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Pak Army can't sustain gains

Pak Army can't sustain gains

Author: Samuel Baid
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: May 9, 2009
URL: http://www.dailypioneer.com/174877/Pak-Army-can't-sustain-gains.html

The televised 'civil war' in Pakistan may be a lot of hot air because the Army is killing more civilians than real Taliban and in the long run Islamabad will have to suffer the consequences

Without a strong political determination to defeat the Taliban/al-Qaeda threat to the existence of Pakistan, the Pakistani Army cannot succeed on its own in its operations in the tribal areas. There is no consensus among political leaders about the seriousness of this threat. No political party, including the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) can dare campaign against the Taliban/al-Qaeda or, for that matter, against any of the banned terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. On the contrary, they try to appease Taliban/al-Qaeda by howling against America's drone attacks on their hideouts or by snubbing India for showing concern for the Sikh community in the Orakzai agency. Pakistan's Foreign Minister Sham Mehmud Querishi, while condemning India's concern, did not say a word about Taliban's authority to collect jaziya from them.

Over the past 5-6 years, the Taliban has expanded their activities outside the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) into different parts of Pakistan - in fat all over the country - piggy riding the local terrorist or Pushtun settlers. In Balochistan, they have mixed with the people in the Pakhtun part of the Province. Here, they are trying to find out an alternative route for incursion into Afghanistan. In Sindh they are concentrating on Karachi, the nerve centre of Pakistan's economic life. Here they commit crimes like kidnapping for ransom, hijacking of cars and loot to make money which they send back to FATA for Taliban's activities. In Karachi they are hosted by Pakhtuns who otherwise swear by the Awami National Party (ANP), a secular party. Another way of making money is by threatening Christians to either accept Islam or pay jaziya. Frightened Christians have appealed to politicians but to no avail. They might end up paying this toll just as some helpless Sikhs in the Orakzai agency.

Talib incursion into Punjab is a serious threat to Pakistan's existence. Punjab is the most important province. They say you can destabilise Pakistan if you can destabilise Punjab. They have conducted suicide bombings in Rawalpindi, Islamabad, Lahore and other places. The attack on a Police Training Centre in Lahore on March 30, just 10 Km from the Wahaga border, caused a serious concern to India.

But what has caused the maximum concern worldwide is the armed Taliban's invasion of Buner district from bases in Swat where they have managed to establish their sway under pretext of the Nizam-e-Adal Regulation (Islamic justice). In the first week of April they entered Buner telling people to accept Islamic justice. They kidnapped and killed some security men and fought with locals who opposed them. A local jirga asked them to leave Buner. They refused and killed five persons. The people of Buner realised they had been surrounded on all four sides. There was no help from the Government and the security forces. The Taliban took control of largely venerated Mazar of Pir Baba and banned women's entry into it. They began recruiting Talib; occupied the house of a man who opposed them; banned music in buses; hijacked vehicles; looted medicine shops and patrolled streets to terrorise the local population.

Neither the provincial nor federal government tried to stop the Taliban till the Americans began expressing their shock at the fact that Buner was just 60 miles away from Islamabad, the national capital of Pakistan. This development strengthened the fears that Taliban/al-Qaeda's ultimate goal was Islamabad and the capture of the country's nuclear arsenal was imminent.

The government took more than three weeks to launch operations against the Taliban in Buner. But the local people say more civilians were killed in these operations than Talib, who have all shifted to safer places. The Army spokesman, General Athar Abbas, said the Taliban were using the local people as human shields. What is worrying is that the Army is nowhere near success in Buner. It is true that the Taliban have expanded the area of their writ in the past one year when the present PPP-led Government took over. And, accordingly, the threat of Taliban/al-Qaeda takeover has begun to look a possibility. There are estimates that Taliban already occupy 17 per cent of Pakistan's territory.

President Obama, unlike his predecessor George W. Bush, seems interested more in the stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan than in pushing democracy. On completing 100 days in office recently, he said: "I am gravely concerned about the situation in Pakistan…..the civilian government there right now is very fragile and don't seems to have the capacity to deliver basic services: schools, healthcare, rule of law, a judicial system that works for the majority of the people." It was very transparently insinuated that the present civilian leadership cannot protect the country's nuclear arsenal from terrorists. But he put his trust in the Army's ability to do so. "I'm confident that we can ensure that Pakistan's nuclear arsenal is secure. The Pakistani Army recognises the hazard of those weapons falling into the wrong hands. It is taking much more seriously the armed threat from militant extremists."

This strong statement, which has been strongly resented by some sections in Pakistan, is suspected to have been based on possible briefing by Pakistani Army leaders. What Mr Obama said is a tragic truth about Pakistan. But it is also a fact that terrorism and Pakistan's clandestine nuclear programme grew together as cousins in the 1980s, with American direct or indirect support.

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