More shocks for shattered Pakistan
By Syed Saleem Shahzad
KARACHI - The devastating series of earthquakes in Pakistan on Tuesday that
claimed more than 200 lives will seriously test cash-strapped Pakistan's relief
and reconstruction efforts, even as it faces an escalation in the South Asian
theater of the "war on terror".
A 6.4-magnitude earthquake struck insurgency hit southwestern Balochistan
province at dawn, followed by a second one, estimated at 6.2 on the Richter
scale, 12 hours later, followed by at least four significant aftershocks. Many
thousands of people have been displaced.
Tuesday's quakes were not as severe as the one of October 2005 in
Pakistan-administered Kashmir which resulted in over 80,000
deaths and the displacement of several hundred thousand people. It forced the
redeployment of Pakistani troops and aircraft from the South Waziristan and
North Waziristan tribal areas in Pakistan to Kashmir, which eventually resulted
in Pakistan negotiating a ceasefire with militants on their terms. This gave
the militants a chance to regroup before the spring offensive of 2006 in
Afghanistan, which heralded the comeback of the Taliban.
Nevertheless, the Balochistan earthquake comes at a time when Pakistan is on
the verge of financial collapse and therefore vulnerable to any minor disaster,
let alone its ongoing battle with militants.
On Tuesday, Kaleem Siddiqui, the managing director of Pakistan State Oil, the
largest oil marketing company in the country, held the press conference in the
southern port city of Karachi and revealed that due to the negative credit
rating of Pakistan, foreign banks had refused to approve letters of credit to
Pakistani oil importers. This puts a severe squeeze on them and Pakistan
Refinery Limited might be forced to cease operations by November 28 if the
present difficulties continue.
Further, Pakistan has just days to raise billions of dollars in foreign loans
needed to meet debt payments and pay for imports and is seeking to expand on
technical help from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Without international help, the fight against terrorism in the nuclear-armed
nation will be complicated by out-of-control price increases, fewer jobs and
rising public anger in the country of 160 million people.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on Tuesday that Pakistan's
problems were so urgent it had no choice but to seek an IMF loan.
"I can only hope that the decision is taken quickly, because a loan in six
months or six weeks will not help, but only if it is approved within the next
six days," Steinmeier told reporters after talks with Pakistani officials.
"Then one can perhaps avoid the most difficult situation in Pakistan."
The start the Petraeus doctrine
General David Petraeus, who takes charge of US Central Command on Friday with
overall responsibility for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, is due in Pakistan
on the same day.
He is expected to push the "surge" doctrine he applied with some success in
Iraq in terms of which on the one hand conflict is escalated, while on the
other segments of the insurgency are engaged in an attempt to isolate
Asia Times Online has learned that a plan has been prepared for a new Taliban
organization separate from Taliban leader Mullah Omar but loyal to the cause of
the Afghan resistance.
United States and Pakistani intelligence tried this ploy in 2003 with the
creation of the Jaishul Muslim; it was a failure. (See
Tribes, traditions and two tragedies Asia Times Online, Sep 12, 2003.)
The idea was that the Jaishul Muslim would control some of the warlords and
tribes siding with Mullah Omar by bringing them into its fold, especially in
southern and southeastern Afghanistan. They would then push for a peace
This never happened as almost all the Jaishul Muslim commanders, financed by
the US Central Intelligence Agency, rejoined the Taliban. (See
Stoking Afghanistan's resistance Asia Times Online, Oct 22, 2003.)
Similarly, in 2002 Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) formed the
Jamiatul Furqan with the aim of placing control of the Taliban in the hands of
the ISI, rather than in those of Mullah Omar. The group did get off the ground,
including with many members who had been in the provincial governments of the
Taliban regime in Afghanistan (1996-2001). They dutifully denounced al-Qaeda
and criticized Mullah Omar's policy of siding with Osama bin Laden. However,
within a few months they either sat idly by or returned to the bosom of the
Despite this, Petraeus can be expected to press Pakistan hard on this issue, as
well as on broader attempts by the Pakistan military to tackle militancy in the
tribal areas, even as the country looks down the barrel of financial disaster.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can
be reached at email@example.com