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Saturday, June 13, 2009

Pakistan trapped in anti-terror war

By Li Jingchen
ISLAMABAD, June 10 (Xinhua) -- A five-star hotel in northwestern Pakistan's Peshawar city was hit by a suicide bombing attack, leaving at least 18 persons dead and scores of others injured on Tuesday evening. Officials and workers of some United Nations organizations were also among the dead and injured, triggering worldwide concern about the law and order situation in Pakistan.
The army is updating the media about its progress of military operation in Malakand Division of North West Frontier Province (NWFP) on the daily basis. Despite everyday claims of killings of militants, the army has failed to clear any district in the Division after more than one month of operation. Meanwhile, around2.5 million persons in the conflict areas have been displaced and major cities including the capital Islamabad, Lahore and Peshawar have witnessed a rising frequency of terror strikes.
Analysts point that Pakistan is trapped in its anti-terror war of which there is no easy way out.
The People's Party (PPP), led by the current President Asif Ali Zardari, became the majority party in National Assembly in the general elections held in February last year. The PPP formed a coalition government after winning the elections. The new government evolved an innovative strategy to fight terrorism, and named it as "Three D's" strategy consisting of Dialogue, Development, and Deterrence.
In line with the government's new strategy, the provincial government of NWFP started to talk to Taliban through a mediator and eventually struck a peace deal with an outlawed group called Tehreek Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi (TNSM). According to the deal, Sharia, or Islamic laws, should be implemented in Malakand Division of NWFP which includes Swat district geologically if peace was restored in Swat.
As people in the restive northwestern areas have been suffering from the deteriorating security situation and long for peace and development, the peace deal was welcomed among them. When the deal was discussed in a National Assembly session on April 13, it was passing unanimously. Zardari signed and approved a regulation in favor of the deal on the same day.
When each stake holder of the deal was gearing up for the implementation, the United States expressed its dissatisfaction over the deal, saying that the expansion of Taliban would pose a threat to the U.S. troops in the neighboring Afghanistan. The U.S. found an alibi to pressurize Pakistan when the Taliban entered Buner District from the adjacent Swat district early April. Some U.S. officials and western media said that the expansion of Taliban in Buner District, less than 100 kms from the capital, was a threat to the national security of Pakistan, the only nuclear country among all the Muslim countries.
On April 28, Pakistan Army announced that an operation would be launched against militants in Buner. From that day on, the army holds regular press conference about the progress of its operation. An offensive was also initiated against militants in Dir and Swat districts.
So far more than 1300 militants have been killed in the ongoing operation and some major positions have been secured by security forces who failed to clear one single district to date.
It is worth mentioning that the nature of the operation was not ascertained until May 18 when Pakistani government said the operation was anti-insurgency. On that same day, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani chaired an all parties’ party and 43 party leaders across the country endorsed a proclamation which supported the military operation.
Apparently, political parties had a difference on the nature of the operation and they reached a consensus after negotiations. The decision to define the operation as anti-insurgency action has left room for possible peace talks with militants in the future. On the other hand, the purpose of the operation was made clear once the nature was ascertained. Analysts said that it would be hard for people in Pakistan among whom anti-U.S. sentiments prevailed to support the operation if it was an anti-terror fight.
Nonetheless, some political parties complained that they had not been taken into confidence on the military operation. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) led by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, claimed that the All Parties Conference should have been convened earlier, an accusation that the PPP, without consulting political parties, launched the military operation under the pressure from the U.S..
The PML-N's support for the government on the issue of military operation was paid back. The Supreme Court on May 26 declared in a verdict that Nawaz Sharif and his brother eligible for elections for public offices. However, Nawaz Sharif is still guilty in the airplane hijacking case, which, according to analysts, seems like Achilles heel for Nawaz Sharif's political career.
The PML-N on June 9 accused the PPP for publicizing a fabricated letter in which Nawaz Sharif begged then-leader of Pakistan Pervez Musharraf for mercy. They said it was an attempt to tarnish the image of the most supported politician in Pakistan.
However, the goal of the military operation remains ambiguous. Although the military operation is gaining ground, people are blind on when it will end. The morale of the troops would plummet if the situation continues.
At the same time, it was beyond the authorities' expectation that the number of displaced persons surpassed 2 million within one month. Some U.S. officials termed the situation in Pakistan as the biggest wave of refugees since World War II.
It added to Pakistan's headache that no Muslim countries offered their assistance to the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Pakistan. Analysts say that those countries do not want to get involved in an internal fight in Pakistan.
Some UN organizations complained on June 9 that international community did not respond to the UN's call for assistance for Pakistan. Only the U.S. and the United Kingdom which were pushing for a military operation in Pakistan offered to help, a sharp contrast to the situation in 2005 when Pakistan was hit by an earthquake and got sufficient assistance from the international community.
The Pakistani government and army started to point their fingers at Afghanistan and India. Some government and military officials claimed that a large portion of the arms Taliban were using came from Afghanistan. Afghanistan used to blame Pakistan for a safe haven used to undermine the stability of their country, then it should take steps to prevent arms from entering Pakistan, said the officials.
The army said that Pakistan pinned equal importance to its borders with Afghanistan in the west and with India in the east. They said they would not shift the troops from the eastern border to the west for the military operation.
Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani have issued statements with regard to the hotel blast in Peshawar. They strongly condemned the attack and reiterated the resolve of the government to fight terrorism.
The Taliban with limited power can hardly take on the security forces face to face. Thus terrorist strikes were just a backlash of the military operation and also the last means adopted by Taliban to force the government to cease fire. Therefore, the future of the law and order situation in Pakistan is by no means optimistic.
The army initially claimed that the operation would come to an end within one week and it is still going on after one month. The army recently said that it would take around one year to clear the conflict zones of Taliban and restore normalcy.
Undoubtedly, the Pakistani government can hardly break away from the current situation unless it plays a leading role in the war against terrorism.
Special Report:
Pakistani Situation

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