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Pakistan’s Army Heads into the Belly of the Beast

Here’s a link to my latest blog post at ForeignPolicy.com’s Af-Pak Channel. It’s on the Pakistan Army’s upcoming ground operations in South Waziristan.

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Attack on Prime Minister Gilani’s Convoy; U.S. Enters South Waziristan, Pakistan

The vehicle of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani was reportedly attacked today by at least one gunman.  Two shots were fired and hit what seems to be the driver’s side of his vehicle.  It does not appear that the bullets penetrated the bullet-proof glass.  Gilani, who was en route to his residence from Islamabad airport, was unharmed.

Also, today U.S. forces entered Pakistani soil in a ground attack on Angor Ada, South Waziristan — a previous target of multiple Predator drone missile strikes.

Today’s raid was on the home of a local tribesman, Payo Jan Wazir.  According to a local resident, ten persons in the home were killed, including three women and two children.  An additional five civilians were killed.  Therefore, according to local reports, ten out of the fifteen killed were civilians.

BBC Urdu reports that 20 persons were killed in the attack.  The news service adds that, according to locals, the attacks from three gunship helicopters occured at approximately 3AM local time.  They state that Pakistani security forces are stationed only 300 meters (984 feet) away.

The raid was presumably launched to kill or apprehend a high-value target.  Another report suggests that U.S. forces were engaged in hot pursuit of militants that crossed into Pakistan from Afghanistan.

Some reports claim that U.S. (and possibly Afghan) special forces operated on the ground as well.

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Bajaur Agency Missile Strike Targets Maulvi Obaidullah

GEO News reports of a missile attack tonight in Damadola, Bajaur Agency, where a January 2006 U.S. strike targeted al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri. BBC Urdu, citing a Taliban spokesman, states that the strike occured at approximately 8PM local time (11AM New York/Washington).

Local residents tell GEO that one home has been destroyed. According to the station, fourteen people have been killed.

Aaj Television reports that the target was Maulvi Obaidullah of the Tehreek-e Nifaz-e Shariat-e Muhammadi (TNSM). Their correspondent also says, according to locals, Maulvi Obaidullah’s brother has been killed. Obaidullah’s fate is unclear.

Taliban spokesman Maulvi Umar told GEO that most of the casualties were local residents. The GEO correspondent also reported that the area’s mobile phone networks were having operational difficulty.



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Two Reports on Pakistan-Afghanistan Insurgencies

General Accountability Office, “The United States Lacks Comprehensive Plan to Destroy the Terrorist Threat and Close the Safe Haven in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas.” [PDF]

  • “The United States has not met its national security goals to destroy the terrorist threat and close the safe haven in Pakistan’s FATA region. Since 2002, the United States has relied principally on the Pakistani military to address its national security goals. There have been limited efforts, however, to address other underlying causes of terrorism in the FATA by providing development assistance or by addressing the FATA’s political needs. Of the over $10.5 billion that the United States has provided to Pakistan from 2002 through 2007, we identified about $5.8 billion specifically for Pakistan’s FATA and border region; about 96 percent of this funding reimbursed Pakistan for military operations in the FATA and the border region. According to Defense and State Department officials, Pakistan deployed up to 120,000 military and paramilitary forces in the FATA and killed and captured hundreds of suspected al Qaeda operatives. In October 2007, State reported that it had determined that Pakistan was making ‘significant’ progress toward eliminating the safe haven in the FATA. However, we found broad agreement, as documented in the unclassified 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), State and embassy documents, as well as among Defense, State, and other officials, including those operating in Pakistan, that al Qaeda had regenerated its ability to attack the United States and had succeeded in establishing a safe haven in Pakistan’s FATA.”
  • “We are recommending that the National Security Advisor and the Director of the NCTC, in consultation with the Secretaries of Defense and State, the Administrator of USAID, the intelligence community, and other executive departments as deemed appropriate, work to develop a comprehensive plan using all elements of national power to combat the terrorist threat and close the associated safe haven in Pakistan’s FATA region.”

