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    South Asia
     Nov 8, 2007
Taliban stage a coup of their own
By Syed Saleem Shahzad

KARACHI - While the world's attention focused on the troubles of President General Pervez Musharraf following his declaration of a state of emergency in Pakistan at the weekend, the Taliban have launched a coup of their own in Afghanistan and the Pashtun areas of Pakistan.

Pakistani troops had prevented the Taliban from launching their planned post-Ramadan (Muslim holy month) offensive into Afghanistan by invading the Pakistani North Waziristan and South

Waziristan tribal areas on October 7.

The Taliban managed to set up a counter engagement by stirring their network in the Swat Valley in North-West Frontier Province, which took the pressure off the Waziristans. The November 4 declaration of an emergency and the preparations before it was enforced distracted the military. As a result, several villages and towns in the Swat Valley, only a drive of four hours from Islamabad, have fallen to the Taliban without a single bullet being fired - fearful Pakistani security forces simply surrendered their weapons.

The Taliban have secured similar successes in the northwestern Afghan province of Farah and the southwestern provinces of Uruzgan and Kandahar, where districts have fallen without much resistance.

A new wave of attacks is expanding the Taliban's grip in the southeastern provinces of Khost and Kunar. And on Tuesday, the Taliban are suspected to have been responsible for the massive suicide attack in northern Baghlan province in which scores of people died, including a number of parliamentarians, most notably Sayed Mustafa Kazimi, the Hazara Shi'ite leader.

Such unexpected offensives have become a hallmark of the Taliban. They surprised many with their successful spring offensive in 2006, when the West had already anticipated their demise.

The Taliban occupied several key districts in the southwest and then as the winter snows closed in - normally a time for the guns to fall silent - they struck ceasefire deals with coalition troops. The aim was that once the weather improved, they would launch a mass uprising and force the surrender of major cities.

However, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) coalition sprung a surprise of its own by breaking the ceasefire agreements and conducting military operations one after the other from December 2006 onwards against the unprepared Taliban.

This forced the Taliban's abrupt retreat from important arteries and effectively ended the dream of a mass uprising this spring. Instead, the Taliban turned more to the use of improvised explosive devices and suicide attacks to irritate the enemy rather than cause serious damage.

NATO was relaxed during the month of Ramadan as Afghans generally don't fight in this period, and with the winter setting in, it was believed that the next Taliban action would only take place next spring.

But the Taliban have taken advantage of Pakistan's political troubles - the Pakistani army is busy saving its political interests in Islamabad - to keep on fighting in what is probably their first real winter offensive.

The fate of the Taliban's offensives in Afghanistan and Pakistan are closely linked with the fate of Musharraf's second coup. He will have to restore the country to normalcy very quickly. If not, the Taliban will go from strength to strength and a vital US-led "war on terror" theater will be closed.

Political shambles
"It is the duty of every citizen, and especially lawyers, to struggle for the supremacy of law, independence of the judiciary and real democracy," lawyer Shaukat Rauf cited Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry as saying in a telephone address to the bar in Islamabad on Tuesday.

Chaudhry is one of thousands of lawyers and opposition members to have been arrested or placed under house arrest since Saturday.

Chaudhry's defiant call illustrates that rolling back the emergency is only a part of the problem - what is wanted is the reinstatement of deposed judges and the full restoration of an independent judiciary.

The imposition of the emergency came as the Supreme Court was about to deliver its verdict on whether Musharraf could run for president while still serving as army chief. Last month, he was reelected by an overwhelming majority in national and provincial assemblies.

The opposition boycotted the polls and asked the Supreme Court to intervene and the judges ordered that official results be withheld until a verdict was reached. It is thought the court planned to rule against Musharraf, hence emergency rule.

Chaudhry has had run-ins with Musharraf before. He was suspended in March for alleged malfeasance (the real reason was the judiciary's opposition to Musharraf's role as army chief). Widespread protests and violence followed, and eventually when the Supreme Court reinstated Chaudhry, the Musharraf regime had little choice but to accept the decision.

Chaudhry might be detained for now, but he has emerged as a formidable foe for Musharraf, and his following is growing by the day.

Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be reached at [email protected]

(Copyright 2007 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

Besieged Musharraf plays for time (Nov 7, '07)

Pakistan shakes off US shackles (Nov 6, '07)

Musharraf plays his last ace (Nov 6, '07)

1. Besieged Musharraf plays for time

2. Bush's Turkey shoot

3. Imperial opportunities for US builders

4. Pakistan shakes off US shackles

5. Musharraf plays his last ace

6. Pakistan's radical Red Mosque returns

7. Level 3 storm about to hit Wall Street

8. Inside story of the Western mind

9. Air strikes first, questions later

10. Interpol's decision time on 'Iranian' bombing

11. Road to ruin

(24 hours to 11:59 pm ET, Nov 6, 2007)


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