Nighmare says the biggest fear is not Islamist militants taking control of the border regions. It’s what happens if the country’s nuclear arsenal falls into the wrong hands. And it then takes a trip to the Chaklala garrison where the headquarters of Strategic Plans Division, the branch of the Pakistani government charged with protecting its growing arsenal of nuclear weapons, are located and led by Khalid Kidwai, a former army general.
A group of Pakistani kids have voted with their wallets (including Eid savings) for U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama, hoping he would resolve the conflict raging in their troubled northwest corner of the country through peaceful means.
The children in Peshawar, capital of the North-West Frontier Province which along with the Federally Administered Tribal Areas has become the central front in the battle against al Qaeda and the Taliban, had collected $261 for “Uncle Obama’s election campaign,” The News reports.
Some people have begun to voice what has been for some time an unspoken fear in Pakistan - that of a U.S. attack.
What would happen if there were to be another big attack on the United States that is traced back to militants holed up in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas on the Afghan border?
A New York Times report about Pakistan threatening to postpone or cancel an American programme to train a paramilitary force because of last week’s U.S. air strikes has been widely picked up in the Pakistani media.
Eleven soldiers from the Frontier Corps died in those air strikes in the Mohmand agency in circumstances that remain unclear. But the U..S.-Pakistan alliance forged after the September 11 attacks has been deeply scarred as a result, says the report. It quotes former Pakistan Army chief General Jehangir Karamat as saying that the United States deliberately targeted Pakistani forces and that there had not been a statement from the United States that this was friendly fire and that the intention was not to attack Pakistani forces.