The United States can defeat terrorism in Pakistan through political means. Defeating terrorism in Pakistan means a defeat to terrorism in the entire world. The US must exert pressure on Pakistani rulers to show sincerity in war on terrorism or leave the corridor of power. One thing should be kept in mind, Pakistan cannot survive without the support from the United States.
According to Pakistan's leading newspaper comment: As Monday’s suicide attack near the air force complex in Kamra shows, the militants are resolved on demonstrating that they are prepared to strike at anyone connected to the armed forces, even the young children of military employees. One can only be thankful that, apart from the bomber, there were no fatalities and that the children, who were being driven to school in a military vehicle at the time of the attack, escaped with injuries that are reported not to be life-threatening.
But as the Islamists extend their definition of ‘military targets’, one wonders where they will strike next — and whether even tight precautionary measures at places like hospitals and schools catering to the families of security employees would be enough to guard against the determination of a single suicide bomber. In fact, as the arena of conflict widens in the country, and batches upon batches of indoctrinated young men are sent out to kill in the name of religion, all lines become blurred. Non-combatants — regardless of whether or not they have connections with security personnel — are as exposed to violence as those directly targeting the extremists. Brutalised, for they have seen their own women and children being killed in indiscriminate attacks by security forces, the Islamists have entered a phase where the principles of just war no longer have any meaning, despite the militants’ commitment to what they perceive as a moral cause.
But it is not only the mindset of the militants that is distorted. Society, too, indulges in similarly warped thinking. In addition to sympathising with the Islamists’ anti-US stance and justifying their anger against western clout that has spawned economic inequality and despotic regimes, there is a tendency to endorse the ‘moral order’ that the militants want to impose on society. Thus, all kinds of atrocities are tolerated. Not a murmur is heard when women, accused of indulging in wayward acts, are beheaded, or when public executions (bypassing state justice) are conducted in the name of purging society of undesirable elements. Little concern is enunciated by the educational authorities when girls’ schools are bombed. If at all there is any protest at the way young boys are brainwashed in seminaries and then dispatched on suicide and other missions, it is muted.
Another newspaper stated that the All Parties Democratic Movement (APDM) has thrown its founder party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN), out of the “movement” along with other “deviant” parties and declared its intent to embark on a mass movement against the Musharraf establishment. The other parties who are supposed to have succumbed to the lure of elections are: Awami National Party (ANP), Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUIF), and Mutahidda Jamiat Ahle Hadith (MJAH). The 12 left inside the movement are all minnows with intensity compensating for lack of stake, except the Jama’at which has cadre clout.
The convenor of the APDM, Raja Zafarul Haq, has been replaced by Mahmood Khan Achakzai of Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PKMAP) and the stage is set for an aggressive plan of action after the December 18 “national conference” in Islamabad. The APDM without its founder also declared its final verdict on the MMA when its president, Qazi Hussain Ahmad, asserted that it was “no more an election alliance”, and that he as MMA president would not allow anyone to use the alliance’s election symbol, a book, without his consent. The new APDM will have a regional undertow with sub-nationalist parties helping to maintain its aggressive plank.
More seriously, there will be encroachments from another challenge that politicians have by and large ignored because paying attention to it would have drawn the venom of their attacks against the Musharraf establishment. Trouble will be aplenty in the Tribal Areas and more operations will follow the Swat one where Al Qaeda has been forced to beat a temporary retreat. The reaction to the coming developments in the Tribal Areas will be varied. The PMLN will denounce the military option being exercised and will promise to sort out the issue if it is voted to power. The PPP will be muffled in its criticism but will not be totally in agreement with the anti-terrorist strategy in deference to its vote bank which remains a part of the national anti-American consensus. The APDM will be far more active in its opposition to these operations. Its agitational strategy will actually rely on the persistence of trouble in the Tribal Areas. Its cadres will be out on the road and each time an act of terrorism takes place it will blame the government for it and try to mobilise the masses, unwittingly supporting Al Qaeda’s policy of consolidating its hold on the Tribal Areas. In Balochistan, the resonance of the APDM with the common man will be far more pronounced than in Punjab. There could be more trouble there once the APDM begins to stage its protest. The real leader of the APDM, Qazi Hussain Ahmad, will use the Al Qaeda trouble to try to cut the ground from under the feet of his rival, Maulana Fazlur Rehman of JUIF, accusing him of having walked over to the American side.
Does Al Qaeda have a strategy for these troubled days ahead? The latest news is that warlord Baitullah Mehsud has warned that he will disrupt elections if his captured fellow-terrorists are not released. After his threat, the 15 candidates who had filed their papers for South Waziristan have declared that they had no choice but to withdraw their candidature. This kind of situation may recur. Baitullah has done this before. Earlier, tribal elders had negotiated a deal between the government and Baitullah under which 25 suspects were freed in exchange for 247 captured soldiers. The fact is that Al Qaeda can strike anywhere in Pakistan with its suicide-bombers. And it can choose the political parties it is going to hit.
But the mainstream wisdom is in favour of taking part in elections. No matter what the small parties with extreme agendas decide to do, the participation of the PPP and the PMLN in the January 2008 elections will set the stage for new governance in Pakistan. A number of issues will have to be looked at differently by the new parliament which is predicted to be split. Above all, there will have to be a fresh approach to the issue of the independence of the judiciary; secondly, there has to be a final resolution of the quarrel over the nature of civil-military relations in the country.
The suicide bombing directed at a truck carrying schoolchildren just outside the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex, Kamra, on Monday, is a dastardly act that needs be condemned in the strongest possible terms. It was, however, sheer good luck that the driver kept his presence of mind. This helped save the lives of the occupants of the vehicle, though 18 children were still injured. Whatever grouse the militants might have against the government, targeting innocent young children could not be justified by any stretch of imagination. It cannot be conceived as a 'legitimate' military target of the resistance forces and would, in fact, raise serious questions in the light of Islamic principles. There is a clear need for the Ulema to play their role and come forward to apprise these misguided fighters of the so-called holy war of the real teachings of Islam.