Pakistan's military kitted for new
power By Syed Saleem Shahzad
KARACHI - Pakistan has established itself
over the past six years as the strongest link in
the West's chain of influence in South and Central
Asian countries whose internal stability is linked
to progress toward Western goals in the region,
especially in the US-led "war on terror".
Pakistan's military establishment has used
this for both its de facto and de jure rule and
for its broader strategic regional goals.
Therefore, when US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte
arrives in Pakistan on
Wednesday, after visiting Afghanistan, he will
finalize a blueprint for a fresh and aggressive
two-pronged US approach to defeat radical
Islamists in Afghanistan and to nurture a new
popular political leadership in Pakistan.
The major contractor of US policy in
Pakistan will remain the military, which, under
President General Pervez Musharraf, aims for a
smooth political transition of power from
civilian-military rule to complete civilian rule.
Amid much publicity, former prime minister
Nawaz Sharif arrived in Pakistan on Monday after
seven years in exile, only to be deported within a
few hours. Lebanese leader Saad Hariri and Saudi
Prince Muqrin bin Abdul Aziz were in Islamabad to
persuade Sharif to return to exile in Saudi Arabia
to avoid muddying the region's political waters.
The Supreme Court's decision to allow
Sharif - ousted in a coup by Musharraf in 1999 -
to return to Pakistan came at a time when
Washington and Islamabad were putting the final
touches to the formation of a consensus government
between Musharraf and another former prime
minister, Benazir Bhutto. Under this arrangement,
Musharraf is likely to be re-elected as president,
after which he will shed his uniform and position
as army chief of staff and share power with
Bhutto. The aim is to bring more stability to
Pakistan, as Musharraf currently faces widespread
The real battle in the
"war on terror" can then begin. Negroponte is
expected to spell out Washington's aims in very
clear terms to Pakistani authorities. He will
provide precise targets for Pakistan to tackle,
such as al-Qaeda and Taliban bases in Pakistan,
and if Islamabad fails to act within a given
timetable, North Atlantic Treaty Organization-led
forces from across the border in Afghanistan will
take matters into their own hands.
the years, Pakistan has tried to deal with the
problem of militants in the tribal areas, with
both the iron fist and the velvet glove. The
problem remains, though, and in the latest show of
force, militants this month captured more than 400
Pakistani troops and security officials in the
North Waziristan tribal area.
Osama again ... After news leaked last
week of a new video by al-Qaeda leader Osama bin
Laden, the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
informed Pakistan about the presence of a new
militant base in the valleys of the Shawal, a
remote, inhospitable region that spans the
The CIA suggested
that the tape might have been shot in the Shawal,
and that high-value targets such as bin Laden's
deputy, Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri, and Tahir Yaldeshiv,
leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan,
might be in the area.
Pakistan sent troops to the Shawal on Saturday,
but they immediately came under fire in the
mountainous terrain. Though a spokesman for the
Pakistan Armed Forces, Major-General Waheed
Arshad, denied the claim, independent Asia Times
Online sources confirmed that 35 troops died
during the Shawal operation, which failed.
However, Pakistan will continue to mount
operations on targets given by the Americans, and
this process will speed up after Negroponte's
visit. At the same time, the US and Pakistan will
continue their strategic dialogue process and
share notes on developments.
regard, Washington has broadened its contacts to
include the Pakistan Army, as the military is a
key player in the country and any breakdown of
Musharraf's military-backed government would be a
severe loss to the army. It has therefore been
included in the negotiations with Bhutto.
The political endgame is expected this
month, with Musharraf announcing that Parliament
will re-elect him as president, in uniform, and at
the same time he will announce a date this year to
change into civilian clothes. A new chief of army
staff will also be named.
absolutely right in including the army in its
plans, despite the popular political face of
Bhutto, as militants will remain a threat across
the country. In fact, Bhutto will need the army to
protect her and the government's security. In such
a "protected" atmosphere, Bhutto, Washington's ace
card, will be beholden to General Headquarters
Rawalpindi and its regional games. All the same,
the army will stay behind the scenes as far as
politics is concerned, but it will be the only
channel through which Washington will deal.
The next few weeks will clearly be of
immense importance for Pakistan, which is why the
military was relatively calm over the seizure of
hundreds of its troops, which normally would be a
major affront. (Most of the captives were released
on Monday morning.)
Once a smooth
transition of government is completed, the demands
of the militants for a complete withdrawal of
Pakistani forces from the tribal areas will be met
and a ceasefire agreement between the security
forces and the Taliban is likely by
At the moment, talks between the
Taliban and coalition forces in Afghanistan are
stalled because of Pakistan's internal situation.
However, Taliban sources signal that ceasefire
agreements are expected by the winter in
southwestern Afghanistan, after which talks for a
political settlement will start. In the coming few
months, as the changes in Pakistan take place, no
major offensives are anticipated in Afghanistan,
beyond unplanned skirmishes.
headquarters in Kabul are fully aware of the
Taliban's strength, which will be further boosted
once the Pakistani military is withdrawn from the
tribal areas, as the Taliban will be able to
consolidate their bases there to support
operations in Afghanistan.
be in a position to build new bridges between the
military and the Taliban, which will guarantee a
new Pakistani-sponsored "easy to talk to" Taliban
leadership, which will push for a political
settlement in Afghanistan.
The dynamics in
the "war on terror" will be changed toward
peaceful resolution or, if that fails, the whole
process will give the Pakistan-backed Taliban
enough breathing space for a major offensive next
Syed Saleem Shahzad is
Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can
be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.