Daniel Korski, “Afghanistan: Europe’s forgotten war,” European Council on Foreign Relations. [PDF]

  • “The international coalition should agree on a strategy led by political rather than military goals. This should include: outreach to the Taliban…regional cooperation…”
  • “It will also be necessary to address the causes of Pakistan’s quest for ‘strategic depth’ – its fears of encirclement by India. Delhi’s assistance to Afghanistan has been considerable with Indian-donated Tata buses now an obvious part of Kabul’s public transportation system. India is also making important contributions to Afghan education, including rebuilding Habibia High School in Kabul, and President Karzai – who was educated in India – has visited Delhi several times. But this support is seen in Islamabad – and perhaps even more so in the Pakistani military headquarters in Rawalphindi – as part of a deliberate strategy to encircle Pakistan.”
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Pakistani Taliban: We Won’t Interfere in Elections; We Didn’t Kidnap Pakistani Ambassador

Maulvi Omar, the spokesperson for the Baitullah Mehsud-led Tehreek-e Taliban-e Pakistan (Taliban Movement of Pakistan) tells BBC Urdu that his organization will abide by its pre-election ceasefire commitment and would not derail the process.

He told Reuters, “Neither do we support the process of the election nor do we have any opposition to it and if any attack takes place before or on election day, our mujahid won’t be involved in it.”

Omar also stated that his group has no links to or knowledge behind the kidnapping of Pakistan Ambassador to Afghanistan Tariq Azizuddin.

A report from al-Jazeera (apparently by Ahmad Zaidan), channeled through GEO TV and some Pakistani dailies, claims that local Taliban seized Azizuddin with the intent to exchange him for Mansoor Dadullah, an Afghan Taliban figure arrested by Pakistani security forces on the same day.

Since Mehsud has limited control over other Taliban factions, it is conceivable that Taliban local to the Khyber Agency (one of the seven tribal areas) are responsible. The area, however, is also proliferate with general bandits.

Aside from the major question of who kidnapped Azizuddin, it remains unclear why the Pakistani ambassador traveled to Kabul from Peshawar, his home city, by car when flights are regular. One report claims he was to stop by the Pakistani consulate in Jalalabad. Was his specific business could be related to his disappearance? Interestingly, while the Pakistani government has not yet confirmed that Azizuddin was kidnapped, Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai seems to insist that he was, which begets the question of what does he know.

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Baitullah Mehsud: Militants Unite As Taliban Movement of Pakistan

In an interview with BBC Urdu, the South Waziristan neo-Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud says that the assortment of militant groups in Pakistan’s seven tribal agencies and neighboring Malakand region of the NWFP (including Swat) have united under a new umbrella named the “Taliban Movement of Pakistan” (TMP) or Tehreek-e Taliban-e Pakistan.

The movement is led by Mehsud as amir and Maulvi Omar as spokesperson. TMP consists of a 40 member shura (advisory) council and was formed in a meeting of 20 representatives of the neo-Taliban, concluding a month or so of continuous talks.

Mehsud said the new organization’s objective vis-a-vis the government is to unite the neo-Taliban’s disparate, localized groups so that it can deliver the next government a “complete response” to “set its mind straight.”

Maulvi Omar stated that the TMP provide a unified council that would engage or oppose the government on behalf of all member groups. This would bring an end to the localized and discordant neo-Taliban dealings with the government, noting that the government is crushing the neo-Taliban in Swat, while there are talks being conducted in Bajaur, and accords have been made in Waziristan.

He gave the Pakistani military a ten day ultimatum to:

  • cease its operations in Swat and vacate the territory;
  • close its checkpoints in in North and South Waziristan and Swat;
  • release the previous khateeb of the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque), Maulana Abdul Aziz Ghazi, as well as other neo-Taliban prisoners.

Omar added that his group’s fundamental goal has been to oppose or impede the U.S. and NATO presence in Afghanistan, but because of the Pakistani government’s “incorrect policies”, it was compelled to wage a “defensive jihad” within the country.

