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New Report on Afghanistan Calls for Some Big Changes

The Afghanistan Study Group of the Center for the Study of the Presidency, one of the sponsors of the Iraq Study Group, issued a report yesterday recommending several changes in U.S. policy toward Afghanistan.

Who’s Behind the Report
The report was produced by a 22-member team led by retired General James Jones and Ambassador Thomas Pickering. Pakistan specialists involved in the study group include Heritage Foundation Fellow Lisa Curtis, former Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Karl Inderfurth, former Ambassador Dennis Kux (author of an excellent study on U.S.-Pakistan relations), and former State Department analyst Marvin Weinbaum. Input was also received from senior Afghan, American, and Pakistani diplomats. The study group was funded by Malik Hassan, a wealthy Pakistani-American entrepreneur and Republican donor.

Major Points
The Jones-Pickering report features a large number of recommendations, including:

  • de-linking Afghanistan and Iraq policies and funding;
  • appointing a U.S. special envoy who would function as an Afghanistan czar;
  • increasing and accelerating infrastructural and industrial development aid;
  • improving regional cooperation for Afghan development and Pakistan-based security challenges;
  • and helping Hamid Karzai with national reconciliation.

Relevance to Pakistan

New player, new dynamics
The idea of creating a special envoy who would manage all aspects of the U.S. policy toward Afghanistan is, as the report acknowledges, somewhat controversial. The new appointee would supplant the present ambassador as well other U.S. civilian and military officials. Above all, it would introduce a new player into relations between the United States, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. The envoy’s responsibilities would inevitably bleed into Pakistan as well, and it is possible that the dynamics surrounding the appointment would result in greater U.S. weightage toward perceived Afghan interests vis-a-vis Pakistan.  In other words, Pakistan might be further pressed to act in a manner more consistent with the interests of Karzai and/or the U.S. than its own.
Ending the not-so-great game?
In more general terms, the report lists “reducing antagonisms between Pakistan and Afghanistan” as a “top priority” for the United States.   At the heart of this would be an exchange of definitive Pakistani deliverance vis-a-vis the flow of militants and other security issues for “encourage[ment]” of Afghan recognition of the Durand Line.

Achieving the latter would be difficult, considering Afghanistan’s historic obstinacy on the issue. Nonetheless, it remains an imperative.  Cementing the Pak-Afghan border, at least on paper, would provide a significant paradigmatic shift in Pak-Afghan relations.  It would help allay mutual suspicion of interference and intrigue, and need not inhibit the flow of people and goods along the border.

At this point, however, it is difficult to see Washington pressing Karzai to make any definitive moves in this regard.  The Pak-Afghan border issue has largely been ignored in the Western policy discourse.  And when it comes up, the difficulty of Karzai’s political position is often used to brush it aside.
And so an interesting alternative comes in a proposal offered in a recent addition of the American Interest by former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ronald Neumann.  He writes:

“we must find an acceptable way to express a middle ground between the Pakistani demand for Afghan legal acknowledgement of the frontier and the inability of weak Afghan governments to compel its people to accept division. This formula makes the border essentially permanent by officially recognizing what is, after all, the real situation, but it stops short of asking for a final and formal Afghan concession to Pakistan. Acceptance of this or similar language would be a compromise by both sides.”

The essential principle would be that:

“Both sides must agree that the current frontier is not to be modified without the consent of both governments and their peoples.”

In other words, there would be a de-facto recognition of the Durand Line by both Pakistan and Afghanistan.  Neumann’s proposal has a strong short-term value, but anything short of a final status accord beyond that time period would make this band-aid measure wear off.  The Pak-Afghan border issue would remain the elephant in the room and make easy a quick reversion to mutual intrigue.  As a result, Karzai will eventually have to exercise political courage on the Pak-Afghan border issue, and Washington should help him get there.

Baitullah Mehsud’s First Television Interview

Ahmad Zaidan, al-Jazeera’s Islamabad bureau chief, interviewed Baitullah Mehsud in December. The video, provided above, was aired on the station a few days ago. It’s Mehsud’s first television interview.

The leader of Tehreek-e Taliban-e Pakistan (Taliban Movement of Pakistan) speaks in Pashto (translated by AJ into Arabic) while Zaidan presents the questions in Arabic.

[Note: I am also an Arabic speaker.]

Some key points are below.

On the Tehreek-e Taliban-e Pakistan

  • The alliance took so long to form because of several challenges, including the assistance needed by the Arabs and Uzbeks and the attempts of the Pakistani government to divide the population. The biggest losers of the Taliban alliance, says Mehsud, will be Washington, Britain, and the other countries of disbelief.

