Pakistani Politicians Divided Over Action On Terror

Published on
by
The Guardian/UK

Pakistani Politicians Divided Over Action On Terror

Parliament session split as extremists denounce Nato • Soaring poverty feared to increase suicide attacks

by
Saeed Shah in Islamabad

A police station in Swat, destroyed after a suicide bombing that killed four people. (Photograph: Sherin Zada/AP)

A deep rift over
anti-terror policy has opened up within Pakistan's political class, as
extremist violence and an economic crisis push the country to the verge
of collapse. A special session of parliament called by the government
to forge a political consensus on the "war on terror" has backfired
spectacularly as parties, including some in the ruling coalition,
denounced the alliance with Washington and Nato rather than backing the
army to take on the Pakistani Taliban.

A party in the coalition
government, the religious Jamiat-Ulama-I-Islam party, has even demanded
that, as parliamentarians had received a presentation from the army,
Pakistan's Taliban movement should also be allowed to address them. It
comes as the political and economic situation worsens, with intensified
suicide bomb attacks and an alarming depletion in Pakistan's foreign
exchange reserves. The country is seeking an emergency $10bn bailout
from the international community, while a severe shortage of
electricity is crippling business and punishing households.

Critics
of the government, which is led by controversial president Asif Ali
Zardari, complain that there is a paralysis of decision-making and
policy. A leaked US top secret National Intelligence Estimate on
Pakistan concludes that the country is "on the edge". A US official was
quoted summing up the assessment as "no money, no energy, no
government".

Yesterday a US missile strike inside Pakistan's
tribal border area with Afghanistan killed up to six suspected
militants, and a suicide attack on a police station in the north-west
killed three officers and wounded 15.

The economic nosedive
will aid recruitment to extremist groups, experts fear, and force more
poor families to send their children to the free madrassa schools,
which offer an exclusively religious curriculum. Inflation is running
at 25%, or up to 100% for many staple food items, and unemployment is
growing, pushing millions more into poverty. The rupee has lost around
30% of its value so far this year.

"The canvas of terrorism is expanding by the minute," said Faisal Saleh Hayat, a former interior minister.

"It's
not only ideological motivation. Put that together with economic
deprivation and you have a ready-made force of Taliban, al-Qaida,
whatever you want to call them. You will see suicide bombers churned
out by the hundred," he said.

The army is engaged in a bloody
operation against militants in Bajaur, part of the tribal border area,
and in Swat, a valley in the north-west. The Pakistani Taliban is
closely tied to al-Qaida and is entrenched across the tribal belt with
much of the north-west in its grip. Other militant groups have networks
that span the entire country.

But there have been some positive
security developments. An editorial yesterday in The News, a Pakistani
daily, asks readers to "stand against terror", pointing out that some
groups of tribesmen in the north-west have raised their own militias to
fight the Taliban. It also wrote about a meeting of Islamic scholars in
the eastern city of Lahore this week that issued a fatwa (edict)
against suicide bombings.

The Pakistan People's party, which
leads the coalition government that came to power in March after over
eight years of army rule, had hoped to get parliamentarians behind the
military action. An army general gave a confidential briefing to
members of parliament. But the biggest opposition party, led by former
prime minister Nawaz Sharif, called for the government to start talks
instead with the extremists, without any preconditions.

"The
majority of the people of Pakistan do not see it as our war. We are
fighting for somebody else and we are suffering because of that," said
Tariq Azim, a former minister in the previous government of Pervez
Musharraf, whose party now sits in the opposition. "At the moment the
only ones toeing the line are the People's party."

Members of
parliament are particularly angered by recent signals from Washington
that it is prepared to talk to the Afghan Taliban, while telling
Pakistan that it must fight its Taliban menace. "They [the US] are
showing a lot more flexibility on their side of the border," said
Khurram Dastagir, a member of parliament for Sharif's party. "The US
are trying to externalise their failure in Afghanistan by dumping it on
us."

It seems that the best the People's party can hope for is a
mildly-worded resolution in parliament, with a thin majority, far short
of the consensus it sought at a time when the very existence of
Pakistan is in peril from the threat of extremists.

Some
parliamentarians, including the Awami National party, which is in the
ruling coalition and based in the insurgency-plagued north-west,
questioned whether the army was sincere in pursuing the extremists.

"There
are still training camps, still [terrorist] sanctuaries, still
cross-border movement in the tribal area," said Bushra Gohar, senior
vice-president of the Awami National party. "There's duplicity, at some
level, in our policies."

 

Share This Article

More in: