US set Pakistan aflame By Syed Saleem Shahzad
KARACHI - The flames of war have spread into
Pakistan, with fierce fighting between government forces
and tribespeople in volatile South Waziristan agency
near the Afghanistan border, and the fire threatens to
engulf neighboring areas. The spark was provided by
United States pressure on the government of President
General Pervez Musharraf to help in Washington's "war on
terror", but ironically, the only gainer will be the
anti-US Afghan resistance.
The fighting erupted
as US-led forces began a spring offensive to eradicate
Taliban and al-Qaeda remnants in Afganistan. The US plan
depends on crucial support from Pakistan to keep a lid
on its border region which is notorious for supporting
and sheltering the Afghan resistance. Now the Pakistani
military is fighting its own citizens there, and US
Secretary of State Colin Powell, who timed a visit to
Pakistan to coincide with the launch of the offensive
and shore up support, will return home with the news
that the situation is getting ever more out of hand.
The latest and most serious
clash between tribals and Pakistani forces occurred Tuesday.
At least 10 military personnel and 24 "suspects" were reported killed,
most of the latter said to be tribespeople suspected of
sheltering the militants. The day-long battle marked the
eruption of tension which had been nearing boiling point
for some time, as reported by Asia Times Online (Pakistan stirs a tribal
war, Mar 3).
According to a prominent
tribesperson in the town of Wana, South Waziristan,
Pakistani authorities had made every effort to prevent
armed conflict with locals in the tribal areas. A few
days before the fighting broke out, the authorities
levied penalties on the tribal leaders for their
opposition to the presence of government forces. The
tribal leaders in turn rebelled, but the authorities
handled the situation prudently. They secretly gave
money to the tribals and asked them to return the same
money in a ceremony. The face-saving drama was
publicized to give the US the impression that Pakistani
forces were doing their best to smoke out terror
However, US pressure on Pakistan
remained relentless, so much so that Musharraf himself
visited the North West Frontier Province to address the
tribal leaders and request their cooperation in the
battles against al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
Well-placed sources have told Asia Times Online
that the Taliban is regrouping in preparation for
attacks on Afghan cities, and this is hot news among
Pakistan's jihadis. The jihadis have been looking for
new battles since the Kashmir front was totally shut
down - they were informed in a recent meeting presided
over by a senior army officer that the Kashmir "game is
over" and that they should shut up shop. Many of those
jihadis have now made their way to Afghanistan. And
according to reliable sources in Karachi, which is a hub
for dedicated jihadis, several groups of fighters made
the journey to South and North Waziristan to take part
in the decisive battle between the Afghan resistance and
US and Pakistani troops. Similar groups from Lahore,
Quetta and the countryside of Punjab are also joining
Before Tuesday's battle, all seven
tribal agency leaders had warned Pakistani authorities
to withdraw troops from tribal areas or face resistance.
Despite the warning, US pressure via American officials
situated in Wana alongside the Pakistani military upset
the delicate situation. Earlier this month, Pakistani
soldiers killed at least 11 people in a shooting
incident in Wana - a direct precursor of the violence
now taking place. Had Pakistani authorities been left
alone to deal with the situation, the outcome might have
been very different.
For instance, the tribes
had refused to allow any further operations in South
Waziristan and had drawn a line, warning that if any
Pakistani soldier crossed it , he would be targeted.
Pakistan's political agent in South Waziristan called a
meeting to which all tribal elders were invited, to ease
the tension. However, on the directive of US officials
present, the tribal leaders were arrested - and the door
to dialogue slammed shut.
There are three
interested parties keeping keen eyes on the
The anti-Musharraf segment within the army, which
will now likely exploit the situation as they feel
Pakistani soldiers have been misused in a war which is
not theirs .
The US-led coalition, which was keen to conduct
operations in Pakistani territory. Now that the
tribespeople have also been branded by Pakistani
authorities as "terrorists", the US military has a
golden opportunity to enter Pakistan to crush the
The jihadis in Pakistan who are keen to participate
in the Afghan resistance. Previously, it was difficult
for Pakistanis to take part because controls in the
border areas made entry into Afghanistan a challenge.
Now, with clashes on the Pakistan side of the border,
the fighters will find their way to the battlefields.
The most immediate threat to Pakistan's
stability is within the Pakistani army, where a strong
contingency rejects Musharraf and his accommodation of
the US. This may push political parties like
Jamaat-i-Islami to stage strong demonstrations of power
in an effort to force Musharraf to step down.
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