Relations with the original Taliban and al-Qaeda

  • He and his group members have given their bayah, or oath of allegiance, to Mullah Omar, the amir ul mumineen. Omar leads not only Afghanistan, but the entire Muslim world. The Muslims, even in America, are “our” brothers.
  • Skirts issue of relations with AQ, particularly bin Laden and Zawahiri. Simply says a Muslim is a brother of a Muslim. Does mention that Zarqawi was among Mehsud & Co. prior to heading to Iraq.

Goals

  • First priority is the conducting of a defensive jihad. He says the Pakistani army attacks their homes on the orders of George W. Bush. Would like Pakistani forces out b/c of their displayed ‘barbarism’.
  • Secondary goal is the application of Islamic law throughout Pakistan. The movement will not just be in the northwest, but spread throughout Pakistan into Punjab and Sindh.

The Pakistani Army

  • It plays the different tribes and regions off of one another. In area X it is in peace talks or has a truce in place, and then in area Y it is in a state of war. Then the roles change, and it is in combat against area X and talking peace with area Y. He calls this a “policy of deception.”
  • The Pakistani army’s war in the tribal areas is an American war. He quotes the Qur’anic prohibition on taking Jews and Christians (5:51) as one’s protectors several times.
  • Musharraf is a slave of Bush, the West, and the disbelievers. He’s declared a war against them and the Arab and Uzbek migrants, who have come to defend Islam and Pakistan, under American pressure. He submitted them to the Americans, killed women and children.

Nuclear Weapons

  • Islam doesn’t permit the killing of women and children, which nukes would inevitably do. Don’t have thoughts about the use of nuclear weapons. America killed innocents in Japan–Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The fear right now is the use of American bombs against the Muslims as they used against the Japanese. Says, we fear the American bombs, not the Pakistani bombs. At least the Pakistani bombs are controlled by Muslims.

Beyond Pakistan

  • “Yes, we send and will send our boys into Afghanistan for jihad.”
  • Denied links to India, Iran, etc. Says his successes are due to the grace of God.  Skirts issue of funding source.  Says their arsenal comes from booty taken from opponents.

The PML-Q’s Negative Campaigning

The back page of today’s Khabrain, a leading Pakistan daily, features an interesting political advertisement from Musharraf’s faction of the Muslim League party (PML-Q). [Topi tip: Ali]

The ad paints rival Nawaz Sharif as an agenda-less political opportunist who leans in the direction the political wind blows at the time.

Sharif, once a Zia ul-Haq protege, is shown on the right praying at his grave next to Zia’s son. Below, he’s quoted as saying, “I will complete General Zia ul-Haq’s mission.” On the left, he’s shown at the grave of Benazir Bhutto (an archenemy of Zia), praying alongside senior PML-N leader Javed Hashmi. Below, he’s quoted as saying, “I will complete Benazir Bhutto’s mission.”

Since Sharif’s return to Pakistan, the PML-Q has tried to paint him as a follower, first of Benazir Bhutto (with insinuations against his masculinity) and now the PPP in general. PML-Q President Shujaat Hussain descibed him as part of the PPP’s “B-team.

The bold red text on the bottom of the advertisement asks (presumably both Nawaz Sharif and the reader), “What is your mission?”

The PML-Q has turned to negative campaigning because it has little positive to run on.  Once emboldened by a huge, deficit-running election-year budget, the achievements variably associated with it are vanishing.  Pakistan is in the midst of one of its worst political and security crisis ever.  Additionally, the country faces serious energy and wheat shortages. Surprisingly, Pervaiz Elahi–likely the PML-Q’s prime ministerial candidate/leader in the National Assembly) has blamed all this on none other than former Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, a party member.

The party has reportedly changed its strategy, focusing on winning Punjab and not the national elections.  Both the PPP and PML-N will siphon off votes from the PML-Q, which has most recently governed Punjab.  It has tried to play the ethnic/provincial card by casting the PPP as a Sindhi party and the post-Bhutto assassination violence as against non-Sindhis.  But Nawaz Sharif is its major threat in the province, Pakistan’s largest and source of over 50% of its National Assembly seats.  Hence the effort to cast him as a flake and Sindhi tool.

The Collected Sayings of Shujaat Hussain
The Chaudhry cousins have dished out quite a bit of negative sound bites. Below are some selected gems from Shujaat Hussain (more to come):

Filling in the Blanks: Nat_____ Recon_________

Let’s Continue Our Conversation…in London
Shahbaz Sharif, president of the Muslim League-Nawaz, tells BBC Urdu that “If Musharraf becomes neutral and promises to hold the polls in a free and fair manner, talks can be held with him.” This is a major break with precedent. Previously the Sharif brothers have publicly ruled out any compromise with Musharraf.