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Negroponte on the Hill: Pakistan’s future is too vital to our interests to ignore or downgrade

NOTE: Bush in joint press conference with France’s Sarkozy speaks of his telephone conversation with Musharraf in which he told him, “You can’t be the president and the head of the military at the same time.” He added that extremism can’t be beaten with extremist tactics.

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Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte just completed his testimony on Pakistan before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Here are the highlights:

  • Pakistan is a country vital to U.S. interests;
  • Cooperation with Pakistan is critical to U.S. and NATO’s cause in Afghanistan and contributes heavily to efforts in war on terror;
  • Pakistan was “founded on a democratic mandate” and has made “fitful” progress toward the idea of democratic civilian rule. It “seemed” to be on that path till recently.
  • State “strongly counseled against” the imposition of emergency rule but Pakistan’s leadership chose not to follow that advice.
  • Over time the U.S.-Pakistan relationship has been tumultuous, but after 9/11 Musharraf decided to ally with us. We are together with the Pakistanis in the fight against al-Qaeda.
  • Many Pakistanis have said that the U.S. has not been a consistent partner. There is, however, no question that Americans have a stake in Pakistan. There is no question that the U.S. should be closely engaged in helping the Pakistani people fight violent extremism and shaping a democratic Pakistan.
  • We strongly disagree with the current government’s decisions, but this should not translate into disengagement.
  • Since 9/11:
    • the Pakistani government has arrested or killed more al-Qaeda and Taliban than any other country;
    • Pakistan’s economy has grown rapidly;
    • civil society and media have grown “events of of recent days notwithstanding”;
      • There is a more participatory national debate;
      • Human rights and civil society organizations are more prominent than in the past;
      • Pakistan has become a more moderate and prosperous country since Musharraf has come into power;
      • But only civilian democracy can secure a prosperous future for Pakistan.
  • “We” urge Musharraf to resign as chief of army staff before he takes the oath for a second term;
  • It won’t be a full transition to democracy, but an important step on that path;
  • The U.S. stands with the Pakistani people in urging the government to commit to holding elections as planned. We are doing our part through assistance program to improve electoral mechanisms;
  • Thanks to bi-partisan congressional support, assistance to Pakistan is accomplishing a great deal for the U.S. and the Pakistani people:
    • Earthquake assistance has had a positive impact generating goodwill that has lasted to this day;
    • FATA aid package will permanently open this challenged environment to government and opportunity; there are a wide range of programs for that area:
      • Security and law enforcement training;
      • Developmental assistance;
      • Democracy and human rights support;
      • Infrastructural aid;
    • This assistance and the Reconstruction Opportunity Zone legislation are critical to achieving our objectives in the war on terror.
  • Military training and Fulbright exchange programs are building essential bridges;
  • Cutting off these programs would send a negative signal to the Pakistani people;
  • Long-term engagement is the only option for the United States;
  • The U.S. cannot afford to have the on-again off-again relationship of the past;
  • Pakistan’s future is too vital to our interests to ignore or downgrade;
  • The challenge is to deal with the government that supports the Pakistani people and strengthens moderate center against violent extremism;
  • With strong Congressional support for the U.S.-Pakistan relationship since 2001, we’ve helped the Pakistanis move down the path of moderation, stability, democracy, and prosperity. We’re asking for Congressional support to renew our commitment to long-term partnership with the Pakistani people;
  • There is not a mission more deserving of our considered patience and steady engagement.

