Pakistan – siege within

PAKISTAN finds itself once again caught in the eye of the storm. As argued recently in this space, President Pervez Musharraf’s ironic dilemma has started playing itself out in the country’s frontier province – the necessary use of force against the Lal Masjid has unleashed a hardliner revolt whose start alone has claimed around 50 lives inside two days.



Sections of the clergy are threatening “Islamic revolution”, militants in the north have rubbished last September’s deal with the government and there is growing fear of the violence spreading to the less volatile provinces, provoking emergency measures from the capital. Not surprisingly, the main target of the wave of suicide attacks is the army, whose stiff stance against the militants reached a boiling point with the operation that ended the Lal Masjid siege.

For the beleaguered general, the rare show of support from domestic and international audiences alike was painfully short-lived.

Already both local and foreign media find the blame going right back to the top offices in Islamabad as causes for the extremists’ actions are being looked into.

For the good of Pakistan and much of the region, the country’s leadership must provide answers to some very important questions to appease a very concerned international community, particular its friends in the West. Why has the state not explained how the Lal Masjid was allowed to be developed into a fort, featuring firepower fitting a border army unit? What steps are being taken to identify and deal with other such outfits? Are there elements within General Musharraf’s ruling party that still harbour soft corners for the self-styled jihadists?

The violence unleashed in the north is clearly without a short, or even medium-term solution, except more use of force. Immediate steps must revolve around containment. Failing that it could spread across the country, requiring imposition of state-emergency.

That in turn would imply postponement of elections, further suppression of democracy and a poor performance report from Washington which expects Pakistan to return to the ballot as promised.

More importantly, it is imperative that Islamabad initiate a vigorous PR drive to mould and mobilise public opinion in favour of the anti-terror.

Pakistan’s geo-strategic placement makes it one of the most important international players, especially with the terror-war still far from over. If General Musharraf’s regime is destabilised, that too by extremists, the whole region’s fabric could unravel.


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