It’s unclear whether Shahbaz’s statement has his brother’s endorsement, though this is highly likely. It could be that Shahbaz is playing good cop, while Nawaz plays bad cop. Additionally, Shahbaz is seen as more conciliatory than his older brother, which would provide Nawaz with some cover (i.e. creating the impression that his brother talked him down from the ledge). A less likely alternative is that Musharraf could be successfully playing one Sharif brother off of the other by offering Shahbaz, not Nawaz, a major position in the national unity government (perhaps prime minister).

Shahbaz has extended his stay in London, where he’ll meet with retired Brigadier Niaz Ahmed (they met in Islamabad over a week ago) and could meet with Pervez Musharraf, who has begun a four nation tour of Europe.

Musharraf will eventually make his way to London, but there are no meetings with government officials slated. Gordon Brown is currently in India, where he called for New Delhi’s addition to the UN Security Council. Musharraf could be avoiding Brown’s snub of Pakistan, but his trip is also designed to temper European opposition. Musharraf will also meet Niaz Ahmed. Prior to leaving Pakistan, Musharraf met with the emir of Abu Dhabi on Saturday. The emirate played host to a Bhutto-Musharraf meeting in July.

Zardari and Malik Qayyum Meet in Dubai
National reconciliation talks must, apparently, occur outside of Pakistan, and so Attorney General Malik Qayyum met with Asif Ali Zardari in Dubai on Saturday. Both left Pakistan in a curiously furtive fashion. The PPP has publicly remained open to dealing with Musharraf after the elections and strongly resist the idea of a national reconciliation government prior to the elections, as they’d delay the polls.

It’s a positive development if Musharraf is negotiating with both the Sharifs and Zardari in earnest. If he’s playing them off of each other, then Musharraf is playing with fire.

Opposition Tours the U.S.
Several opposition figures are on a tour of the United States. Sherry Rehman and Javaid Laghari, both of the People’s Party, will be speaking at the Brookings Institution tomorrow. Imran Khan will be on a multi-city tour, speaking at organizations such as Amnesty International and CSIS and in Pakistani community events, which seem to be fund raisers for his Tehreek-e Insaaf Party.

Fazlur Rahman: Saudi Challo
Maulana Fazlur Rahman was noticeably absent from the public since the news reporting serious threats against him. And he’s done what he seems to do often in challenging moments, go to Saudi Arabia.

Geo Back
Earlier last week, Talat Hussain returned to AAJ television to host his weeknightly public affairs program. In his first show back on air, Talat said he’s back with no strings attached. But it seems as if the show (Live with Talat) is now taped, not live (in accordance with the new media control rules). There is also little mention of the judiciary issue. Nonetheless, the show remains engaging and informative.

GEO News also returned to the air waves today sans their most popular political talk show hosts, Hamid Mir and Shahid Masood. Kashif Abbasi, another prominent television journalist, remains off of ARY One World.

Back to the Barracks
Chief of Army Staff Gen. Ashfaq Kayani has recalled a number of active military officers from cushy positions within the civilian bureaucracy. This follows his earlier move barring senior officers from meeting with politicians.

Thursday Round-Up: National Reconciliation; Splitting the Taliban; Army Defends Atta; Aitzaz’s Back

Pakistan continues along a mixed, though largely negative trajectory as the spate of urban suicide bombing continues and insurgents make bold moves in South Waziristan, while the army strengthens its control over Swat and leaders flinch toward national reconciliation. The army’s immediate workload increases, but Gen. Ashfaq Kayani takes clear steps to depoliticize the institution. In both Pakistan and Afghanistan, efforts toward dividing and containing the Taliban continue. Election campaigning proceeds, though in a less spirited fashion prior to Benazir Bhutto’s assassination.

Terrorist Strikes Shi’a Gathering in Peshawar
A teenage suicide bomber clad in black struck an imambargah, a site for ritualistic mourning for Shi’a Muslims, in Peshawar today, the seventh day of the month of Muharram. This month is significant for all Muslims, but it holds a particular importance for the Shi’a. Their commemoration crescendos on the tenth day, Ash’ura, as they mourn the martyrdom of Imam Hussain. Ash’ura falls on Sunday; the army, local police, and private mosque security squads are under high alert. However, that will not preclude attacks such as today’s from occurring. The bomber that struck the imambargah today detonated his device after being stopped by police, killing ten individuals. Targeting the Shi’a is a major point of convergence for al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and various southern Punjabi Sunni militant groups.

