Monday, March 31, 2008

Pakistan Update
Trouble on the horizon?

While most eyes and pundits focus on the battles in Basra, arguing over it's status as progress or a setback, we have what may be the loss of an important ally looming on the horizon.

As I pointed out in my
Mar 25th post, Hating Musharraf, the media indoctrination, painting Musharraf as the enemy and the PPP as the Pakistani saviours, is bringing some more of those chickens home to roost. And the latest reports show not only no change in that original assessment, but even more firm assertations to go the path of peace thru negotiations with militants.

Musharraf hasn't thrown in the towel yet,
promising cooperation with the new majority at his farewell dinner. But he also specifically made the point that he hoped the new government would recognize that one of it's prime responsibilities was the country's internal and external security.

In the meantime the power duo, Zardari (PPP co-chair) and Sharif (PML-N), tossed Musharraf a bone scrap, taking a "we'll see" attitude towards Musharraf's Presidential future.
Their continuing relationship depended upon Musharraf's attitude towards Parliament.

The new PPP PM, Gilani, got a
unanimous vote of "trust" from the assembly (including an uncontested Musharraf block... apparently a "no surprise" vote, indicating Musharraf may have noodged them into compliance), then laid out his kinder/gentler rules of engagement for the war on terror. Already his visions appear dashed with the improbability of bringing the differing factions to the peace table. His is a vision not untried in the past.

Mr Gilani, who is due to name the first batch of his cabinet on Monday, said his government was not afraid of “innumerable challenges” facing the country and that “the restoration of law and order and total elimination of terrorism will be (its) first priority”.

“The war against terrorism is our own war because countless of our innocent children and jawans have fallen martyrs as a result of it,” he said.

OLIVE BRANCH: But the prime minister, who discussed the future of Pakistan’s key role in the American-led war against terrorism with two senior US diplomats this week, offered an olive branch to what he described as some people who had chosen the path of violence as a means of expressing their views, asking them to give up their approach and “join us in this journey of democracy”.

“We are ready to talk to all those people who will lay down arms and adopt the path of peace,” he said.

However those with whom Gilani wishes to engage have laid down their own demands, as well as issued violent threats to the local tribal elders.

Local Taliban militants have asked the new government to end relations with the US and enforce Sharia in tribal areas and have warned tribal elders against meeting US officials.

The warning was issued at a public meeting held in Enayet Kalli near Khar on Sunday which was attended by thousands of tribesmen chanting anti-US slogans.


“We hail Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani’s announcement to repeal the FCR,” Maulvi Faqir said, adding that the government should implement Sharia in the tribal region and sever diplomatic relations with United States.

“Taliban are patriotic people and do not want to fight with their own government. We have waged jihad against America. But the country will suffer as long as Pakistan remains an ally of the US in the ongoing war on terror in the region,” Maulvi Faqir said.

The new government, he said, should not repeat mistakes of the previous government and must change its internal and external policies. He said the militants were ready for talks with the government.

The meeting urged the government to remove all new checkpoints from the area and lift a ban on non-customs paid vehicles.

The Taliban leaders warned elders of ‘consequences’, if they met US officials.

A committee comprising local clerics was set up to resolve disputes among tribesmen. The committee was authorised to prepare a mechanism for eliminating un-Islamic practices like interest on loans, robbery and kidnapping for ransom from the region.

Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan spokesman Maulvi Umar told Dawn by phone that the government should formally enforce Sharia in the tribal belt.

Somehow, there doesn't appear to be much change in the militants' demands, nor in their coersive methods. Certainly demands of all diplomatic ties with the US doesn't fit into Gilani's desire to maintain "....strong and close relations also with America and Europe”.

The last truce with Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan's leader, Baitullah Mehsud, in 2006 proved to be yet another farce. And cooperation by the tribal leaders to root out the militants is inevitably followed by a blood bath of the elders, as has been done in the past.

The US most
definitely has a concern with the possible loss of Musharraf, and the new gov't kinder/gentler approach.

The US is concerned that a softened approach might let Al Qaeda, the Taliban and other groups expand their base in Pakistan and step up attacks on US forces in Afghanistan.

The Bush administration also is concerned about the political sidelining of President Pervez Musharraf, its longtime ally in Pakistan.

While the previous Musharraf-led military government signed peace deals with the tribal leaders in 2006 — a strategy the CIA chief called ‘absolutely disastrous’ since it allowed Al Qaeda to regroup — the government also periodically conducted military strikes and permitted US missile strikes on suspected Al Qaeda targets.

Gilani, who clearly faces the same problems the previous govt did, talks a good game, but is likely to face the same obstacles that cannot be hurdled with talk alone. What remains to be seen is how this will affect the US-Pakistan relationships... even with a new POTUS.

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