Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
The Pakistani Taliban are warning the Pakistani military that it faces a fight in Waziristan tougher than Kashmir where the Indian army has struggled to quell a 20-year armed revolt.
It must be a rather bitter irony for the Pakistani army to be dealt such a warning from an umbrella militant group, several of whose members it once nurtured to fight the Indian army in Kashmir.
War by a thousand cuts, the Pakistan strategic establishment said, referring to the strategy to bleed India’s much larger army and ensure parity. So militants were given material support to take on the Indian army which was then forced to throw in more and more troops in to the conflict zone, until there were almost – and to this day remain – anything around 400,000 to 500,000 troops in the area. Such a large military presence by itself deepens the people’s alienation and perpetuates the insurgency.
Is it going to be the same for the Pakistani army as Pakistan Taliban spokesman Azam Tariq told Reuters on Tuesday just as suspected militants carried out the third attack near the frontier city of Peshawar in as many days ?
Back in the spring, when the Pakistani Taliban still controlled the Swat valley, video footage of a girl being flogged became one of the most powerful images of their rule. The footage, shot on a mobile phone and circulated on YouTube, turned public opinion against the Taliban and helped lay the groundwork for a military offensive there.
In the latest spate of bombings sweeping Pakistan, women have again become targets. First came the twin suicide bombing on the International Islamic University in Islamabad which included an attack on the women’s canteen. Then last week, more than 100 people were killed in the car bombing of a bazaar in Peshawar which was frequented largely by women.
When Northern Ireland’s Omagh bomb exploded, killing 29 people, I was in England, by cruel coincidence attending the wedding of a young man who had been badly injured in another attack in the town of Enniskillen more than a decade earlier.
I had just switched my phone on after leaving the church on a glorious, sunny Saturday afternoon when my news editor called. “There’s been a bomb. It sounds bad. We’re trying to get you on a flight.”
It's hard to write about the Taliban on a religion blog without giving the impression that this militant movement in Afghanistan and Pakistan is basically religious. It's certainly Islamist, i.e. it uses Islam for political ends. But it's hard to find much religion in what they're doing, while there's a lot of power politics, Pashtun nationalism and insurrection against the Kabul and Islamabad governments there. (Photo: Pakistani pro-Taliban militants in Swat Valley, 2 Nov 2007/Sherin Zada Kanju)
It's often difficult to separate religion and politics in groups like this, but President Barack Obama gave a basic rule of thumb in his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington last week:
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).
India’s governing Congress party’s unexpectedly good showing in a clutch of state elections should give Prime Minister Manmohan Singh a little more breathing space as he considers a response to Pakistan for the Mumbai attacks which New Delhi says were orchestrated from there.
Imagine a scenario in which the Congress had lost all five states whose results were announced this week (results from Jammu and Kashmir, the sixth state, will be released later this month). The knives would have been out both within his increasingly restless Congress party and from the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, which has targeted him for being soft on national security, running ads with blood splattered against a black background in the middle of the Mumbai siege.
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.
Haroon Bacha, a Pashtun singer, has fled his home in the Pakistani city of Peshawar after a year of phone calls, text messages and even personal visits warning him to stop playing, the New York Times reported this week.
Bacha, who has left his wife and children and an extended family behind, has found a safe haven in New York where he is playing at benefit concerts and even weddings, the newspaper said. (more…)
Last week, after U.S. forces were reported to have launched their first ground assault in Pakistan, the website Registan.net asked the obvious question: “Did We Just Invade Pakistan?” Nearly a week and several missile attacks by U.S. drones later, I am still pondering the same question.
We have just witnessed what may have been the most sustained U.S. military action against targets inside Pakistan, not just since 2001, but since 1947 when the country was founded. Yet it is not any clearer what is going on. The Council on Foreign Relations has produced an excellent round-up of media reports on Pakistan, published by the Washington Post. But I’d defy anyone to read through them and come up with a coherent hypothesis that does not immediately run into a contradiction. Here are some of the ideas being discussed:
Peshawar is such an important city for Pakistan that it can be hard to write about it without sounding shrill. It is significant strategically since it lies near the entrance to the Khyber Pass into Afghanistan. But it is also important emotionally – not only is it a Moghul city and an ancient Silk Route trading hub, but it is also a Pashtun town on the Pakistani side of the Durand Line , the ill-demarcated border between Pakistan and Afghanistan imposed by British colonial rulers that splits the Pashtun people of the region in two. For Pakistan, fighting for control of Peshawar is probably comparable to what France and Germany felt about Alsace Lorraine before World War Two.
So when the New York Times publishes an article about Peshawar being at risk of falling into Taliban hands we must pay attention. “In the last two months, Taliban militants have suddenly tightened the noose on this city of three million people, one of Pakistan’s biggest, establishing bases in surrounding towns and, in daylight, abducting residents for high ransoms,” it says. “The threat to Peshawar is a sign of the Taliban’s deepening penetration of Pakistan and of the expanding danger that the militants present to the entire region, including nearby supply lines for NATO and American forces in Afghanistan.”