Q&A responses:

  • “I believe they [the Pakistani military] have their nuclear weapons under effective control.”
  • Electoral timetable should be adhered to. If the emergency measures are lifted in the near future, then there is still time to organize “reasonably fair and free elections.” The longer this emergency situation goes on, the more difficult the political atmosphere will become.
  • Strong preference is that the government terminate emergency ASAP and get country back on track. Sooner that happens, not only the better for Pakistan’s political development, but also less likely that some agonizing reappraisal of assistance program would be required.
  • A number of statutes govern assistance to Pakistan. State hasn’t really gotten to the point of looking to alternatives. Just cataloging of assistance programs and what is or might not be impacted by statues.
  • Judgment at the moment: There’s nothing that will be automatically triggered by the current situation. Everything is covered at the moment by appropriate waivers. But if the situation continues, it will undercut the political support for assistance, or certain aspects of it.
  • U.S. has a Pakistan policy, not a Musharraf policy. It’s not about one leader. It’s about: helping a country; helping institutions transition, electoral assistance; and developing FATA; support of Pakistani army and government in supporting us in Afghanistan.
  • “Basically the political future of Pakistan is for the people of Pakistan to decide.”
  • The longer this situation goes on the more difficult it is going to become.
  • “In the historical record, there were times that they [India] did try to take advantage of political instability in Pakistan” but don’t appear to be doing that now.”
  • If Musharraf doesn’t take off the uniform, there will be principal political repercussions inside Pakistan.
  • On Nawaz Sharif’s exile: That’s an issue between the government of Pakistan and Mr. Sharif. Apparently committed to staying out of the country for a decade – we’ll just have to see how that issue evolves.
  • Extremists are not many in number, but use more extreme methods and are dangerous in that regard.

Congressmen comments:

  • William Delahunt interrupted Negroponte and said, waving his finger and apparently angry, “I think the Pakistani people are on our side.”
  • Dana Rohrabacher: “It’s time to drop this guy [Musharraf]” and side with the moderates.
  • Elliot Engel: Nawaz Sharif also needs to come back.
  • Gary Ackerman: Musharraf a “necessary thug.”
  • Dan Burton: If we abandon Musharraf, same thing that happned in Iran with the Shah will happen in a nuclear Pakistan.
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The Sultan of Swat and the Challenge of Integrating Pakistan’s Periphery

ھر قدم فتنہ کے جانب؟

Pakistan’s security crises resemble the Whac-A-Mole game regularly found in amusement parks and fairs. The central government bashes — or at least attempts to — the head of insurgents in one area, only to find “miscreants” popping up elsewhere. The cycle continues with repeat offenders. Crises aren’t resolved — just temporarily contained. The containment strategy has served to keep these regions, as well as Pakistan as a whole, stagnant.

However, the potential danger of the coming months and years may leave one longing for stagnation. The words of Fatima Jinnah — Pakistan’s first female presidential candidate and sister of the country’s founder — expressed over fifty years ago have been proven to be prescient: “Those who resort to maneuvers and machinations only succeed in raising up Frankensteins, which ultimately threaten to devour them.”

Violence in Balochistan, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), and now Swat could spread further into the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) and even into pockets of Punjab and Sindh. The short-lasting but deadly bursts of violence in Pakistan’s major cities could also regularize.

Pakistan’s central government has had historically difficult relations with areas in the country’s periphery. These were the areas least modernized and integrated by the the British presence. Bureaucrats in the new Pakistani government, largely of Punjabi and Urdu-speaking Muhajir background, merely continued the role of their British predecessors. They interacted with locals via agents — largely, if not exclusively, traditional elites. While this process was mirrored to some extent in electoral politics in Punjab and Sindh, the hierarchy and distance was greater in the periphery.

In many senses, these elites provided an efficient way of dealing with insular communities populated in difficultly-accessible areas. However, central governments repeatedly failed to game plan a transition toward greater equity and representative governance in these areas. Due to a variety of reasons, it failed to establish its writ locally and provide basic services that would provide residents with a sense of national citizenry. They have failed to integrate the periphery with the center.

FATA
In FATA, Islamabad has been challenged by the area’s peculiar constitutional status. These areas were never formally integrated into British India; local notables (maliks) consented to joining Pakistan on the condition of that their autonomy would continue. Common folk in the region face dire poverty and severe backwardness; literacy rates, for example, are abysmally low — somewhere in the teens. The hegemony of traditional elites relies on the preservation of the area’s constitutional exceptionalism and prevailing hierarchy, as well as the subjugation of the common man. However, the rise of religious militancy since the 1980s — with the assistance of security agencies and foreign donors — has progressively challenged eroded the influence of these locals. Baitullah Mehsud and Haji Omar are prime examples of today’s Frankensteins produced by short-sighted or non-comprehensive policies of the past.

