Another deadly blow for
Pakistan By Syed Saleem Shahzad
KARACHI - Pakistani President General
Pervez Musharraf wanted to draw a line in the sand
in his struggle for the spiritual soul of the
country by early next month, ramming through
parliament a controversial bill regarding women's
rights that is seen as a move to purge Islamic
laws from the constitution.
helicopter gunships raining death on a village in
the remote Bajour agency tribal area on Monday
morning significantly escalated Musharraf's battle
with militant Islamic forces fiercely
opposed to any softening of
the state's Islamic legislation.
pre-dawn attack on a madrassa (Islamic
seminary) in a village in the Bajour tribal
district in North-West Frontier Province (NWFP)
claimed the lives of scores of people.
Pakistani authorities claimed immediately
that the raid was carried out by Pakistani forces.
However, Asia Times Online contacts on the spot
are convinced that the raid was undertaken by
North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces.
Recently, Islamabad agreed with NATO that it could
conduct operations in Pakistan from across the
border in Afghanistan.
came two days after thousands of pro-Taliban
tribesmen held an anti-US, anti-NATO rally in
Damadola in the Bajour area close to the site of a
US missile attack that killed several al-Qaeda
members and civilians in January.
Authorities say information that Taliban
or al-Qaeda fugitives were in the region prompted
Monday's raid. The border village lies opposite
the Afghan province of Kunar and is considered a
major corridor for militants to enter Afghanistan.
In May, Pakistani authorities said a senior
al-Qaeda figure, Abu Marwan al-Suri, had been
killed in Bajour during a clash with local police.
Just as they are denying NATO involvement
in Monday's attack, Pakistani authorities also
initially denied the US had carried out the
Political fallout Soon after Monday's raid, Qazi Hussain Ahmed,
the chief of the powerful Islamic political party,
the Jamaat-i-Islami Pakistan (JI), announced that
two leading JI members had resigned their posts -
a senior minister in NWFP, Sirajul Haq, and a
member of the federal parliament from the Bajour
agency, Haroon Rasheed.
The JI is a part
of the six-party religious alliance the Muttahida
Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), which has been at the
forefront of agitation against the proposed
legislation on women's issues, as well as in
opposition in general to Musharraf and his pro-US
stance in the "war on terror".
quoted as saying that protests would be staged
throughout the northern tribal region on Tuesday.
Significantly, Pakistan and Taliban
authorities struck a peace deal in Bajour only two
days ago and were scheduled to sign a document to
that effect on Monday. This lends credence to the
possibility that it was NATO and not Pakistani
forces that made the raid.
peace deal in Bajour is now off the table, and the
MMA will seize on the raid to ramp up and expand
its campaign against the proposed women's
legislation. The MMA has already threatened to
resign from the central parliament and all four
provincial assemblies, two of which have a
controlling MMA presence.
political activism in the garb of religious
issues, though, lies the fear that any
demonstrations will turn anti-West - and violent.
Under cover of violence and chaos, various smaller
underground religious groups as well as militants
will mobilize for the fulfillment of their
Militants already have immense
power in the country and have forced the
government to step away from the tribal areas,
notably North and South Waziristan, where the
Pakistani Taliban have a heavy footprint. The same
was to happen in Bajour agency.
home of the powerful
Tehrik-i-Nifaz-i-Shariat-i-Mohammedi, which was
the group responsible which gathering more than
10,000 Pakistani youths to go to Afghanistan
before the US invasion of 2001.
also the strategic back yard of the Hezb-i-Islami
led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, which is active in the
Afghan insurgency. Many prominent al-Qaeda leaders
use the area while in transit in the
the crosshairs With the resurgence of the
Taliban in Afghanistan, pockets of jihadi groups
have sprung up in Pakistani cities and villages,
and to them the symbol of hatred is Musharraf.
After the attacks on the US of September
11, 2001, Musharraf came up with a guarded
approach to handle jihadis. He held many secret
meetings with their leaders at which he expressed
his resolve in the cause of Islam, as well as in
He tried to convince the jihadist
leadership that Pakistan's decision to ditch the
Taliban was made under duress from the US and that
as soon as Pakistan could it would resume its
support of the Islamic forces in Afghanistan.
Nevertheless, the bridge continued to
widen between the jihadis and Musharraf, to a
point where Musharraf was repeatedly a target for
assassination by jihadist groups allied with
disaffected military officers.
military operations in Waziristan further
alienated the jihadist outfits from Musharraf,
even as his dependence on the US grew. Recent
Pentagon documents indicate that disbursements to
Islamabad amounted to about US$3.6 billion for
operations from January 2002 through August 2005,
an amount roughly equal to one-quarter of
Pakistan's total military expenditure during that
period. At the same time, as the Taliban revival
in Afghanistan continues, the United States'
dependency on Musharraf has grown.
Musharraf appears to forget that Pakistan
is still a traditional society in which the
majority of the people live in a tribal setup.
Traditions are generally the final word, and the
true literacy rate (which only means capability to
read Urdu-language newspapers) is hardly 25%.
In such an environment there is a blind
following in religious issues, as in the case of
the Women's Protection Bill, which all traditional
clerics from north to south and from east to west
are unanimous in rejecting.
dictatorships, as is Musharraf's, tend to care
more their constituency (the armed forces) than
the masses. Yet any development that is perceived
as an intervention against religion will have a
serious impact, as Islam is specifically the soul
of the Pakistani army, thanks to the rule of the
late dictator General Zia ul-Haq and his
in Bajour brings Musharraf's showdown, and the
line in the sand, with Islamic forces just that
little bit closer.
Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau
Chief. He can be reached at[email protected]