ISLAMABAD - Serious doubts multiplied yesterday about Pakistan's commitment to America's
military campaign against al-Qaida and the Taliban after parliament
overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling for dialogue with extremist
groups and an end to military action.
The new strategy, backed by
all parties, emerged after a fierce debate in parliament where most
parliamentarians said that Pakistan was paying an unacceptable price
for fighting "America's war". If implemented by the government, support
for Pakistan from international allies would come under severe strain,
adding further instability to a country facing a spiral of violence and
"We need to prioritise our own national
security interests," said Raza Rabbani, a leading member of the ruling
Pakistan People's party. "As far as the US is concerned, the message
that has gone with this resolution will definitely ring alarm bells,
vis-a-vis their policy of bulldozing Pakistan."
passed unanimously in parliament on Wednesday night demanded the
abandonment of the use of force against extremists, in favour of
negotiation, in what it called "an urgent review of our national
"Dialogue must now be the highest priority,
as a principal instrument of conflict management and resolution," said
the resolution. "The military will be replaced as early as possible by
civilian law enforcement agencies." It also said Pakistan would pursue
"an independent foreign policy" and, in a pointed reference to US
military incursions into Pakistani territory, proclaimed that "the
nation stands united against any incursions and invasions of the
homeland, and calls upon the government to deal with it effectively".
force of the resolution was unclear last night, with differences in
interpretation between the ruling People's party and opposition. The
document is not binding on the government even though it was party to
it. The army remains the ultimate arbiter of security policy. Some
analysts believe that differences between the parties will see a tussle
over implementation that could temper the resolution's thrust. The US
response was muted, with officials saying they considered it rhetoric
for domestic consumption.
But the intense American pressure on
Islamabad to take on the militants was underlined yesterday by another
US missile strike inside Pakistani territory, an instance of the
heavy-handed intervention that parliament railed against. The attack
came in Pakistan's border area with Afghanistan, at an Islamic school
being used by suspected extremists, killing 11. The madrasa was linked
to Afghan Taliban commander Jalaluddin Haqqani, who has an extensive
network in Pakistan.
There have been about a dozen US missile
strikes inside Pakistan since the beginning of September and a ground
assault, fanning widespread anti-Americanism in the country. The US and
Nato depend on Pakistan to prevent its tribal area being used as a safe
haven for Afghan Taliban.
Past attempts by Pakistan at making
peace with militant groups in the tribal area have allowed them to
regroup and led to a sharp increase in cross-border attacks against
coalition forces in Afghanistan.
Yesterday a US official made
clear what it expected. "Pakistan needs to and is attacking insurgents
in its northern areas," Patrick Moon, a deputy US assistant secretary
of state, said during a visit to Kabul. "Sanctuaries for Afghanistan
Taliban in Pakistan complicate our security operations. Pakistani
Taliban and other extremists such as al-Qaida are posing a threat to
the stability of Pakistan."
Pakistan is confronting multiple
crises, political, security and financial, which threaten to overwhelm
the nuclear-armed country and push it into chaos. It is heading towards
bankruptcy, forcing Islamabad this week to approach to the
International Monetary Fund for a rescue package. But the IMF bailout
could be jeopardised if Washington is not on board.
people complain that the country feels like it is falling apart, with a
severe shortage of electricity causing blackouts of 12 hours or more in
many areas, and crippling food price inflation, running at up to 100%,
swelling the numbers living below the poverty line.
north-west, especially its tribal border area with Afghanistan, is
under the control of Taliban and al-Qaida, who are connected to
militant groups that have networks across the country. Yesterday, in
what is now a typical day for Pakistan, aside from the US missile
strike, eight anti-Taliban tribal leaders were killed by militants in
the Orakzai part of the tribal area, and the army killed 20 fighters in
Bajaur, another part of the tribal belt.
In Swat, a valley in the
north-west, the headless body was found of a policeman, previously
kidnapped by Taliban, and posters went up in Swat warning women against
shopping in markets, saying it was "unIslamic".
"Our country is
burning," said Senator Khurshid Ahmad, a member of Pakistan's upper
house of parliament for Jamaat-e-Islami, a mainstream religious party.
"We don't want Bush to put oil on the fire. We want to extinguish this
Sherry Rehman, minister for information, said the motion
was a "firm resolve to combat terrorism". But Talat Masood, a retired
general and security analyst, said: "The army will be disappointed
there was not a clear consensus. I think the army will continue with
the existing policy."
Pakistan's tribal territory, formally known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas
(Fata), is a legacy of the Raj, a 10,000 square mile sliver of
territory that has become central to geopolitics and the homeland
security of the US, Britain and Europe.
The laws of Pakistan do not extend to the tribal belt, which is run under its own punitive laws and tribal custom,
a system developed by the British. Fierce customs mean that men all
carry guns, and guests, including al-Qaida militants, must be
Al-Qaida's leadership and thousands of Taliban escaped the US war in Afghanistan after September 11 2001 by slipping into the tribal area, which runs along the border.
Under a treaty with the tribes, the Pakistan army was not allowed to enter the Fata, but the accord broke in 2004 under US pressure calling for al-Qaida bases to be disrupted. This sparked a tribal insurrection and pushed the locals towards extremism, creating a Pakistani Taliban. Taliban militants killed hundreds of traditional leaders and now control most of the Fata, imposing a rough and ready Islamic law, though it is believed that most tribesmen remain moderate.