Security Situation in Pakistan Seen Worsening

Rick Moran
President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan has spent much of the last 6 years since he was reluctantly enlisted in the War on Terror juggling several competing interests, trying to keep all of them in the air at the same time lest one or two hit the ground causing catastrophe.

There are the Americans, of course. We are problematic allies for Musharraf in that his country is perhaps the most anti-American nation in the world. Not because of our invasion of Iraq but rather because we overthrew the Taliban in Afghanistan - a move widely seen in Pakistan as butting into their business. Created largely by the Pakistani intelligence service, the ISI, the Taliban was seen as allowing Pakistani influence to guide Afghanistan. Any move Musharraf makes that overtly brings Pakistan in close cooperation with the United States causes him no end of domestic political headaches with his major backers; conservative religious parties who run the radical madrasses where most of the Taliban fighters emerge to battle the occupation of Afghanistan.

Then there are the tribal areas in the Northwest Frontier Provinces who have never really recognized that they are a part of any nation and have fought the Pakistani government for 60 years to keep their autonomy. When we kicked the Taliban out of Afghanistan the survivors naturally gravitated to this religiously conservative tribal areas where they were welcomed with a combination of suspicion and eagerness. The tribes look upon all strangers with suspicion but were eager to take advantage of the jobs being offered by the Taliban; enlisting young men into their army to fight the new Afghan government and NATO.
 
The result of the Taliban setting up shop in the NWFP was that the tribes became even more resistant to rule from Islamabad. And to make matters worse for Musharraf, his American allies began breathing down his neck to do something about the concentration of Taliban fighters in the NWFP who had begun trekking across the border into Afghanistan to carry out raids and terrorize the local population.

So in 2004, Musharraf went to war in the Tribal areas - specifically in North and South Waziristan where the Taliban and their al-Qaeda allies were headquartered. The war did not go well for Musharraf. Although the Pakistani army fought well, the Taliban proved elusive. After almost two years of his troops running around the provinces, Musharraf gave up and signed agreements with the tribes that allowed the Taliban to remain as long as they didn't use Pakistani territory to attack Afghanistan or welcome al-Qaeda terrorists into their camps. In return, Musharraf pledged not to base troops in the area except for some troops that would be based in some of the larger towns.

It's really all he could do at the time. Besides, these kinds of agreements had been made before and both sides realized they would be honored in the breach. Sure enough, the Taliban continued to make cross border raids into Afghanistan while Musharraf continued to put pressure on al-Qaeda fighters who ignored the terms of the treaties and continued to join up with the Taliban.

I've taken some pains to give a thumbnail sketch of the background to what's been happening in Pakistan because Musharraf's juggling act - the Americans, the Taliban, the tribes, the Army, and the conservative religious parties - are now all threatening to crash down
around his head:

The depth of the problem has become clear only in recent months, as regional peace deals have collapsed and the government has deferred developing a new strategy to defeat insurgents until Pakistan's leader, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, can resolve a political crisis that threatens his presidency.

Meanwhile, radical Islamic fighters who were evicted from Afghanistan by the 2001 U.S.-led invasion have intensified a ruthless campaign that has consumed Pakistan's tribal areas and now affects its major cities. Military officials say the insurgents have enhanced their ability to threaten not only Pakistan but the United States and Europe as well.

"They've had a chance to regroup and reorganize," said a Western military official in Pakistan. "They're well equipped. They're clearly getting training from somewhere. And they're using more and more advanced tactics."

Pakistan's military, on the other hand, is considering pulling back from the fight -- at least partially -- in the face of mounting losses, the official said.

Quite simply, these events couldn't have occurred at a worse time for Musharraf and Pakistan. With Musharraf ready to relenquish control of the Army in order to run for re-election - an agreement he made with former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto whose return to Pakistani politics signals a return to civilian rule - the military is reluctant to make any moves until a new chief is chosen, probably at the end of the year if Musharraf keeps his word and steps down as Chief of Staff.

The religious parties are unhappy with Musharraf who see his alliance with the secular forces led by Bhutto as a threat to their own position. The Taliban has been emboldened with the pull back of the Pakistani army and have stepped up their campaign in Afghanistan. And al-Qaeda is now seen as a threat to both Pakistan and the west:

Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden has sought to exploit the Pakistani military's deficiencies and its unpopular ties to the United States.

Last month, he released an unusual audio recording in which he focused almost all of his wrath on Musharraf and called on Pakistanis to overthrow their government. Shah, the retired general, said that knowing how strong al-Qaeda has become, Pakistani officials are deluding themselves if they think insurgents will back down anytime soon.

"Pakistan should have no doubt about what these people have done, and what they can do," he said. "They have declared war on Pakistan. Now the army must make a war plan."
It appears that the transition to civilian rule will be fraught with danger for both the United States and Pakistan. Whether the new civilian, secular government can resist all the forces whose hands are raised against it while maintaining close ties with the US will be a huge challenge.

