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    South Asia
     Oct 31, 2008
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 hardliners.

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 settlement.

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 Taliban.

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 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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