Swat and Getting Swatted
Pakistan’s army continues to make gains in Swat, a settled, scenic valley in the North-West Frontier Province. According to Director General Military Operations Maj. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, Operation Rah-e Haq has been successfully completed. The army, he says, established its hold over the area in late December, killing or apprehending major militants associated with Maulana Fazlullah, who remains holed up in a mountainous area packed in by recent heavy snowfall. It is now making steps toward issuing a compensation and development package for the area and has replaced Fazlullah’s FM radio station with several of its own. The speed and effectiveness of the government’s resettlement of internally displaced people and restoring the civil administration and political parties remains significant. Half-hearted measures will only result in local discontent that Fazlullah or a subsequent variant can feed off of.

In a marked contrast to the government’s military success in Swat, it continues to struggle in South Waziristan. This week, two forts were taken over by insurgents, who had little trouble combating the undertrained and ill-equipped paramilitary Frontier Corps. Their Wednesday night attack on a fort, which they held and then withdrew from, was made by a group of 200-1,000 men, overwhelming the 40 FC troops stationed there.

This large scale attack by neo-Taliban affiliated with Baitullah Mehsud is the first of its kind as guerrilla tactics are normally used. If this marks a strategic shift for Mehsud, it is both an alarming development for Pakistan’s military as well as a potential source of opportunity. Its success in Swat was partially precipitated by the overstretching of Maulana Fazlullah’s forces, though Fazlullah’s group is vastly smaller and less sophisticated and armed than Mehsud’s. And so if Mehsud’s forces press toward Pakistani military installations in large numbers, they provide an opportunity to be eliminated in larger numbers of them in a short amount of time with an aerial assault. That is why Mehsud group did not hold on to the fort in Wednesday night’s attack.

U.S. Special Forces’ counterinsurgency training of Pakistan’s Frontier Corps accelerates this year, but there’s no indication that any substantive progress will be achieved before the spring. In the interim, Pakistan could benefit by goading Mehsud into adopting more conventional and exposing tactics.

Tea with the Taliban
As the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan sat and drank chai with former Taliban leader and now Musa Qala governor Abdul Salaam, the strategy of dividing and containing (or incorporating) the Taliban continues in Pakistan. The federal government is exploiting the traditional and on-going rivalries between the Ahmedzai Wazirs and the Mehsuds in Southern Waziristan. It could be imposing a blockade of sorts on the Mehsuds, to the advantage of the Ahmedzais. Curbing the flow of drugs and other illicit contrabands will weaken the Mehsuds, but it’s unclear as to whether the Pakistani military is effectively declaring war on the Mehsud tribe or whether it’s trying to make them see Baitullah Mehsud as a source of their problems.

Eurotrip: The National Reconciliation Tour
On Saturday, Muslim League-Nawaz President Shahbaz Sharif met in Islamabad with Niaz Ahmed, a retired military officer who serves as an intermediary between the Sharif brothers and Pervez Musharraf. The octogenarian retired brigadier was an army instructor to Pervez Musharraf and is well-respected by the Sharif brothers due to past favors. He reportedly presented Shahbaz, the younger Sharif, with an offer straight from Musharraf to take part in a national unity government before the elections and have a considerable role thereafter. The Sharifs were also requested to tone down their criticism of Musharraf.

Shahbaz reportedly replied that he’d have to have discuss any offer with his elder brother, Nawaz, who was nearby in the resort town of Murree. After being caught leaving Ahmed’s Islamabad home by spunky Pakistani journalists, Shahbaz described his meeting with Ahmed as a “courtesy call.” Coincidentally, he also met the Saudi ambassador to Pakistan, Ali Awadh Asseri. The Saudis have a keen interest in seeing the return of the Sharifs to power and have for years played a role in managing Sharif-Musharraf relations.

And in yet another coincidence, Shahbaz Sharif, Pervez Musharraf, and Niaz Ahmed will all be in London this Friday. Shahbaz claims he’s going to London for medical treatment, but there’s no sign his hair plugs need re-alignment.

As of now, Nawaz Sharif, who is seen by some as less compromising than his brother, has continued his call for a national unity government without Pervez Musharraf. But he has called for a re-scheduling of elections so that new election commission could be formed, headed by deposed Supreme Court Justice Rana Baghwandas, enabling the participation of Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e Insaaf and the Jamaat-e Islami. The PPP strongly rejected Sharif’s proposal.

The elections delay serves the interest of all parties save the PPP, which will lose the sympathy vote as we get further away from Benazir Bhutto’s death. This brings up some significant questions in regard to the national reconciliation talk.

Is it an attempt by Musharraf to divide and control the opposition? Until now, the PML-N has been following the lead of the PPP. Is that changing? Does the PML-N share an interest with Musharraf in checking the PPP, particularly in Punjab? We’ll probably get a good sense this weekend as to the status of the Sharif-Musharraf talks.

Where’s the PPP in all this? Earlier this week, there was a rumored meeting between Musharraf and Asif Zardari, which the PPP denied. But Amin Fahim, the PPP vice chairman, likely met Musharraf around a week ago. PPP spokesman Farhatullah Babar said that “all options are open” in regard to cooperation with Musharraf after the elections.

