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Opinion

July 1, 2008

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Caution, not optimism

The operation on the outskirts of Peshawar notwithstanding, the military leadership should refrain henceforth from any operations in the tribal belt without the full endorsement of the government and parliament. For the sake of stability, this should be a shared responsibility. At worst, the government's decision to abrogate this responsibility could be a trap. If things get ugly, this decision will ensure that all blame rests with the military, in a repeat of the outcry that followed the Lal Masjid operation in July 2007.

Since parliament is supreme, it should be given the opportunity to invite the terrorist 'commanders' in the tribal region or their representatives to come and present their grievances. If the terrorists insist on fighting, the decision to use force should come from the elected representatives, on behalf of the nation. President Musharraf, the supreme commander of the armed forces, and the military leadership need to understand the evil game being played out in the wider strategic context. Fresh Pashtun anger in case of civilian casualties will play right into the hands of those, inside and outside the country, who want to see NWFP get out of Pakistan's control for good.

What's more stunning is that Pakistan today has an elected government that is more pro-American than any other administration in recent times. A Pakistani ambassador in Washington who talks more like a junior staffer at the US Department of State is a sign that Pakistan today is a nation under siege without firing a shot. At least the US had to invade and occupy Iraq and Afghanistan to ease such people into power.

For Pakistani decision-makers, this is not a time for optimism. It's better to be cautious now – even paranoid – than sorry later. The events in our tribal region did not emerge from a void but are a continuation of a dirty game that culminated last year and continues unabated, involving some neighbours and some allies. Every time a report comes

out to scare the world about a terrorist threat to Pakistani nukes, militants in our tribal region spring into action and provide the world with enough images to justify the propaganda. In the past three weeks, this propaganda coincided with – and was confirmed by – images from Pakistan of religious extremists slaughtering two Afghans, the kidnap and release of Pakistani Christians, and the media hype about the imminent fall of Peshawar to terrorists.

It is beyond doubt now that external powers are maintaining active and influential assets inside Pakistani territory and among tribal militants, who are heavily infiltrated. In fact, the quality and quantity of the weapons, terrorists and money that is coming in from the Afghan side indicates that we already have on our hands a low intensity war. Washington is also using Afghan soil to insert crack units inside Iran to conduct acts of sabotage and psychological operations to disorient Tehran.

If you have superiority in intelligence gathering and multiple means of buying out loyalties, like the U.S. does, then the fog of chaos is a good way of confusing the enemy and achieving the objective. The US wants to target Iran and neutralize Pakistan's ability to maintain influence in Afghanistan and Kashmir.

This is not about blaming the US for our problems. Pakistan needs to set its own house in order but there is no question that the insurgencies in Balochistan and NWFP were almost non-existent before 2005. To draw a line in the sand, Islamabad should openly declare Washington and Kabul directly responsible for the violence in its territories.

The main reason for Pakistan's vulnerability is weak leadership and a flawed political system that breeds instability. To get over this weakness, a strong federal government will have to be introduced in Islamabad at some point that is not tailored to American tastes. This government cannot be drawn from the existing failed political class and cannot be a repeat of past military governments.



The writer works for Geo TV. Email: [email protected]

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