SWAT
Similarly in Swat, which was nominally integrated into the NWFP in the early 1970s, has witnessed the rise of a 28-year old upstart by the name of Maulana Fazlullah. He leads the outlawed Tehreek-e Nifaaz-e Shariat-e Muhammadi (TNSM), while his father-in-law — the group’s original leader — Sufi Muhammad, is in jail. TNSM’s capabilities declined significantly shorly after 2001, but the government’s meager response in the area to the 2005 earthquake boosted the group’s fortunes. Fazlullah’s group fills a void by providing law and order through his Talibanistic forces. Moreover, he has won the hearts and minds of many locals (including women) with his illegal FM radio station. TNSM has sought to impose its interpretation of Islam upon other Muslims and has also targeted non-Muslims. Their movement could potentially spread to nearby Chitral, where many residents practice a pre-Islamic tradition. Here, jihadi upstarts have also displaced local notables and mainstream political parties.

BALOCHISTAN
Balochistan faces an altogether different problem. The province has been and continues to be dominated by a hierarchy led by notables (nawabs/sardars). Resource rich, but otherwise desperately poor, the province has featured several proto-wars with Islamabad and at least two insurgencies. The tensions are exclusively ethnic-nationalist, not religious. The most recent insurgency was dealt a significant blow by the assassination of Nawab Akbar Bugti, an Oxford-educated Baloch notable, in 2006. Since then, the government has used a multi-pronged strategy to defeat the insurgency. Its non-military tactics include supplanting notables with the JUI-F, an Islamic party; capitalizing upon (and creating) divisions between and within Baloch tribes, as well as between Baloch and Pathans.

A recently released report by the International Crisis Group states, “Previous insurgencies were led by sardars but today’s insurgency is spearheaded by ordinary, middle-class Baloch.” This suggests that Pervez Musharraf’s purported strategy of breaking the nawab’s hegemony and winning the hearts and minds of the common Baloch by increasing their quality of life is failing. While the Baloch nawabs were highly obstinate, they played a semi-predictable game (serve as chief minister one year and lead an insurgency the next). For many, there isn’t an offer they can’t refuse and the hierarchy keeps their followers under control. But a middle-class insurgency led by younger Baloch will be much more difficult for Islamabad to manage. They will be less willing to compromise and will be prone to fragmentation — which destroy the insurgency or push it toward erratic behavior and/or nihilism.

NORTHERN AREAS
The Federally Administered Northern Areas of Pakistan (FANA) — including Gilgit and Baltistan — have had an unsettled constitutional status as a result of their connection to the dispute with India over Kashmir. Islamabad has deferred giving the areas any sort of permanent status until the resolution of the border conflict with India, which has a claim over FANA. Recently, the government issued a governmental reform package for the region, increasing enfranchisement and local governance. These are steps in the right direction — signaling that both Islamabad and New Delhi are coming to terms with the Line of Control as a de-facto border — but the local population wants more. A senior government representative there has suggested the current reforms are only a prelude to future ones. Future movement toward provincial status would have to take place after elections. Any moves before that would add new variables to a volatile election calculus; moreover, New Delhi is waiting for things to settle down in Islamabad for peace talks to move forward any further. Islamabad, however, should recognize that it is presented with a significant opportunity to integrate one of its elements on the periphery into a democratic, federalist framework. Such opportunities are rare and don’t last forever.