And what about the PML-Q? Earlier this week, Pervaiz Elahi, always on the attack, said that “all those parties after smelling their defeat in the upcoming general elections are giving suggestions for formation of the national government which has no constitutional, ethical and democratic reasons.” But then Chaudhry Shujaat, his cousin, stated yesterday that his party will form a national unity government after the elections and will invite the PPP and PML-N.

Pakistan will likely see some form of a national unity government. But it remains to be seen as to whether it will be formed before or after the elections, with or without Pervez Musharraf, and all the parties, including the PML-Q.

Kayani’s De-Politicization of the Army
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ashfaq Kayani issued an order prohibiting army officers from meeting with politicians. When the directive was first reported, it was unclear as to whether Pervez Musharraf, now a civilian president, was included in the category of politicians. After all, he still lives in the military’s headquarters. Retired Gen. Mirza Aslam Beg, a former chief of army staff, tells the Daily Times that meeting with Musharraf is also prohibited, but there was no confirmation from government sources. New Inter-Services Public Relations spokesperson Athar Abbas also distanced the army from Musharraf’s claim that Benazir Bhutto was not popular with the Pakistani army.

But Army Has More Duties
While the army might be doing less politicking, its burden has now increased. It has now been tasked with defense of the country’s increasingly scarce wheat supplies. This is on top of its responsibilities in fighting insurgencies, defending Pakistan’s borders, and providing security for some of Pakistan’s major cities after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

Today, Gen. Kayani met with junior commissioned and non-commissioned army officers. He emphasized his two major themes of improving the army’s “professional excellence” as the standard of living for all of those in its ranks. But importantly, he emphasized that the army’s primary duty is to defend the country’s borders.

Aitzaz Ahsan’s Return to the PPP
The spirit of reconciliation is alive. Asif Zardari will reportedly promote Aitzaz Ahsan to People’s Party vice chairman. This is a move to push the PPP in Punjab. As I noted earlier, Zardari will be moving to Lahore to build up the party there. But this also marks a challenge to the PML-N and PML-Q, whose support base is almost exclusively in that province.  Aitzaz was paid a visit by Attorney General Malik Qayyum, who reportedly offered an end to his house arrest if he hushed up about the judges issue.

The Travails of Maulana Diesel
It hasn’t been a good week or so for Maulana Fazlur Rahman. He’s been staying indoors lately as a result of the reported assassination threats made against him. His party, the JUI-F, is facing some turbulence; it recently expelled 18 party members. Fazl tells BBC Urdu that a senior Punjab official replied to his request for security by stating, “No money, no security.”

The Pakistani Army Returns to Dhaka

Breaking News: Bomb Blast in Karachi

Earlier this evening, a bomb blast struck Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, in the vicinity of Gul Ahmed Chowrangi in the Quaidabad area. Ten individuals have been killed and over forty injured.

The attack targeted ordinary pedestrians in a fruit and vegetable market area during a peak grocery shopping hour. The bomb blast also occurred in close proximity to the gate of a factory, perhaps that of Gul Ahmed Textiles Mills, Pakistan’s largest home textiles exporter. But it appears as if the attack took place too late to target workers leaving the facility.

There is no real indication that the operation was a suicide mission. Eyewitnesses indicate that the bomb blast occurred near a motorcycle, but conflict as to whether or not an individual was seated on the vehicle. However, Sindh police chief Azher Farooqi tells the BBC that the explosives were hidden underneath a fruit cart.

This area of Karachi has, for many years, been home to violence between various political parties and ethnic groups. Leading officials in both the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and Jamaat-e Islami (JI) issued their immediate condemnations of the attacks on Pakistani television. Later, condemnations were issued by members of other parties in Pakistan, including the PPP, PML-N, and Awami National Party (ANP).

Pathans constitute a large percentage of Quaidabad’s residents. Over an hour later, a third blast was reported elsewhere in Pakistan, targeting the election office of the Awami National Party, which promotes Pathan/Pashtun nationalism. In between the two bombings in Karachi and Peshawar, there was another blast, reportedly at a bakery in an industrial area in Hub, Balochistan–again, during a peak grocery shopping period of the day. It is unclear as to whether they are related. However, if the area in Hub had a strong Pathan labor population, then the common thread linking today’s three explosions could be that they targeted Pathan civilians.

Interestingly, Pervez Musharraf is currently in Karachi–but nowhere near the site of the attacks.

Beyond Bhutto: Pakistan Two Weeks After the Assassination

Pakistan has moved forward in the two weeks since the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, but toward what exactly remains unclear. The country has displayed a capacity to sustain high-levels of violence, but with economic pressures and social divisions rising, one wonders what is the tipping point.

