It's Pakistan versus Pakistan.
In South Asia's wild west, everyone is gunning for everyone else and the state is descending into chaos.
Shobhan Saxena assesses the many combatants in the melee Asif Ali Zardari Loose Cannon The petty zamindar who grabbed the presidency in the wake of Benazir's assassination is locked in battle with friends as well as foes — from Nawaz Sharif to Army chief Gen Kiyani to PM Gilani. Appearing to be losing on all fronts as the country slides into anarchy, Zardari seems cornered while he struggles to keep the seat warm for Bilawal Bhutto. A survey by US think-tank International Republican Institute found only 19% public support for the pro-West leader, who is publicly trying to rally people against a powerful nexus of militants. But power squabbles leave him with little time to fight the Islamists. Nawaz Sharif Frontal Assault Out of power and done with PPP, the PML boss is fighting his battles on the street. Enemy No. 1: Zardari. Other foe: the Army-ISI complex. His new allies: PPP's disgruntled elements. On the Taliban hitlist, Sharif hobnobs with the mainstream Islamist parties and is not entirely trusted by the US. Political analyst Agha Masood calls him a "feudal lord who can join hands with anyone to regain power". The Army In The Line Of Fire One day the army chief is warning Zardari to clear up the political mess, the next day he's discussing strategy to counter the militants; the day after that he's busy convincing the US that his army is not hand-in-glove with the jihadis. As his forces get beaten back in Swat and his soldiers desert their posts in FATA, Gen Kiyani is fighting the enemy lurking both within and without. But the GHQ is still powerful. "The army and intelligence services are the permanent features of the state. The government has no meaningful autonomy," said Sumit Ganguly, Indiana University professor, at a recent Foreign Affairs magazine forum. Yousuf Raza Gilani The Insider His war of nerves with Zardari is now out in the open. His closeness to the Sharifs is not a secret any more. The PM, tired of running the government with his hands tied, has declared open season on Zardari, opening up one more battlefront within the governing PPP. Lashkar-e-Taiba Enemy Within Lionised as "freedom fighters" for their brazen attacks in J&K, LeT has suddenly turned its guns inwards. In 2001, a LeT spokesman said the outfit wanted to avoid it but "a clash (with the Pakistani government) was possible because of the sudden wedge that appeared between the interests of the government and those of militants active in J&K". But India sees LeT as a part of the larger network. In 2006, National Security Adviser M K Narayanan said LeT was part of the "al-Qaida compact". The group is believed to have thousands of fighters. The Pakistani weekly Herald says that "the Lashkar prefers not to reveal the number of men it has deployed in J&K." South Asia expert Stephen Cohen calls them the "Punjabi ideological soulmates of the Afghan Taliban". Jamaat-ud Dawa Hidden Agenda LeT turned into JuD after 9/11. Now it's fighting the army, cutting deals with the ISI (Rogue) and aligning with the Taliban/al-Qaida combine. Till recently, the JuD was dismissed as an irrelevance but they now seem to have joined hands with those planning to topple the state. Even though it's known that the "Muslim charity" is a mask for LeT, Pakistan didn't act against it till 26/11. Now, says Mahmood Shah, a retired army officer, the group is "embarking on a campaign of terror in Punjab similar to that employed in the northwest by Taliban." Al-Qaida The Ringmaster In the forefront of attacks but often in the background. The group runs its global network from the Af-Pak region. Its hand is discerned everywhere through the Islamist groups with which it interacts. Their membership is fluid. Analysts say they find a common cause in striking the US and its allies, while focusing on spreading Taliban-style rule over Pakistan. The Taliban Double Trouble They are brothers-in-arms operating on both sides of the Durand Line, united by Pashtun culture and a shared hatred for America. The two branches of the Taliban — Afghan and Pakistani — have a long-term, common agenda: defeat government forces, capture territory, enforce sharia and eventually take over the state. But now the Tehrik-e-Taliban-e-Pakistan (TTP), which has around 35,000 fighters in FATA and NWFP, is planning to go global. This week its chief Baitullah Mehsud announced plans to "attack Washington very soon" and claimed responsibility for killings in upstate New York. The Afghan Taliban, headed by Mullah Omar, is limiting itself to a guerrilla war against the Karzai regime and allied Nato forces. Though the exact number of its fighters is not known, in October 2007, the New York Times reported it might have as many as 10,000 fighters. But, in Pakistan, the TTP doesn't enjoy as much support as its Afghan counterparts. "While the Afghan Taliban has been resisting US-led foreign forces occupying its homeland...Blame is heaped on the Pakistani Taliban, on the other hand, for destabilizing their country and attacking their own army," veteran Peshawar journalist Rahimullah Yusufzai wrote recently. Ironically, it was the Pakistani establishment that helped create the Taliban. In 2007, a collection of newly declassified documents published by George Washington University proved beyond doubt that Pakistan had cultivated the Taliban during the seven-year period leading up to 9/11. ISI The Official One They say Pakistan's top spy Lt Gen Shuja Pasha is the right man in the wrong place. The list of his enemies is getting longer by the day: the Taliban (both the good and the bad), al-Qaida, the LeT, JuD, JeJ and JeM. As head of the 'state within the state', Pasha also tackles political problems. Former US diplomat Ashley Tellis believes the "ISI can conduct activities that the GHQ may not be aware of". But with its men under attack, this may be the first time the ISI is feeling the heat from all sides. ISI The Rogue Branch Sometimes known as the 'real' ISI, the organization's rogue elements are the mentors of militants. The list of their victims is long; the locales well documented — Kabul, Mumbai and now Lahore. Like invisible ghosts, they attack at will and then vanish into the system. They are carrying on the legacy of the Afghan-Soviet war. Analyst Ayesha Siddiqa believes the ISI has to delink from its past. "Unless we do that, we aren't going to get anywhere," she says. Uncle Sam Playing Games Washington's warning signals keep shifting focus. One day it's al-Qaida and the Taliban; the next it's the Pakistani army-ISI. As Predator drones kill militants and civilians in equal numbers, some wonder if the Americans are in the region to fuel war rather than quell it. America's most recent backing for Pakistan's deal with 'good jihadis' adds to the confusion. "There cannot be neat distinctions between 'good' and 'bad' jihadis. The Pakistani army cannot guarantee that even ostensibly 'anti-Indian' jihadis will not turn their guns on Pakistan when it suits them," says academic Sumit Ganguly. Afghanistan The New 'Old' Frontier Ruled by a president whose writ doesn't run beyond Kabul, the country seems to be engaged in a gladiatorial contest in which everyone — the Pashtuns, Tajiks, Uzbekis, Arabs, Sudanese, Europeans and Americans — is bent on settling scores with violence. With 60% of its territory under al-Qaida/Taliban control, the country is undergoing a strange metamorphosis — it's becoming a frontline state in Pakistan's war against terror. Saudi Arabia Dubious Role Still pumping money into Pakistani mosques and backing the Wahabists, the Saudis' financial muscle strengthens the hands that carry Kalashnikovs against the Pakistani state. A trusted US ally in West Asia, the kingdom is caught in a murky battle in Pakistan. Civil Society The New Frontier It has faced batons and bullets, been beaten and bombed, walked the bloodied streets with just one demand: Give my country back. Caught in the crossfire among key combatants, lawyers and civil rights activists are fighting to save the country as a modern and liberal Islamic republic. Right now, they're partially hidden by the fog of war.