Situation in the tribal areas situated on the Pak-Afghan border is still critical as the killing of innocent people and soldiers continues unabated.
Taliban militants killed six Pakistani soldiers on Wednesday in an attack on a military convoy in the northwest and 15 insurgents were killed in retaliation, a military spokesman said. Another 20 soldiers were wounded when the militants ambushed the convoy as it travelled through the North Waziristan region on the Afghan border, military spokesman, Major-General Waheed Arshad informed.
According to another report, gunmen riding on a motorbike shot dead two policemen in Balochistan, police said. They were killed in a drive-by shooting on the outskirts of Quetta, a senior police officer said. The attack came hours after dozens of youths chanting slogans against the British government staged a protest rally in Quetta demanding the release of two Baloch nationals, Faiz Baluch and Hyrbyair Marri, who are facing trial in London, witnesses said.
Some 70 teenagers carrying banners and portraits of the detained men chanted slogans against the Pakistani and British governments outside the press club.
It is ironic to note that British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said former Taliban fighters in Afghanistan can win a role in the country's future if they renounce violence. Brown told lawmakers Britain would support efforts by Afghan President Hamid Karzai to bring former insurgents into mainstream politics. He said Britain would not hold direct talks with ex-Taliban fighters but supports the attempts by Karzai's officials to widen Afghanistan's political sphere. The terrorists are on the killing spree, but the rulers of Pakistan are busy in a power game.
According to M B Naqvi, unending confusion grips the opposition parties over assessing the Musharraf regime Mark II, along with the scarcely neutral caretakers and the changes made under the emergency, the PCO and the new media ordinances. It is a continuation of the previous government; it is sure to do what Musharraf wants.
Thus the country is basically polarised between Musharraf partisans and those who claim to be anti-Musharraf forces while everybody knows that his regime now intends to rule through naked force with a deceptive façade of democratic-seeming institutions. This new Musharraf regime is a creature of the virtual martial law of Nov 3 – a logical reaction of his dictatorship when challenged – and is engaged in two major operations: first, to acquire ever more powers than before for the recently retired general to rule repressively for another five years while claiming to run a democracy.
Secondly, he wants to keep all his foreign and domestic supporters happy by his unchanged social, economic and foreign policies.
How strong is this regime? Musharraf's strength should not be underestimated. He is supported formally by PML-Q grandees, the MQM, the PPP(S) and the PPP (Patriots). Those who participate in the Jan 8 election, being organised and managed by Musharraf under conditions created by the emergency, the PCO and the muzzling of the media should be counted as his supporters, their opposition-sounding noises notwithstanding. The JUIs of Maulanas Fazlur Rahman and Samiul Haq come under this category, as does Ms Benazir Bhutto's PPP.
For all the ballyhoo about reserving the right to boycott, her party's dogged resistance to making the restoration of pre-Nov 3 conditions, especially the Supreme Court judges' restoration a precondition for participating in the polls shows her anxiety to strengthen Musharraf in accordance with the putative deal the US had brokered, if Musharraf does not renege on it.
So, who remains in the boycott camp? Under the mean and opportunistic principle of not leaving the field to "others," the Jamaat-e-Islami will participate because the JUI is doing so. The PML(N) has also decided to play the game because the PPP is doing it. Maybe a few small parties might finally remain in the boycott camp, though even that is not certain. A message from the interned Aitzaz Ahsan of all people has emanated via the media: let all opposition parties compel their candidates to sign a piece of paper pledging support for reinstating all PCOed judges in the new Parliament being elected by Musharraf-nominated caretakers.
One was aghast at this. Aitzaz forgot the disconnect between the ongoing lawyers' and civil society's campaign to realise, as a precondition to participation, the reversion to pre-Nov 3 (2007) Pakistan, though later he returned to his original loyalty to the lawyers' movement.
What the parties have done risks the ending of the momentum of the lawyers' movement. The shape of politics and immediate issues will look vastly different in the post-election period. Politics will be all about government-making deals and alliances under the smiling visage of the ex-general. Reviving the previous year's issues will be so much more difficult.
To recall, the Aitzaz proposal was a testimony of his loyalty to Benazir Bhutto and his readiness to sacrifice personal ambition for her uncertain favours. But all this is superficial. Look closely. All Pakistan's social and economic elites support Musharraf. A large number of bigger landlords simply love Musharraf, so long as he is in power. All big industrialists, bankers, big business magnates and conscienceless successful professionals have always been on the side of military dictators. This is an awesome array of forces.
Who else is a supporter of dictatorship?
Well, why forget the only hyper power there is. Look at the crowded drawing rooms of political leaders in Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi and Peshawar, waiting to be graced by western ambassadors and CJs. The latter group is rooting for Musharraf. "Be responsible transitionists, take part in elections and jointly build democracy."
What the west wants is obvious: "War on Islamic terrorists is on. Horses cannot be changed midstream. let Musharraf lead the side but go and join him to prosecute the war more effectively. This election will lead Pakistan to the goal of democracy and that is where you and we want to be."
Finally, the strongest supporter of Musharraf was his military constituency. The Army is tightly united and it was the Army, qua Army (in the absence of Gen. Musharraf), that seized power on Oct 12, 1999. It has sound professional, economic and even political reasons not to desert Musharraf. The entire officers' corps stands to lose some perks and future opportunities if the people of Pakistan manage to overthrow Musharraf. Hence, the Army is likely to remain loyal to Musharraf, for some time anyway.
Those who want undiluted democracy made by the people with independent judiciary, free media and the citizens' rights made enforceable, have to replace this regime by a more popular one without giving up their vigil. This is a challenge to a formidable foe. History shows that phenomenally powerful and cruel regimes can be overthrown by a people, provided they become aware of both their rights and are prepared to fight for them. Nothing is more powerful than an aware and united people. This is a simple truth, but it is not the whole truth.