Musharraf Hangs in the Balance
Stuck in a gray zone, Pervez Musharraf has neither increased nor decreased in power. That is not to say that the political dynamics surrounding him have changed. They have been vastly altered with the murder of Benazir Bhutto.

Bhutto would have served both as an asset for Musharraf as well as a source of consternation. In the short to midterm, her electoral participation would have effectively validated his presidency; her ascendancy to the premiership would be even more of a plus, especially in the eyes of Washington.

Conceivably, Bhutto could have provided Musharraf with the capacity to mobilize public support for campaigns against al-Qaeda and the Taliban. In reality, their partnership, if it ever took hold, would have been exclusive and those left out–namely Nawaz Sharif–would logically make the anti-terror campaign a wedge issue, especially with its American origins.

Furthermore, in the mid to long-term (or even sooner), Bhutto would have pressed for a reduction of Musharraf’s presidential powers and, at the opportune moment, his ouster. For much of 2007, Bhutto was maneuvering for a third shot at the premiership. The assumption that she would remain content with a neutered office is naive.

Musharraf remains in power, in a sense, by default. There is a lack of a capable and willing alternative. Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, as explained below, has other priorities at the moment. Interested and influential parties are waiting for the elections to produce a new government. Afterwards, evaluations could be made as to whether the new premier constitutes a working partner for Musharraf or a viable and willing alternative to him.

Things are not getting better for Musharraf. His achievements–sustained economic growth, a vibrant and free media, and managing of foreign pressure–are crumbling before his eyes, or better put, in his hands. Should there be any improvement in the security situation in the Frontier Province and FATA, Gen. Kayani–not Musharraf–would likely get the credit. Elections roundly seen as free and fair, while improving his standing, would give his political opponents perhaps overwhelming leverage.

Perhaps Musharraf is sensing the tide. For the second time, Musharraf said yesterday that he would resign from the presidency if the new parliament sought to impeach him. Is this a sign of a weary Musharraf or a threat to external forces pressing for democracy?

Shortly after Musharraf’s coup, his brother told the New York Times that he’d give him the following advice: ”Look, don’t overstay and end up like previous martial law governments. They were thrown out by the people….If he becomes corrupted by power, I’ll be uncomfortable. I hope he does his job, holds elections and gets out.”

His brother, whose wise advice was not heeded, must be uncomfortable now.

Kayani’s Campaign
Since his rise to public notoriety late last year, Chief of Army Staff Gen. Ashfaq Kayani has remained both mysterious and a recipient of fairly unguarded praise. Kayani reportedly has no aspirations to political power, but then again the same was said of Pakistan’s last two general-presidents as well as former Chief of Army Staff Gen. Aslam Beg. A “soldier’s soldier,” his priority is revamping Pakistan’s army. He’d like to win the multiple insurgencies and restore the military’s morale and good name in the country.

Toward this, Kayani declared 2008 the “year of the soldier” and announced various measures to improve services for low-mid level and non-commissioned officers. Additionally, he asserted in a meeting of the corps commanders last week that victory in the nation’s various security challenges requires “will of the people and their support.” Since Pakistan’s elections are a month away, Kayani is likely publicly expressing his insistence that elections largely be free and fair.

Interestingly, the portrayals of Kayani in the Pakistani discourse are almost, if not completely, highly positive. Additionally, there is also a gradually rising call (both direct and indirect) for Kayani to ‘relieve’ Pakistan of Pervez Musharraf (à la the Pakistan National Alliance vs. Bhutto in 1977) . Even if Kayani has ruled out such an option, as it would distract him from his military priorities, he could be compelled to make such a move. But Pakistan’s opposition could have unreasonable expectations of Kayani–specifically in terms of the pace he’d reduce the military’s political role. Its economic role is another story.

Plan C in the Making?
Pervez Musharraf was Washington’s Plan A for Pakistan. As Musharraf’s hold on power began to deteriorate this year, the Bush administration devised a Plan B, pairing him with Benazir Bhutto and having Gen. Kayani in the background. That plan effectively died with the late Benazir Bhutto. But Washington’s made no indication of a reversion to Plan A, a Musharraf-only policy. Instead, it has begun courting the PPP’s Amin Fahim and the PML-N’s Nawaz Sharif. Engagement of Asif Ali Zardari seems to be not so vigorous.

After supporting Nawaz Sharif’s deportation from Pakistan in September 2007, the U.S. is now slowly building ties with him. Washington reportedly convinced Sharif not to boycott the elections after Bhutto’s assassination, but the PPP’s decision to continue on with participation was clearly also a factor. As to how far Washington will go with Nawaz is unclear. The highest U.S. official he’s met with has been the ambassador, but it seems as if visiting congressmen and senators haven’t made even a phone call. Senator Joe Lieberman did meet with Sharif’s deputy Raja Zafarul Haq.

