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    South Asia
     Jul 30, 2008
Good cop, bad cop: Pakistan reels
By Syed Saleem Shahzad

KARACHI - Ever since Pakistan signed onto the United States' "war on terror" in 2001, Washington has adopted a carrot-and-stick approach in an attempt to prod its often reluctant partner.

In the process, US-led forces are losing the war in Afghanistan, and Islamabad has lost its writ over parts of the country, especially in the tribal areas on the border with Afghanistan.

Yet the game continues. Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani is in Washington this week for talks with President George W Bush on, among other issues, reform of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence, which is widely perceived in the US as

 

having a mind of its own when it comes to tackling the Taliban and militancy.

At the same time, the acting commander of the US Central Command, Lieutenant General Martin E Dempsey, was sent to Pakistan's military headquarters in Rawalpindi to supervise the handover of four F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan Air Chief Marshal Tanvir Mahmood Ahmed as part of the US's military aid to Pakistan for its support in the "war on terror".

Yet even as this ceremony was taking place, Pakistan said an unmanned US Predator drone had fired four missiles at a suspected militant base in Pakistan's South Waziristan tribal area. Six people were said to have been killed in the attack on a madrassa (seminary), including a suspected al-Qaeda operative, Mursi al-Sayid Umar.

According to some reports, Umar, an Egyptian, was a chemical and biological weapons expert with a US State Department bounty of US$5 million on his head.

US Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Admiral Mike Mullen warned recently during a visit to Pakistan that if Pakistan did not deliver in the battle against militants, American forces would take matters into their own hands.

The attack on the seminary was in Taliban commander Haji Nazeer's area. Haji Nazeer is a rival of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud and considered to be close to the Pakistani security forces. In January 2007, he led a massacre of Uzbek militants who had settled in South Waziristan.

Pakistan claims that it has played its part in arresting many al-Qaeda operatives, and points out that none have been seized in Afghanistan. Yet fingers are still pointed at Pakistan, most recently by Afghan President Hamid Karzai. This often acrimonious blame-game has led to reduced cooperation on the part of Pakistan.

The gainers are the Taliban and al-Qaeda, who are increasingly cementing their position in the tribal areas.

On Sunday, the chief of the militants in Swat Valley, Mullah Fazlullah, held a press conference at which he pronounced that except for Peshawar Valley, the entire North-West Frontier Province is in the hands of the Taliban.

On Monday, the Taliban proved the point when they wiped out checkpoints of the security forces in Bajaur Agency and occupied a television booster of state-run PTV. The government's response was a call for the Taliban not to "misbehave" - the state apparatus is unable to mobilize its forces.

Storm in a port
While these developments unfold in the tribal areas, tensions are rising in the southern port city of Karachi, the financial capital of the country said to have the biggest Pashtun population in the world.

After 9 pm, armed Pashtu-speaking youths take to the streets of middle-class Gulshan-i-Iqbal and search vehicles. In the Pashtun slums of Banaras, any person wearing modern trousers and shirts is beaten up. Political leaders in the city, including elected representatives of the Muttehida Quami Movement (MQM), call it "Talibanization".

MQM member parliament Dr Farooq Sattar said in an interview, "Elements who were forced out from the Waziristans and other tribal areas took refuge in Karachi, where they settled on empty land, mostly at the northern and southern entry routes of the city. The city is virtually under siege from these elements."

A senior official from the Ministry of Interior commented, "They are not 100% Taliban, but ethnic Pashtuns who have increased their activity in the city and they have received ammunition from North-West Frontier Province. A big clash is imminent in the coming days between the non-Pashtun residents of the city and ethnic Pashtuns. This is not Talibanization but an organized bid to take over the resources of the city."

The MQM, however, insists that the majority of the people in these Pashtun areas are directly connected with the Taliban. It is claimed they raise resources for the Taliban and plan to create chaos in the city to weaken the state writ.

Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be reached at saleem_shahzad2002@yahoo.com

(Copyright 2008 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)


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