Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
For some weeks now there have been persistent reports about Taliban leader Mullah Omar, asking fighters in the Pakistani Taliban to stop carrying out attacks there and instead focus on Afghanistan where Western forces are being bolstered.
The reclusive one-eyed leader had in December sent emissaries to ask leaders of the Pakistani Taliban to settle their differences, scale down activities in Pakistan and help mount a spring offensive against the build-up of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, a report in the New York Times said as recently as last week.
But the attacks haven’t stopped. If anything they have become even more brazen, with the Sri Lankan cricket team attacked in Lahore earlier this month and then Monday’s rampage through a police academy, again in Lahore. Between these two major attacks, there has a been suicide bombing in a mosque in the northwest near the Afghan border, a car bombing outside Peshawar and a blast in Rawalpindi, turning March into one of the bloodiest months in recent times.
And on Tuesday, Pakistani Taliban leader, Baitullah Mehsud, in a rather rare move, claimed responsibiity for the storming of the police training centre in Lahore, destroying whatever was left of Mullah Omar’s reported calls for cooling off in Pakistan.
It’s coming up to three months since Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Tariq Azizuddin, disappeared from the border region of Khyber along with his driver and guard.
After weeks of silence, the ambassador appeared on a video aired over Al Arabiya satellite channel last month saying he had been kidnapped by Taliban militants. Surrounded by masked men with automatic weapons, he said he was suffering from health problems and appealed to the Pakistani government to comply with his captors’ demands which Pakistani media have reported relate to the release of several jailed militants.
And that is the last that has been heard so far. Indeed, only slightly less intriguing than the envoy’s disappearance has been the lack of any public attention to his plight right from the beginning. So much so that Azizuddin’s family last weekend issued a public appeal to the government to expedite efforts for his release. The family said they were greatly concerned there were no signs of an early and safe release of the envoy and his companions.
An ambassador, as the Pakistan Spectator said, symbolises the government and officials cannot afford to ignore the issue even if the media is focused elsewhere, all the more so after the emergence of a civilian government after nine years of military rule. How would another nation, for example the United States, act if its top diplomat was taken away and not heard from, for months ?
Update – Since filing this blog, Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud has said he is pulling out of the peace deal with the government after it refused to withdraw the army from tribal lands on the Afghan border. So were the sceptics right all along? And what does this mean for the government’s new strategy?
On the same subject, here is an interesting piece in the Christian Science Monitor comparing Pakistan’s policy to that of the United States in Iraq. “Americans can hardly complain that Pakistan is on the verge of a deal with jihadists,” it says. “The US has already done a similar deal with Iraqi Sunni terrorists. In both cases, a prime goal is simply to isolate Al Qaeda.”