THE BIG PICTURE

The challenges faced by Islamabad in Balochistan, FATA, and Swat — and the current opportunity in FANA — are all spokes in its crisis of governance. It is convenient for many talking heads in the U.S. to throw out the question, “Why don’t we just go in there and take care of them (al-Qaeda and the neo-Taliban) ourselves?”, when they don’t have the responsibilities (and risks) associated with governing Pakistan after the bombs fall. The challenges faced in the first three regions will undoubtedly involved targeted military solutions, but real, long-term change requires structural, political reform. Even Hamid Karzai appeared on 60 Minutes this Sunday asking for the U.S. to restrict its use of air power in southern Afghanistan. So-called “actionable” intelligence has all too often proven to be bunk or outdated, resulting in the loss of innocent human lives and no associated strategic gains. It furthers the idea within Pakistan, its military, and its frontier regions that it’s fighting a war on behalf of a foreign benefactor — and not in its national interest.

Ultimately, the solution to these conflicts are political and socio-economic. Some Pakistanis turn against the federal government because the only face of Islamabad they see is an attack helicopter or the barrel of a rifle. Government’s primary task is to provide security, law and order, and basic services and infrastructure. If it offers little but has a visibly heavy military presence, what else can it be seen as but a colonial army?

All of Pakistan’s citizens must be given the right to complete citizenship and adult enfranchisement. Regions such as FATA with an outdated tribal-colonial mode of government should be given full status and integrated into the provinces or made into their own. Public activity should be channeled into legitimate, representative institutions. Citizens must be able to redress their grievances through the ballot and the judiciary, not the Kalashnikov. All non-violent and non-secessionist political parties — mainstream, Islamist, subnational or otherwise — should be considered by the federal government as allies in winning back the periphery. A federal security presence must gradually yield to a local and provincial police force, combined with a competent and elected local administration that provides necessities such as medical care and education.

Development in Gwadar and elsewhere in Balochistan must make use of available human resources talent from the province’s indigenous talent. Balochistan’s nawabs have subjugated their people as much as they have actively voiced their collective discontent. A Baloch middle class must be developed — not only for the improving the lot of the locals, but also for supplanting an antiquated authoritarian socio-political order. It is preposterous to assume that those who offer their complete loyalty to a feudal lord can be integrated into and reap benefits from the global economy.

Similarly, economic and political empowerment should be encouraged in FATA and the NWFP. The $750 million U.S. aid package for the region can contribute greatly toward this, but Congress should monitor such aid extensively and ensure that it’s reaching the common Pakistani, rather than simply getting distributed as booty to various local and federal elites.

Above all, Pakistan’s military-intelligence apparatus must engage in some serious introspection. Like the country’s feudal lords, it has made sizable pockets of the country and various institutions its playground. In doing so, not only has it embraced the worst characteristics of the civilian power class it derides, but it has also contributed to a virtual state of lawlessness across the country. Not only is the state of Pakistan a global joke, it is in danger of imploding from within. The state and only the state must maintain a monopoly over the use of violence, implemented by an individual under the control of an elected executive, and checked by an empowered judiciary. This needs to be the case all across Pakistan — not just in FATA and Balochistan, but also in cities like Karachi. This is not only constitutionally mandated, but also a national security imperative for Pakistan.  What goes on it FATA doesn’t stay in FATA.

Finally, these crises should cause some deeper study of Islamabad’s engaging in non-conventional war. Pakistan must consider the strengths and weaknesses of its previous and current usages of the strategy — including the lack of a socio-political endgame and the dangers of blow back. Interested foreign parties in Kabul, New Delhi, and Washington must also consider whether they have helped create a structure that only avails Pakistan’s security establishment with the sole option of nonconventional war. The lessons of recent years indicate that all those involved in non-conventional warfare, whether they be inducers or the induced, tend to lose greatly in the long-term from such short-term, deleterious methods.

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Paradoxes and Political Intrigue Persist in Pakistan

Developments in Pakistan in recent days further the view for both insiders and outsiders that the country is a perplexing bowl of contradictions and political intrigue.

KSE RISES
The Karachi Stock Exchange closed at all-time highs on Monday and Tuesday. Investor confidence boosted due to Pervez Musharraf’s re-election as president (pending the validation of his candidacy), which they associate with future political stability and continuity of pro-growth, liberal economic policies. Their sentiments might be valid in the mid-term, but the next three months, at the very least, will be a roller coaster period for the country—and Pakistan’s securities markets will likely not be as immune to the volatility as they have been before.

