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Crisis in Pakistan: Musharraf’s options are limited

by Archives November 13, 2007

Although the situation on the ground in Pakistan continues to develop at a breakneck pace, the political dynamic underlying the current crisis remains unchanged.
President Gen. Pervez Musharraf issued a statement on Nov. 8 proclaiming that he will step down as army chief and hold elections in mid-February. In spite of this, pro-democracy forces are still arraigned against him.
Musharraf’s state of emergency, officially declared in order to combat Islamist extremism, is unlikely to translate into any serious clamp down.
Large factions in the Pakistani army and intelligence services, who helped established the Taliban, remain sympathetic to their former proxies. Musharraf, who relies on the military to stay in power, cannot purge it for fear of dividing the one institution that still supports him. This has grave implications for Afghanistan, as the NATO campaign to defeat the Taliban is largely futile as long as militants are allowed to maintain strongholds in Pakistan.
Ever since Musharraf sacked Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudry on March 9, 2007 his regime has faced considerable domestic opposition. His reinstatement in July, by order of Pakistan’s Supreme Court, only served to raise tensions and open the door for pro-democracy figures, such as Benazir Bhutto, to return to prominence. As it stands, with the judiciary and much of the populace against him, Musharraf is forced to rely on the military to maintain his rule.
Pakistan also faces a growing insurgency in it’s frontier region, adjacent to the Afghan border, whose roots stretch back to events that occurred almost two decades ago.
During the late ’80s Pakistan’s ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) trained and organized the Mujahedeen, the forerunners of the Taliban, to fight the Soviets. Ever since, the Pakistani security apparatus has seen significant colonization by Jihadist ideology. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, right up until the September 11th attacks, Pakistan has maintained close ties with the Taliban in order to foster ‘strategic depth’ in south central Asia. This all changed in the run up to Operation Enduring Freedom, the U.S. military intervention in Afghanistan, which relied heavily on Pakistani logistical and intelligence assistance. In exchange for its support, Musharraf’s regime has received billions of dollars in American financial aid, the removal of economic sanctions, and a revival of diplomatic relations.
The current crisis was precipitated by an Oct. 7 Pakistani government decision to invade the Waziristan tribal areas at the behest of the U.S government. This was intended to support NATO operations in Afghanistan by preventing a post-Ramadan offensive from gestating in the tribal regions. According to Asia Times correspondent Syed Saleem Shahzad, the Taliban responded by activating its insurgent networks in the border region.
Security forces, who were caught by surprise and distracted, largely surrendered without firing a single shot. Musharraf seized this opportunity to declare a state of emergency, suspend the constitution, dump the judiciary, and arrest hundreds of lawyers, all ostensibly to crush the militants.
At first it appeared that Musharraf was serious about clamping down on militancy when it was reported that soldiers operating in Waziristan were largely largely Shiite; Sunni soldiers have often refused to fight the Taliban as it is largely composed of their fellow Sunnis.
Despite initial appearance of conflict, however, Reuters reported on Nov. 4 that 213 Pakistani Army personnel, abducted earlier in the border region, were released, signalling that a deal of some kind had been made with the government. This would not be surprising.
Any effective crackdown on Islamist extremism would also require a purge of sympathizers from Pakistan’s security apparatus. For the chronically embattled Musharraf, this is untenable as it risks alienating the military, and subverting his own base of support. No serious campaign is likely to be forthcoming.
This is could cause significant problems for Canadian forces in Afghanistan, as it grants a base of support to the Taliban in the tribal regions just across the border. The Durand line, which separates the Afghan theatre from Pakistan, has never been viewed as legitimate by ethnic Pashtuns who form the bulk of the insurgency. Pashtun militant groups, who operate under the Taliban banner in Pakistan and Afghanistan, routinely cross the border unobstructed. Reportedly, many Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders live on the Pakistani side, where they organize and initiate offensives against NATO-led coalition forces. Pakistan also serves as an important conduit for Afghan heroin exports which fund much of the extremist activity in the region.
In order to uproot the Taliban in Afghanistan, you must also have firm control over Pakistan’s restive tribal regions. As long as Musharraf is forced to prop his regime up on the back of the military it is doubtful that this will occur.
Of course, it’s still too early to predict what will happen as circumstances in country seem to shift every twenty four hours. What’s certain is that all possible outcomes will have significant repercussions for NATO operations in South and Central Asia.

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