Post-election scenario and security challengesm

THE suicide attack in Rawalpindi on Feb 25 that killed Pakistan army’s surgeon-general Lieutenant General Mushtaq Baig and eight others is reported to have been carried out by the tribal militants in retaliation to the military operations in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.

By Faryal Leghari (Gulf Angle)

Published: Tue 4 Mar 2008, 8:55 AM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 4:24 PM

Baig’s assassination confirms the fact that the militants are committed to waging more such attacks targeting the Pakistan military to deter them from operations against the Taleban and allies in the tribal areas and from their ‘pursuit and persecution’ policy in collaboration with the United States. Baitullah Mehsud has already indicated that he is ready to talk with the new government and hopes it would not pursue policies similar to those undertaken by President Musharraf. The latest attack could also be seen as a leverage tactic to influence future policies in the tribal belt.

The political scene since the Feb 18 election remains amorphous and it is possible that there will be a power-sharing arrangement between the two bigger parties, Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), led by Asif Zardari, and Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N. In such a case, this is likely to lead to a power struggle between the government and the presidency. In case President Musharraf does not resign, he is likely to face impeachment, a point that Mr Sharif has reiterated since the election. The next few weeks will be significant as political developments in Pakistan evolve to provide a clearer picture. It is most likely that PPP will be at the centre of efforts to form a new government. Musharraf, in an increasingly cornered position, could either step up efforts to work with the PPP, resign or face impeachment.

In a striking development, the people have rejected religious parties especially those that have aired and practised extremist ideology. The Mutahida Majlis e Amal (MMA), the bloc of religious parties which had gained major victory in the 2002 elections buoyed by anti-American sentiment after the US strikes in Afghanistan, was displaced by the secular Awami National Party (ANP) in the Frontier province.

The MMA provincial government’s Taleban-like activities — for example, banning films and billboards advertisements showing women — besides its ineptitude in controlling anti-state extremist elements that terrorise citizens and use violent methods to extend their influence undermined their popularity.

The rogue religious extremists who were terrorising the local people and enforcing Shariah are supported by the militants in the tribal areas and have links with the Taleban and Al Qaeda. The Al Qaeda and its floating reservoir of extremist organisations in Pakistan have been periodically targeting the country’s political and military leadership over the past few years. Last year saw an upsurge in suicide attacks and the recruitment of young people who are brainwashed to carry out such attacks. Benazir Bhutto’s assassination in Dec ’07 followed several attempts on others in the government, including the former interior minister, other federal ministers and security forces.

Now much depends on the capability and astuteness of the emerging leadership in Pakistan to deal with the security crisis and other major issues facing them. These include the restoration and empowerment of an ousted judiciary and resolution of economic problems such as energy shortage and rising prices of food and other essential items.

Mr Zardari and Mr Sharif have both stated that they will seek a dialogue with the militants in the tribal areas. It should be noted that the 2006 peace accord of North Waziristan reached after negotiations with the tribals fell apart amid much criticism that it had allowed the Taleban and Al Qaeda a chance to regroup.

The withdrawal of security forces from the tribal areas — at present, they number more than 100,000 — is not an option and would undermine all past efforts and successes achieved so far. A long-term strategy for the economic development of the area has already been discussed by the previous regime. Establishment of schools and infrastructure, provision of jobs and reintegration of the isolated region, are all issues that the new government will have to deal with. However, the new political set-up in Islamabad must not lose perspective and make concessions to elements which use terror tactics as a negotiating tool.

To conclude, though preventing the relentless and psychologically destabilising spate of terror attacks would be high on the new government’s agenda, the fact remains that troubles in Waziristan are intermeshed in the tribal-ethnic-ideological linkages across the border. Pakistan has suffered from the spillover effects of Afghanistan’s troubles and is, in fact, paying a heavy price for it. It is essential that the political and military leadership in Pakistan conveys a unified message that activities against the state will not be tolerated at any cost and shall be dealt with accordingly.

The writer is a researcher, security and terrorism studies, Gulf Research Center

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