Waziristan Crisis Expanding

EDITORIAL: Weakness in Waziristan can no longer be concealed
Daily Times, January 24, 2007

A suicide car bomber killed four soldiers of the Pakistan army when it hit an army convoy on its way from Bannu to Miranshah in North Waziristan on Monday. This killing was supposed to be in retaliation against the Pakistan army’s attack a week ago in a suspected militant hideout of warlord Baitullah Mehsud in Zamazola in South Waziristan. He has now hit back and killed our soldiers. And the style adopted was purely Arab, meaning that our warlords are indoctrinated and trained by the Arabs of Al Qaeda.

The military spokesman says the attack was carried out by those who don’t like the peace deals made by the government with local ‘pro-Taliban’ leaders of the region. The place where the attack was mounted is near the border with North Waziristan, the area from which the army had removed all its checkposts following the deal.

While this tragic incident took place in the tribal agency, NATO soldiers fired on the Pakistani border check-post from Paktika and killed a Pakistani soldier, saying they had received fire from him. This is symptomatic of the distrust that NATO forces on the other side of the border have been expressing about Pakistan’s claim that it is not sheltering the Taliban invaders and not hiding the Al Qaeda leadership. As if on cue, Al Qaeda’s number two, Aiman Al Zawahiri, has now let out a tirade against the United States on one of his websites, saying that if Mr Bush killed him the American people will continue to die in the future.

Whenever the Pakistan army has carried out an operation in the tribal areas against suspected terrorists taking shelter there, someone has struck back to punish the Pakistani soldiers for it. This was just another act of revenge to establish the credibility of the militants that Pakistan is trying to fight. If you attack us, expect to die, seems to be the message. As it is, more and more people are sceptical about there being any truth in the government’s claim about the presence of ‘foreigners’ in Waziristan. As the political objection to carrying out operations in the tribal areas mounts, it is risky to deploy the army there. But the army can refuse to fight if it thinks that it is confronted by Pakistani citizens angry at their presence.

This would happen to any army operation if it got bogged down. And that is what has happened. When the troops went into Waziristan four years ago Islamabad said there were foreigners there. But, because of the political landscape in Pakistan, the opposition led by the clerical alliance MMA kept swearing that there were no foreigners there. Some Al Qaeda-linked local leaders like Nek Muhammad were killed but the disturbance became more intensified, especially when a Guantanamo Bay returnee, Abdullah Mehsud, began his spree of terrorist attacks. He was joined by Baitullah Mehsud who became big after signing a ‘pact’ in Peshawar for a lot of money.

Now Islamabad is in a strange predicament. It began by claiming that there were foreigners in the area, but when Afghanistan and NATO began complaining of the same thing it immediately went into denial. However, when it used to say that there were foreigners in Waziristan, the opposition politicians shouted in unison that the government was lying. Now that the government has joined everyone else saying there are no foreigners there, the world outside refuses to believe it. Pakistan now fears ‘pre-emptive attacks’ and has protested sovereignty to warn that any such attempt would be opposed tooth and nail because ‘it has full control over its territory’.

To all appearances, Pakistan lacks full control of a large chunk of its territory on the basis of its own constitutional arrangement called Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). This area was used for long years of jihad which Pakistan fought against the Soviet Union and then in pursuit of what it called the ‘strategic depth’ against India. (Ironically, jack-in-the-box India is now sitting inside Afghanistan!) The economy of the people living in these territories became integrated with Afghanistan and its system of contraband trade, losing all interest in becoming a part of the Pakistan economy which requires registration and accountability of wealth.

Now that money is available for quick development in FATA to make up for lost years, it is lack of security that hampers investment. Like Iraq, FATA cannot be made economically viable as an integral part of Pakistan because no contractor can go there for development works. The Chinese who were abducted by Abdullah Mehsud have refused to return to the area.

The ‘foreigners’ have killed so many of the senior citizens familiar with Pakistani governance that no one is left who will support Pakistan. Therefore one is forced to think that Al Qaeda cannot find a better hiding place than this territory. It has suffered recent reversals in Somalia and Sinkiang while its success is only in Iraq because there it is mostly killing the Shia. Therefore it is time to admit the reality and defuse the impression that Pakistan is actually playing a double game. *

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