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
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can
be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org