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Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Blood And Gore
BY Amir Mir
396 people were killed and 886 injured from Jan-Sept 15, '07, in 36 incidents of suicide bombings.
Of these, 321 were killed and 685 injured in 24 incidents of suicide bombings beginning July 3, the day Lal Masjid was besieged. Thus, only 75 were killed and 201 injured earlier.
Among the 321 killed, 121 were military and paramilitary personnel, 102 policemen and 98 civilians.
300 soldiers taken hostage on Aug 27 by Islamic militants in South Waziristan are yet to be released.
Troops told not to wear uniforms in public in the NWFP.
Commandos of the elite Special Security Group (SSG) had gathered as usual at the mess of the Tarbala Ghazi army camp, 100 km south of Islamabad.
Attacks on the army Has left the soldiers demoralised, eroded their respect andbolstered militant zeal.
It was the night of September 13, and nothing was out of place: officers sat down for their dinner, talking shop and cracking jokes. As the evening progressed, an 18-year-old boy entered the dining hall, mingling with the mess employees. The boy gingerly walked to the middle of the hall.
Heads turned at the crazed cry of Allah-o-Akbar (Allah is great). Then a blinding flash and a defeaning bang, followed by three successive explosions as the gas cylinders in the adjoining kitchen too exploded. The pall of smoke soon lifted to reveal headless bodies, torn limbs, a chilling death toll of 22. The boy's sister, it was later found, had died during the flushing of militants from Islamabad's Lal Masjid in July.From the time Operation Silence was launched against Lal Masjid (July 3-10) and hailed as a success, the Pakistan army has been racked by suicide bombings, ambushes, and abductions. Look at the figures since then: 121 military and paramilitary personnel and 102 police have died in 24 terrorist incidents (see box). Worryingly, the flurry of attacks on the army is no longer confined to the tribal areas on the Afghan border, where soldiers and militants have been battling it out since 2002, but has had its devastating echo in and around Islamabad. For instance, twin suicide attacks on September 4 killed at least 30 in the garrison city of Rawalpindi—the first on a bus belonging to the isi, the other targeting a car of an army officer.
And to think the ISI's brief is to track and bust terror networks.The spate of attacks on the army has demoralised the soldiers, eroded the traditional respect for the army, and bolstered the resolve of militants. Says former ISI chief Lt Gen Asad Durrani, "The attacks on the army have severely lowered its morale. Such is the resentment against army chief and president Pervez Musharraf that many junior officers are facing court martial proceedings for their alleged involvement in plots to get rid of him." Mounting casualties might appear unconscionably high with the computing of figures beginning 2002. At least former ISI official Khalid Khawaja thinks so: "The number of soldiers killed in the tribal areas over the last five years has already crossed the casualty figures of the 1965 and 1971 Indo-Pak wars!"The fury against the army prompted Musharraf to declare on July 13 that soldiers should refrain from wearing uniforms in public in the strife-torn North Western Frontier Province.
Soldiers in several parts of NWFP have heeded their army chief's advice; many have instead gone on long leave. The upsurge against the army in the province owes to the Pakistan army's complicated task of hunting down Al Qaeda leaders and supporters. Bound by tribal affiliations and loyalties, and traditionally disdainful of federal authority, the people are aghast to find their brethren being killed for supporting those fighting for the 'cause of Islam' and against the 'infidel' US army.
Military operations often entail brutalisation of the populace, thus fanning the rage against the army.
Against this backdrop, Lal Masjid proved to be a rather volatile catalyst, especially because most of the students killed in the military operation there hailed from NWFP. Then a pamphet, titled Till Islam Lives in Islamabad, was distributed threatening soldiers to stop fighting or face suicide bombers. Intelligence officials say Lal Masjid was exploited by pro-Al Qaeda tribal leaders, particularly Baitullah Mehsud of South Waziristan, to provoke attacks against the army and demoralise its soldiers in the fight against terror. The idea, says editor Najam Sethi, is to make "the intensively Islamised military rank and file realise that the army is erring in following the orders of the United States under the leadership of a faithless Musharraf and his fellow generals."The demoralisation already runs deep. On August 27, for instance, a convoy of Frontier Corps was surrounded in the mountains of Momi Karam, a preserve of the Mehsud tribe. The 300 soldiers surrendered—and still remain in captivity. Says former ISI chief Hamid Gul, "The surrender indicates one of two things, or both. One, it shows the low level of morale of the troops deployed in the tribal areas. Two, the peaceful surrender depicts that the troops, who mostly hail from the tribal areas themselves, are hesitant to fight against their own people. It's high time the army realises that the cost of keeping Musharraf in power outweighs the benefit."Former editor Shaheen Sehbai feels the outrage against the army is redolent of the weeks following the fall of Dhaka in 1971. He says, "Then, no army officer was comfortable coming out of his home in his khaki and officers wouldn't disclose their rank when asked to introduce themselves. The strategy and execution of military operations in the tribal areas have proved disastrous. One day the troops are hunting a terrorist, next day a top commander is garlanding the same terrorist as a hero on TV screens worldwide, and the third day he is again declared a terrorist." Partly the dejection among soldiers stems from their own confusion about their role. As The Post's editor Rashed Rahman asks, "Could it be that soldiers motivated in their training by the motto of jehad are finding it difficult on moral grounds to wage war against militants operating under the very same banner? Drilled both mentally and physically to fight a foreign enemy, how easily can the soldier reconcile himself to killing his countrymen? No easy answers there." This apart, the democratic movement against Musharraf has fuelled anger against the army. As Khawaja points out, "The army as an institution is being subjected to gross abuse by Musharraf and his cronies. Because he won't agree to establish a decent mechanism of taking the country back into the civilised world where transfer of power can be achieved without bloodshed, it has created mass despair." With the army as the principal supporter of Musharraf, it has, not surprisingly, come in for flak. Agrees writer Ahmed Rashid, "There is widespread public anger against the army which could make the loss of morale amongst the Pakistani troops much more serious. People have lost faith in the political system and in the army's attempts to concoct a new one."In such a political vacuum, Rashid says, it is only natural that extremism keeps growing and the Pakistani Taliban faces only a modicum of resistance from the military. He adds, "This is only part of a wider tragedy that is a result of eight long years of military rule when Musharraf appeared to be running with the hares and hunting with the hounds.This deeply contradictory policy has now caught up with him and helped plunge the country into its present chaos."
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