There was a time when Pakistan launched a full-scale war against terrorism in tribal areas situated on Pak-Afghan border.
At the initial stage the government of Pakistan had arrested the key leaders of Taliban and al-Qaeda in Bajaur Agency. The foreigners were ordered to leave the areas immediately. There was complete peace in the region. The people were happy as they all wanted elimination of terrorism.
Then all of sudden, the government of Pakistan changed its policy. The Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders were released. The foreigners were told that they could stay in the tribal areas. The people of tribal areas have been watching the situation with great anger, but they can do nothing as the government has changed the policy.
Taliban and terrorists were provided money and weapons by the officials. So many times the government has changed their policy. According to the tribal elders, the main reason of failure in the war on terrorism is the inconsistency. There are indications that even US President Bush is not clear about his policies.
Now the situation is very grim in tribal areas and other parts of Pakistan. According to an editorial comment of a newspaper, Baitullah Mehsud, who pretends to run a Taliban government in South Waziristan but is actually a warlord serving Al Qaeda, has executed three soldiers of the Pakistan army and has vowed to kill more of the 250 he took hostage in September in South Waziristan. The corpses were found with a letter pinned to them saying, “We will gift three bodies every day”. Mehsud has more troops in his custody, including eight officers who might be likewise executed in the days to come.
The Pakistan army is fighting a very difficult battle in Waziristan. It is difficult not only because of the terrain and the hostile tribes involved, but because it is backed by dwindling political support in the country. Apart from Ms Benazir Bhutto of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), political leaders have avoided a verbal confrontation with Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the Tribal Areas. Their line of argument is that trouble among the tribes is linked to Pakistan’s strategic slavery of the United States, and that trouble will cease once Islamabad’s link with Washington is broken.
Not surprisingly, Baitullah Mehsud has threatened suicide attacks against Ms Bhutto, the PPP chairperson, and said that his suicide-bombers are waiting in the wings to “welcome” her when she returns to Pakistan. He said: “We don’t accept President General Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto because they only protect the US interest and see things through its glasses. They’re only acceptable if they wear Pakistani glasses”. He is said to have 35,000 armed men under him and, if he is a Pushtun and an Al Qaeda lieutenant, he will not settle for anything less than capitulation from Islamabad.
Most people opposed to the PPP look at Ms Bhutto as a protégée of the United States. Typically in Pakistani politics, public debates are inclined to take no account of the temperament of a political party. This fudging of the ideological distinction is so widespread that many PPP rank and file in Punjab want their leader to switch off the “liberal” character of the party and focus on the illegitimacy of General Musharraf. Yet, if you look at the PPP’s voting pattern on human rights bills in parliament, its liberal credentials seem to outshine the reluctant PMLQ’s performance. Even during its participation at the APDM summit, it accepted reversion to the 1999 version of the Constitution only if the women’s reserved seats and joint electorates were retained.
Is Ms Bhutto’s stance fashioned under American dictate and under pressure from General Musharraf who, “will save her from going to prison,” if she supports him?
Most commentators in a highly emotive Pakistani environment will “simplify” the argument by saying she is being led by the nose by US President Bush who wants to save his client in power, General Musharraf, from going under. In this perspective, Ms Bhutto is supposed to have spoken out about the threat of Talibanisation and Al Qaeda, and supported General Musharraf’s action against Lal Masjid, only to earn the pleasure of the United States. But the truth is otherwise.
The history of Ms Bhutto’s relationship with Al Qaeda is not new. She has written about it in her book and it is known outside Pakistan that she was an early target of Al Qaeda simply because, being a woman leader, she violated the “Islamic” edict subscribed to by Al Qaeda. Indeed, she revealed some years ago that Osama Bin Laden “contributed” $10 million to the IJI campaign against her. One should also recall that it was during the Afghan jihad and, through it, the rise of Al Qaeda and its creed, that Pakistani clergy reached the dubious consensus that a woman could neither be leader of Muslim men nor a Muslim country’s prime minister. Ms Bhutto was therefore not wrong in assuming that her party as a liberal force in Pakistan did not stand a chance in the midst of this point of view. America or no America, her enemy number one was Al Qaeda and, linked to it, terrorism in general.
Baitullah Mehsud and many in Pakistan are perhaps greatly put off by the fact that she has played her cards deftly with President Musharraf, who will now need support from liberal quarters if he has to prevent the Pakistan army from retreating from its job of re-establishing the writ of the state in the Tribal Areas. The PMLQ is not willing to go beyond a certain level of pragmatism to support a campaign against anything that smells of religion. The PPP had the option of joining the rightwing religious consensus in the opposition and then hope to survive after the triumph of Talibanisation. But Ms Bhutto did not take that option and finessed most of the national and international power-brokers into backing her strategy. Therefore, the frightened and confused Pakistani liberal should take heart from her success; so should the myriad PPP rank and file who do not understand the real political contest in Pakistan.