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Musharraf Faces Pashtun Mutiny

In the wake of the bloody military operation to neutralise the jihadi elements, which had taken control of the Lal Masjid in Islamabad, President General Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan is facing an ominous threat of a Pashtun mutiny in his security forces.

2. Individual Pashtuns, not belonging to any particular organisation, have been in the forefront of the wave of suicide bombings and other incidents, which have rocked North Waziristan in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and even Islamabad since July 13,2007. Members of the security forces and elements of the Pakistan People’s Party Parliamentarians (PPPP) of Mrs.Benazir Bhutto, who had supported the military operation in the Lal Masjid, have been the special targets of attack. While the suicide bombers and other perpetrators have not yet been identified by the police and the intelligence agencies, at least those involved in the incidents in the NWFP and Islamabad are suspected to be Pashtun ex-servicemen, whose children had died in the military operation in the Lal Masjid.

3. The majority of the girls studying in the madrasa located inside the Lal Masjid campus, which suffered the maximum damage and fatalities, belonged to different Pashtun tribal families from the FATA, the NWFP and Islamabad. There were also some from the tribal families of Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK).

4.There have been at least six attacks of suicide terrorism since July 13,2007, resulting in the deaths of at least 160 persons—- 17 of them civilians and the rest the members of the security forces—-the Army, the Frontier Constabulary, other para-military forces and the local police.Of these, three have been reported from the NWFP, two from North Waziristan and one from Islamabad.

5. The incident in Islamabad on July 17,2007, took place near an enclosure in which workers of the PPPP had assembled to welcome Chief Justice Iftikhar Ahmed Chaudhury, who was placed under suspension by Musharraf on March 9,2007.The latest incident on July 18,2007, has been reported from North Waziristan, where at least 16 Pakistani soldiers were killed in an attack by unidentified elements in the Lwara Mundi area near the Afghan border, about 25km from the town of Miranshah. Initial reports claim that it was more an ambush than a suicide attack.

6.When the Army raided the Lal Masjid, it had simultaneously rushed reinforcements to North Waziristan and the Malakand area of the NWFP in an attempt to pre-empt any retaliatory violence. The tribals of North Waziristan interpreted the posting of fresh army units in their area as a violation of the controversial peace agreement reached between the security forces and the tribal elders in September last year. Many of the military outposts in the area, which were withdrawn by the Government under the peace agreement, were revived as a precautionary measure by the Army when it started its operation in the Lal Masjid. This has added to the tribal anger in the area.

7. The Government adopted a two-pronged approach—strong action against the pro-Al Qaeda Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM), which has been active in the Malakand area of the NWFP, and placatory moves towards the pro-Neo Taliban tribal leaders of North Waziristan in order to convince them that the post-July 13 military operations in the Pashtun belt are directed against Al Qaeda and pro-Al Qaeda elements and not against the Neo Taliban and pro-Neo Taliban elements. This has only further damaged the credibility of Musharraf in the Pashtun tribal belt.Neither the pro-Al Qaeda elements have been controlled nor the pro- Taliban elements been placated.

8.In the meanwhile, the illegal FM radio stations operated by the mosques and madrasas in the Pashtun belt have been appealing to the Pashtun soldiers and policemen not to let themselves be used by Musharraf and the US. They have also been appealing to the Pashtun tribals not to join the security forces.

9. Fortunately for Musharraf, these instigatory appeals have not so far had any impact on the Pashtun soldiers of the Army and the Frontier Constabulary, but there have been reports of desertions of Pashtun policemen. It is too early to say what impact these appeals will have on new recruitment.

10. The “Dawn” of Karachi wrote on July 18,2007, as follows:” Certainly the situation is more alarming than what many had earlier thought, particularly if seen in the light of the radical views of the non-combatant survivors of the religious complex. Coupled with that has been the angry reaction in a large section of the population, mainly due to the lack of transparency about the civilian casualties.And a much stronger reaction by the Islamic militants has come in the form of suicide attacks in North West Pakistan. And now Islamabad. All this makes the situation look even more precarious.”

11. Taken aback by the Pashtun anger against the Chinese, the Chinese Embassy in Islamabad has been trying to reassure the Pakistani religious elements that China had nothing against the Lal Masjid. It has been denying reports that Beijing forced Musharraf to act against the Masjid following the kidnapping of some Chinese women by the madrasa students.

12.The “China Daily” reported as follows on July 18,2007: “China did not push Pakistan for operations against the Red Mosque, Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan Luo Zhaohui said. It is the consistent policy of China not to meddle in the domestic affairs of other countries, he told The News, a major Pakistani daily. Luo said he was considering an invitation to visit the mosque but it was made impossible due to the unstable security situation. “We enjoy very cordial relations with the ruling party here and likewise we maintain friendly ties with other segments of the society including the political parties of the opposition,” he said.”I had no knowledge as to why Chinese nationals are being targeted and were the victims in five recent incidents”, Luo said, referring to several Chinese who were killed in that country.He said if Chinese continued to be targeted, cooperation between the two countries could suffer. To protect the 3,000 Chinese working in Pakistan, China and Pakistan have decided to set up a Joint Task Force (JTF), the Ambassador revealed. China and Pakistan are still close friends and neighbors, Luo said. The Chinese Government is in discussions about proposed Chashma-III and IV for nuclear power projects. Chashma-II will be completed early next year, he said.” (18-7-07)

(The writer, Mr B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies.)

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