Pakistan: Now or Never?

Perspectives on Pakistan

Pakistan after Baitullah; a new political hurdle

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The obvious question to ask about the apparent death of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud in a U.S. drone attack (apart from the question of proving his death) is what, or who, is next? Does the Pakistan Army still go into South Waziristan to fight the Taliban, or does it consider it “mission accomplished”? And after apparently eliminating a militant leader who had focused on targetting Pakistan, will it now go after other militants whose main area of operation is Afghanistan?

As discussed in my last post, Pakistan’s military offensive in South Waziristan was framed in the context of a punitive mission against Mehsud based on Raj-era notions of retribution, and was therefore quite different from its operation in Swat, which aimed to re-occupy territory seized by the Taliban and restore the writ of the state.  So if Mehsud is indeed dead, the Pakistan Army may already have met its objective.

It would probably need new orders to do more – and however much analysts argue that the Pakistani military still calls the shots on foreign and security policy – Pakistan Army chief General Ashfaq Kayani has been something of a stickler in insisting that he takes his orders from the civilian government.

So even on this narrow technical definition, the decision about what happens next will be political rather than military – albeit a decision in which the army has a powerful say.

The Pakistani kaleidoscope and the Swat ceasefire

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The debate over the Pakistan government’s decision to seek peace with Taliban militants in the Swat valley by promising to introduce sharia law is proving to be like everything else in the Pakistani kaleidoscope – turn it a little bit and you see something else.

Pakistani analyst Ayesha Siddiqa said the peace deal could encourage groups in other parts of the country to copy the example of the Taliban in forcing through changes. ”The bottom line is that while conflict might be arrested for the short term in one part of the country, it might escalate in other parts where groups of people acting like the Taliban could impose their will on the rest of the population in the name of changing the judicial, economic or political system,” she says. “Ultimately, this could come to redefine Pakistan’s identity completely.”

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