MUSHARRAF ESCAPES DANGER ONCE AGAIN
On the same day as the market rally, a helicopter escorting Musharraf to Kashmir crashed, killing four individuals. This was also the first day of work for Musharraf’s slated army successor, Ashfaq Kiyani, as vice chief of army staff. Though the president was never in any danger and there is no sign of foul play, the context eerily resembles the assassination of Zia-ul-Haq in 1988. The accident is a keen reminder that a single event of this sort can have a defining impact, but as with Zia’s demise, need not necessarily result in systemic change.

WAZIRISTAN ON FIRE
While investors are buoyant down south in Karachi, the country’s northwest has witnessed some of its most severe fighting between Pakistan’s army and local-foreign insurgents. According to the army, 45 troops and 150 insurgents have been killed in the Mir Ali area of North Waziristan. There have also been significant civilian casualties, with non-combatants fleeing the area. The government has been bombarding insurgents from the air with helicopter gunships and jets. The heightened use of air power markedly differs from the government’s previous ground-oriented strategy, which sought to avoid so-called collateral damage and earning further disfavor of locals. It suggests any number of the following:

  • the army has decided its strong avoidance of civilian casualties has been too costly;
  • patience on its side is wearing thin;
  • there is significant external pressure on Islamabad to bring in decisive results before the winter;
  • or a strategic and/or political (via Bhutto deal) window of opportunity has emerged to enable a forceful confrontation of militants.

Perhaps the army has opted for a Balochistan-like strategy, in which it would deliver strong, decisive blows to the insurgency (costing many innocent civilian lives) and follow up with a heavy infusion of development funds. Large scale, yet short-term violence would be complemented by a vast improvement in quality of life and incorporation/subsidization of local elites. In FATA, these funds would largely come from the 5-year $750 million US aid package and opportunities from its duty-free economic opportunity zone program, and would trickle down to the locals via notables with newly padded pockets.

FAZLUR RAHMAN AND THE FRACTURING OF THE MMA
A critical player in the political solution in FATA will be Maulana Fazlur Rahman, who, despite being in the political “opposition,” has proved to be almost as loyal to Musharraf as the Chaudhries. Fazlur Rahman is epitome of the “siyasi ulema” (political Islamic scholars) Abdur Rashid Ghazi lambasted on national television minutes before his demise in the Lal Masjid compound. The JUI-F should play a significant role in liaisoning between FATA notables and insurgents and the federal government/military. Its role in bringing a death blow to the MMA and APDM will not go unrewarded. The pending dissolution of the NWFP assembly will result in fresh provincial elections that might see MMA factions running on their own tickets, and a final tally that places the JUI-F in a stronger individual provincial position than before.

NATIONAL RECONCILIATION OR POLITICAL GIMMICK?
Recent comments by Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, and to a lesser extent Shaukat Aziz, have sought to cast doubt on the government’s sincerity in its deal with Benazir Bhutto and her People’s Party. Aziz boasted of having divided and outsmarted the opposition, which is true, and Shujaat bluntly stated that the government has no intention of following through on its promises to Bhutto — and that it it will, in fact, get political cover from the Supreme Court ruling the National Reconciliation Ordinance invalid.

Shujaat’s comments should be taken with a grain (or bucket) of salt. One, Washington — Musharraf’s greatest benefactor — strongly wants the deal to go through fully. Two, Shujaat stands to lose most from the Bhutto-Musharraf deal. Musharraf’s presidency is essentially set (barring a Supreme Court rejection of his candidacy), but Shujaat’s party has to face off against Bhutto’s in the general elections. Images of him and his cousin appear frequently on Pakistani television screens, with a massive wave of advertisements on private channels (source of funding unclear) hailing the achievements of the governments of Musharraf (“Sub se pahlay Pakistan”) and Pervez Ellahi (“Para likha Punjab”). The Chaudhries may have reluctantly consented to a Bhutto-Musharraf deal, but they will show some feistiness to retain their dominance over Punjab and share of federal power.