Rumblings in Waziristan and the NWFP
Retired Lt. Gen. Ali Mohammad Jan Orakzai resigned as governor of the North-West Frontier Province. Orakzai, who hails from the Tribal Areas and favored dialogue with the neo-Taliban, has been replaced by Owais Ghani, who was governor of the restive Balochistan province prior to his appointment. Ghani’s appointment is yet another instance in which Musharraf has recirculated a loyalist to a critical position. Previously, he appointed Senate Chairman Muhammad Mian Soomro (first in line in presidential succession) as caretaker prime minister.

Orakzai reportedly had wide latitude over efforts to stabilize the Tribal Areas, even supplanting the military there. His replacement is seen by some as an indication of heightened military operations in the area. After all, Ghani presided over the aggressive counterinsurgency campaign in Balochistan which crescendoed with the assassination of its leader Akbar Bugti.

These developments, however, need not mean the end of dialogue with the neo-Taliban. Pakistan’s central government is taking advantage of, and perhaps encouraging, divisions among the tribes in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. It will be dividing South Waziristan into two divisions, one for the Ahmedzai Wazirs and the other for the Mehsuds. Fissures between the Ahmedzai Wazirs and Mehsuds are growing, with Maulvi Nazir (an Ahmedzai Wazir) accusing Mehsuds (one of whom is Baitullah Mehsud) of being behind the murder of nine of his supporters. He claims they are under the influence of Uzbeks.

Meanwhile, Interior Minister Hamid Nawaz claimed on Tuesday that a major operation to apprehend Baitullah Mehsud was in the works. Meanwhile, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced the addition of 3,000 marines to Afghanistan.

The Ethnic Card and Dirty Politics
The assassination of Benazir Bhutto, a Sindhi, has rekindled ethnic divisions in Pakistan to some degree. Both Bhutto’s widower, Asif Ali Zardari, and her son, Bilawal, have made repeated calls for national unity and the preservation of Pakistan’s federation. In fact, Zardari will be moving to Lahore–Punjab’s capital–and seek to reinforce the PPP’s national reach.

However, the Chaudhry cousins (Shujaat Hussain and Pervaiz Elahi), leading figures in Musharraf’s faction of the Muslim League (PML-Q), have sought to play the ethnic card and push for a greater bloc of the Punjabi vote. The PML-Q in Punjab briefly posted advertisements calling for compensation only for non-Sindhis (i.e. Muhajirs, Punjabis, and perhaps Pathans) in the damage from riots ensuing after Bhutto’s murder.

Pervaiz Elahi accused Zardari of being behind his wife’s murder, saying: “Who has benefited from the tragedy? Zardari, and only Zardari. Check the authenticity of her will. Find out the amount for which she was insured.” He also accused Zardari and Sharif of being behind the post-assassination riots.

Granted, Zardari did label the PML-Q the Qatil League (Killer League). But the divisiveness of the Chaudhry cousins, and most importantly its ethnic bent, is dangerous could contribute to Pakistan’s destabilization.

Shortages and Outages
Pakistan’s economic woes have exacerbated in recent weeks. Energy shortages have resulted in nation-wide blackouts (for a few hours) and the closure of factories for several weeks. Wheat, already priced astronomically for Pakistani wages, is now in immensely short supply. The caretaker government was to have issued a relief package for Pakistan’s textile industry–the country’s major source of exports–but it has balked at doing so. In the interim, the industry has continued to decline as a result of non-competitive pricing and sustained violence and instability in Karachi, Pakistan’s major port city. The United States is the largest importer of Pakistani textiles; a decline in U.S. consumption in 2008 would constitute yet another blow to troubled exporters.

Terror in Lahore: The Managed Chaos Continues

Earlier this afternoon local time, a suicide bomber attacked a group of police gathered near Lahore’s High Court, the scene of renewed protests by Pakistan’s lawyers’ movement. The attack killed approximately 23 people and injured over 60.

The bomber did not appear to attack protesters, but took opportunity to target an event in which government security personnel–in this case, police officers–would be assembled in large concentrations (à la police training in Iraq).

What is most significant about this attack is that it occurred in Lahore, which is Pakistan’s second largest city and has largely been immune from Pakistan’s deterioration of law and order. Lahore is distinct from Karachi, which has been home to varying waves of violence for over 20 years, in its ethnic homogeneity and vastly greater quality of life. Lahore, in many senses, is a city that works; Karachi, is an overwhelmed and misgoverned basket case.

