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Pakistan: A Threatening Volcano

Five weeks to the postponed elections on February 18, 2008, Pakistan is a boiling volcano, which can explode anytime.

2. The internal security situation, already difficult due to the continuing wave of suicide bombings in different parts of Pakistan since the commando raid into the Lal Masjid of Islamabad between July 10 and 13, 2007, has been made even more difficult due to growing demoralisation in the Police in Sindh, Punjab and the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and in the para-military forces in the NWFP and the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) due to the fact that the Police and the para-military forces have been bearing the brunt of the suicide attacks.

3. The death of 22 policemen in the suicide bombing outside the Punjab High Court in Lahore on January 10, 2008, has once again brought out the dangers faced by policemen, who have been manning the security barriers outside important hard targets such as the General Headquarters (GHQ) of the Army in Rawalpindi, the buildings of the Supreme Court and High Courts, power stations etc. While policemen were the primary targets in some instances in the NWFP, in many other instances. a large number of policemen died because they stopped the suspected suicide bombers for frisking and they blew themselves up before reaching their target. Over 30 policemen were killed in the suicide bombings directed at Mrs. Benazir Bhutto at Karachi on October 18, 2007, which failed, and at Rawalpindi on December 27, 2007, which succeeded.

4. Similarly, most of those killed by the suicide bombers in the tribal belt were men of the para-military forces, who were performing static security duties at barriers and outside important establishments. Since the Army leaves all static guard duties to the Police and the para-military personnel, they have been dying in their hundreds at the hands of the suicide bombers. The Government does not give separately the figures of fatalities suffered by the police and the para-military personnel, but police sources say their fatalities are more than those suffered by the Army. Most of the Army fatalities were in road ambushes and in incidents such as the suicide bombings directed at the staff of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in Rawalpindi, at the Special Services Group (SSG) in Tarbela and at Air Force personnel in Sargodha.

5. There is reportedly growing anger in the ranks of the police and para-military personnel over the fact that they are being made to pay a heavy price for the wrong policies of President Pervez Musharraf. Well-informed sources say this has resulted in growing desertions and has also adversely affected new recruitment.

6. The situation has been made even more volatile than hitherto due to the acute scarcity of wheat flour, used by ordinary people for making bread, oil and gas, water shortage and power break-downs. The continuing unrest in Balochistan and the frequent attacks by Baloch nationalists on gas installations and pipelines have aggravated the shortages of gas and electricity. The Army, under Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani, has not been making headway in its operations against the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan in the two Waziristans and in the Swat Valley. The virtual civil war in the Kurram Agency between the Shias and the Sunnis, which started on November 15, 2007, is continuing unabated. There is a danger of its overflowing into other sensitive non-tribal areas of Pakistan—particularly in Punjab and Sindh— during the observance of the Muharram.

7. The security forces—the Police, the para-military units and the Army— are finding themselves over-stretched. Even while dealing with these situations, the very same forces have to maintain law and order during the election campaign by different political parties and on the date of the polling. During the elections of 2002, the Taliban and Al Qaeda did not try to disrupt the elections since all the religious fundamentalist parties contested the elections by forming a coalition called the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA). In fact, the Taliban and Al Qaeda financially assisted the MMA to come to power in the NWFP and Balochistan.

8. This time, all the religious parties except the Jamiat-ul-Ulema Islam (JUI) of Maulana Fazlur Rahman are boycotting the elections. These parties, the Taliban and Al Qaeda have a common interest in disrupting the elections. Maulana Fazlur Rahman, who used to be known as the mentor of the Taliban and Al Qaeda, is now facing their wrath because of his perceived complicity with Musharraf.

9. Externally, the anger of the jihadis is now directed not only at the US, but also at China. They accuse both the US and China of propping up Musharraf in order to make him do their anti-Islam hatchet job. The Government is greatly worried over the security of the Chinese nationals working in different projects and has to find additional personnel to ensure their security. The “Dawn” of Karachi reported on January 11, 2008, as follows: “The home department (of Punjab) has asked the provincial police chief to make foolproof security arrangements for Chinese nationals all over the province. The directive has been issued in view of reports that there are certain deficiencies in the security of the Chinese. A letter sent to the IGP said the matter was serious and required urgent action, asking him to overcome the lapses.”

(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. e-mail:

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