The rejection of Shujaat’s statements by a Musharraf spokesperson suggests that the president will have to play a fine balancing act between PML-Q partisan and partner of Benazir. It’s the same kind of lack of partiality the Bush administration has sought to display in recent days vis-a-vis Pakistan (i.e. support for the country, not just one man–Musharraf). Should Musharraf alienate his PML-Q base, one might witness the party distancing itself from Musharraf and veering toward some sort of rapprochement, if not re-consolidation, with the PML-N.

NAWAZ’S NOVEMBER SURPRISE?
The PML-N offers little in political value without the presence of at least one Sharif brother in Pakistan. As a result, the Musharraf government was keen on keeping the former prime minister out of the country prior to his re-election. Since then, they have expressed resistance to his return prior to general-elections — though it is unclear as to whether this is a reflection of the government’s needs or the wishes of the Bhutto camp.

Nawaz is reportedly to return to London after Eid. If proven to be true, it will indicate that Sharif and family were informed of this upon return to Saudi, as Kulsoom Nawaz made such claims early at that point. Also it would prove to partially explain the Sharif family’s relative quietness in the past few weeks. From London, the Sharif brothers could return to Pakistan between November and post-elections in January. Reports suggest family members will trickle into Pakistan individually. Nawaz’s son Hassan has said his father will return to Pakistan between November 15 and 30. A pre-election return is more likely for Shahbaz Sharif. Odds of a Nawaz return pre-elections would multiply if he got another Supreme Court ruling in his favor. If Nawaz returns after the general elections, he could shake things up if discontent in the PML-Q and with others is high. Alternatively, his return could come after the candles have been blow out and the cake has been eaten.

POWER DISTRIBUTION POST-GENERAL ELECTIONS
Najam Sethi has stated that the Bhutto-Musharraf understanding will likely produce a PPP government (and Musharraf presidency) at the center, a PML-Q controlled Punjab with a significant PPP presence, a PPP-PML coalition government in NWFP and Balochistan, and a PPP-MQM coalition government in Sindh.

I think Sethi errs in only noting three political mouths (other than his own) Musharraf has to feed. There’s a four rewardee, the JUI-F. Fazlur Rahman’s deeds on behalf of Musharraf in recent weeks, as well as in the past four years, cannot simply be wishful lobbying. JUI-F will likely play an important role in addressing issues of militancy in NWFP, Balochistan, and FATA. Washington probably recognizes and supports this. Moreover, it makes little sense for JUI-F to have enabled Musharraf’s re-election under the current parliament and the fracture of its political alliance only to be punished with a loss of provincial power.

The JUI-F will likely be a part of the NWFP government at least for the same reasons the MQM will share power with the PPP in Sindh. Both were used to displace the previous ruling party, which necessitates a ‘soft landing’ for them — especially since they’re still useful. The PPP’s Sindh compromise is a concession for power at the national level, though its relations with the MQM will have its share of challenges. Sethi doesn’t seem to give much thought to a PML-Q presence at the national level. Mushahid Hussain and others with the party have proposed the idea of a national unity government. While this remains possible, strong animosities between PML-Q stalwarts and the PPP, combined with Benazir Bhutto’s compromises vis-a-vis Musharraf, will likely prohibit her from entertaining such an idea. Why would she accept a prime ministership already diluted by the troika?

CARETAKER GOVERNMENT
The general elections will be held under the rule of a caretaker government. At this point, there is only pure speculation as to who will be the interim prime minister. Candidates include: Jehangir Karamat, Ishrat Hussain, and Hamid Nasir Chattha. Tariq Aziz and Shujaat Hussain have been tasked with arranging for the interim set-up, but clearly Benazir will have significant input in these matters as they will factor significantly in the outcome of the elections (i.e. free and/or favorable).

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Editor:

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

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