And so the arrival of suicidal terror in Lahore is all the more alarming. It suggests that the extremist elements responsible for the violence, if they are part of a single entity, can hit any part of Pakistan at will. In the past year or so, suicide blasts have hit all of Pakistan’s major cities: Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi, Islamabad, Peshawar, and Quetta. Almost 3,500 Pakistanis were killed in 2007 terror attacks. The terror wave has targeted both individual senior Pakistani figures (politicians in and outside of government and military officers) as well as concentrations of low-ranked government officers.

WHO AND WHAT IS NEXT?
The level of violence in Pakistan has been sustained and its crescendo is nowhere in sight. Today’s attack in Lahore comes after the Pakistani army was to have made a renewed effort to apprehend Baitullah Mehsud, allegedly behind Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, though this operation could be delayed by the massive snowfall in Pakistan’s northwest. It is conceivable that today’s attacks were a message from Mehsud intending to restrain the Pakistani government.

But with the start of the month of Muharram tonight–significant to all Muslims, but to the Shi’a in particular–and the elections slated for February 18, the wave of terror is likely to continue, if not worsen. Karachi is under a red alert and the army remains in the city, but that does not preclude the possibility of sectarian attacks there. Tomorrow is Friday and congregational prayers are frequent targets in sectarian attacks.

Even more destabilizing would be a successful attack on a senior politician. There are reports of threats against Nawaz Sharif and Maulana Fazlur Rahman. The assassination of Fazl would fragment his party’s control of the North-West Frontier Province, potentially creating an opening for the neo-Taliban. The murder of Sharif would set much of urban Punjab against Pervez Musharraf, though his brother Shahbaz (a former chief minister of Punjab) is more than capable to fill in his shoes.

Both events would place Pakistan further on the path of ethnic and provincial fragmentation. Moreover, it would decisively eliminate any sort of balance between Pervez Musharraf and the opposition parties. This would create an unmanageable scenario in which Musharraf’s popularity plummets (yes, there is room for decline) while the political opposition to him, however sizable, lacks a clear leadership. In the balance, Pakistan’s army would be ascendant; but neither would this be in its corporate interests, nor would its cohesiveness remain immune to the centrifugal forces.

Pakistan is in an election season–naturally a partisan affair–and, at the same time, there are forces pulling the country apart at the seams. If there is any good Pervez Musharraf can offer his country at this point, it can be an assertive effort to maintain inter-ethnic and sectarian solidarity in his country. This requires partnering with opposition political figures in ensuring their security and restraining the PML-Q’s use of ethnic chauvinism.

The Fazl Factor

Nicholas Schmidle’s article in this week’s New York Times Magazine on the “Next-Gen Taliban” is one of the most solid stories in recent years on Pakistan’s challenges in its northwest region.  Most foreign commentators and journalists focus exclusively on the area’s security predicament, as if it were entirely distinct from its politics and politicians.

At the center of the North-West Frontier Province’s politics is the scruffy looking, orange turbaned Maulana Fazlur Rahman.  Schmidle’s piece is largely a profile of Fazl, who is also derisively known as “Maulana Diesel” for his alleged role in a fuel sale scandal.

In fact, Schmidle argues that Fazl seeks, and is perhaps best suited, to solve the security crisis in Pakistan’s frontier and tribal areas.  This idea could be gaining some currency.  Late last year, Fazl met with U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Anne Armstrong.  Fazl tells Schmidle that Armstrong asked him to “form an electoral alliance with Benazir Bhutto and Musharraf.”  He’s come a long way since leading anti-U.S. protests during the American invasion of Afghanistan.  Now Fazl reportedly is a target of the neo-Taliban and al-Qaeda and alienated some in his party.

Schmidle, however, is insufficiently cynical of Fazl’s intentions and fails to account for his emerging national role.   Specifically, he doesn’t address Fazl’s aspirations to become Pakistan’s next prime minister, which (however fantastical) figure into his calculus.  This helps explain why he’s been there for Musharraf every time the latter’s needed him; though Fazl led the opposition in the previous parliament, he acted in the government’s interest when it most needed him.

Though the odds of Maulana Diesel becoming Maulana Prime Minister are low, he could decide who’ll be the next prime minister.  Should a single party fail to get a majority in the National Assembly elections, his party will be courted by the major vote getters to form a coalition.  Fazl will certainly ask for the premiership in return; what he’ll actually get remains to be seen.

Editor:

Arif Rafiq, a Washington, DC-based consultant on Middle East and South Asian political and security issues. [About]

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Arif Rafiq regularly appears on the John Batchelor Show Friday nights from 09:30-10:00pm Eastern Time. Tune your dial to 770AM in New York or 630AM in DC. The show appears on affiliates in other cities. Listen live online at WABCRadio.com.
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