Al-Qaeda is not the name of an individual, actually this is a way of thinking. Their sole aim is to destroy the world. The rulers may not accept this fact at the moment, but this is the reality Al-Qaeda in Pakistan.
It is ironic to note that the terrorists have been killing the innocent people in tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, but the rulers still insist there is no Al-Qaeda. Just to keep himself in power US President Bush has also been playing into the hands of terrorists. Many of his allies in this war on terrorism are those people, who have close connections with terrorists. It seems impossible that the US President may not be aware of Al-Qaeda activities in Pakistan, but he has been befooling his countrymen. Most of the tribesmen demand that now the truth must come to the fore.
Politicians, journalists and generals are in total confusion in Pakistan as the terrorists have been gaining strength. According to a newspaper comment: In another devastating suicide attack on security forces on Thursday, seven officers of the Pakistan Air force were killed and many more were injured, including civilians, when a suicide bomber rammed his motorcycle into a PAF bus.
In the fortnight since October 18, when more than 130 people were killed in a bomb attack on the mammoth rally for the returning Benazir Bhutto, there have been a number of major attacks on security personnel including those in Tarbela Ghazi and Rawalpindi. In between, there have been almost daily reports of killings and kidnapping particularly from the FATA and NWFP areas.
Security personnel as much as political forces are being equally targeted and clearly there is no regard for ‘collateral damage’ in the form of scores of innocent victims. Amidst all this, there is also a lack of clarity on whether this is even our war.
Consider that on Thursday again, while government sources claimed killing around 70 militants in Swat, there were reports citing a spokesman for the militants in Swat that 44 men from the Frontier Corps Dir scouts had surrendered. Only about two months ago, on August 30, approximately 300 personnel from the Pakistan Army and Frontier Constabulary (FC) surrendered to the pro-Taliban militia of Baitullah Mehsud in South Waziristan.
Then as now the question arises as to why soldiers in relatively large numbers would surrender without a fight. Motivation and morale would seem to be an issue here. There is a widespread perception that Pakistan is fighting America’s war in its tribal areas. What is happening across the border and the presence NATO forces in Afghanistan help strengthen this view. Many of those fighting the militants in the tribal areas may well share the perception.
We could have made better choices; if not in terms of our external alliances, then certainly in the nature of the relationship. And, of course, many of our policies in the tribal areas over the years should have been of a different order. Facilitating the formation of an MMA government in the NWFP and a government alliance with politico-religious parties were not the best of policy options to have been taken up in this critical period.
But whatever the route by which we have arrived at this point, the fact of the matter is that it is now a war with far greater implications for us than for anyone else, including the United States. The extremism that is now beginning to make an impact even in our more developed urban centres, unleashing a regime of terror within, threatens not only democracy but also the very fabric of society and the integrity of the state. There are no easy answers anymore.
We do know that an exclusively military response will not get us very far. We have to look no further than Iraq and Afghanistan to recognise the truth of that contention.
That brings us to the ongoing debate in Pakistan regarding the future political dispensation, crucial to our success or failure in facing up to the current challenge and, perhaps, to our survival.
Recent developments had suggested an anti-extremist alliance made up of disparate elements presided over by President Pervez Musharraf and the PPP leader Benazir Bhutto. This was an arrangement endorsed by the West and underwritten by the United States. For nearly everyone concerned, it was a matter of choosing from among a number of fairly dismal options in a situation that does not offer very many.
The National Reconciliation Ordinance has been challenged in court and the ‘deal’ is seen in many quarters as rank opportunism and bereft of moral content. However, a large number of ordinary voters do not hold the deal against Bhutto as demonstrated by the over a quarter million crowd that turned out to greet her in Karachi on October 18.
But that may also have tilted the balance in the establishment against her. As long as Musharraf was the guarantor of her place in the new dispensation, the level of discomfort in these quarters was probably not that high. But the show of peoples’ power in Karachi carried with it troubling intimations of autonomy. In the follow-up, the deal’s many detractors within the PMLQ, not least the Chaudhrys in the crucial province of Punjab, seem to have persuaded Musharraf to reconsider and go the Emergency/Martial Law route instead.
Meanwhile, Bhutto has left the country, ostensibly to visit family, at a time when the Supreme Court verdict on the eligibility of Musharraf to contest presidential polls is due any moment. If the court does not find in his favour, there is greater likelihood of the emergency option being taken. With the growing success of the militants in not only confronting the military and para-military forces of the state in the tribal areas but also terrorising the country at large, those arguing for a non-democratic route would have acquired a stronger voice in any case.
One can only hope that Musharraf is not tempted by the false logic of the argument that the situation warrants the military running the show. It was the military government of Zia-ul Haq that got us started on this perilous path of extremism that today challenges not just the writ of the state but its very integrity. And with another military dominated government over the last eight years we have only seen the problem grow to such formidable proportions.