Like Musharraf, they will be playing circus performer, juggling the many problems and interests, trying to keep them up in the air as long as possible.
President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan has spent much of the last 6 years since he was reluctantly enlisted in the War on Terror juggling several competing interests, trying to keep all of them in the air at the same time lest one or two hit the ground causing catastrophe.

There are the Americans, of course. We are problematic allies for Musharraf in that his country is perhaps the most anti-American nation in the world. Not because of our invasion of Iraq but rather because we overthrew the Taliban in Afghanistan - a move widely seen in Pakistan as butting into their business. Created largely by the Pakistani intelligence service, the ISI, the Taliban was seen as allowing Pakistani influence to guide Afghanistan. Any move Musharraf makes that overtly brings Pakistan in close cooperation with the United States causes him no end of domestic political headaches with his major backers; conservative religious parties who run the radical madrasses where most of the Taliban fighters emerge to battle the occupation of Afghanistan.

Then there are the tribal areas in the Northwest Frontier Provinces who have never really recognized that they are a part of any nation and have fought the Pakistani government for 60 years to keep their autonomy. When we kicked the Taliban out of Afghanistan the survivors naturally gravitated to this religiously conservative tribal areas where they were welcomed with a combination of suspicion and eagerness. The tribes look upon all strangers with suspicion but were eager to take advantage of the jobs being offered by the Taliban; enlisting young men into their army to fight the new Afghan government and NATO.
 
The result of the Taliban setting up shop in the NWFP was that the tribes became even more resistant to rule from Islamabad. And to make matters worse for Musharraf, his American allies began breathing down his neck to do something about the concentration of Taliban fighters in the NWFP who had begun trekking across the border into Afghanistan to carry out raids and terrorize the local population.

So in 2004, Musharraf went to war in the Tribal areas - specifically in North and South Waziristan where the Taliban and their al-Qaeda allies were headquartered. The war did not go well for Musharraf. Although the Pakistani army fought well, the Taliban proved elusive. After almost two years of his troops running around the provinces, Musharraf gave up and signed agreements with the tribes that allowed the Taliban to remain as long as they didn't use Pakistani territory to attack Afghanistan or welcome al-Qaeda terrorists into their camps. In return, Musharraf pledged not to base troops in the area except for some troops that would be based in some of the larger towns.

It's really all he could do at the time. Besides, these kinds of agreements had been made before and both sides realized they would be honored in the breach. Sure enough, the Taliban continued to make cross border raids into Afghanistan while Musharraf continued to put pressure on al-Qaeda fighters who ignored the terms of the treaties and continued to join up with the Taliban.

I've taken some pains to give a thumbnail sketch of the background to what's been happening in Pakistan because Musharraf's juggling act - the Americans, the Taliban, the tribes, the Army, and the conservative religious parties - are now all threatening to crash down
around his head:

The depth of the problem has become clear only in recent months, as regional peace deals have collapsed and the government has deferred developing a new strategy to defeat insurgents until Pakistan's leader, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, can resolve a political crisis that threatens his presidency.

Meanwhile, radical Islamic fighters who were evicted from Afghanistan by the 2001 U.S.-led invasion have intensified a ruthless campaign that has consumed Pakistan's tribal areas and now affects its major cities. Military officials say the insurgents have enhanced their ability to threaten not only Pakistan but the United States and Europe as well.

"They've had a chance to regroup and reorganize," said a Western military official in Pakistan. "They're well equipped. They're clearly getting training from somewhere. And they're using more and more advanced tactics."

Pakistan's military, on the other hand, is considering pulling back from the fight -- at least partially -- in the face of mounting losses, the official said.

Quite simply, these events couldn't have occurred at a worse time for Musharraf and Pakistan. With Musharraf ready to relenquish control of the Army in order to run for re-election - an agreement he made with former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto whose return to Pakistani politics signals a return to civilian rule - the military is reluctant to make any moves until a new chief is chosen, probably at the end of the year if Musharraf keeps his word and steps down as Chief of Staff.

The religious parties are unhappy with Musharraf who see his alliance with the secular forces led by Bhutto as a threat to their own position. The Taliban has been emboldened with the pull back of the Pakistani army and have stepped up their campaign in Afghanistan. And al-Qaeda is now seen as a threat to both Pakistan and the west:

Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden has sought to exploit the Pakistani military's deficiencies and its unpopular ties to the United States.

Last month, he released an unusual audio recording in which he focused almost all of his wrath on Musharraf and called on Pakistanis to overthrow their government. Shah, the retired general, said that knowing how strong al-Qaeda has become, Pakistani officials are deluding themselves if they think insurgents will back down anytime soon.

"Pakistan should have no doubt about what these people have done, and what they can do," he said. "They have declared war on Pakistan. Now the army must make a war plan."
It appears that the transition to civilian rule will be fraught with danger for both the United States and Pakistan. Whether the new civilian, secular government can resist all the forces whose hands are raised against it while maintaining close ties with the US will be a huge challenge.

Like Musharraf, they will be playing circus performer, juggling the many problems and interests, trying to keep them up in the air as long as possible.