Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari has called for national reconciliation. Zardari’s message came on the occasion of Pakistan day. It also came a day after the reinstatement of former Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, one of the key demands of the opposition parties and lawyers, who held massive protests earlier this month. As Pakistan struggles to calm down politically, one of the key challenges the country faces is the worsening security.
Pakistan's tribesmen look at belongings in the house that they said was hit by suspected U.S. missile strikes
The Pakistani government was just about able to avoid collapse by conceding to the demands of the protesting lawyers and the opposition who were demanding the reinstatement of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. But the stability of the Pakistani Government is not assured. Political observer Talat Masood explains:
“Pakistan faces one of its gravest challenges in its history. The expanding militancy, the rise in Talibanisation in Pakistan.”
The tribal areas around the borders of Afghanistan are controlled by the Taliban. The insurgency has spread to the north-west of Pakistan. In February the Pakistani government and the militants came to an agreement wherein the Swat region is now governed under Sharia law (Islamic law) in exchange for peace.
Taliban gaining power
In the months leading up to this agreement militants belonging to the Maulana Faziulla group attacked Pakistani soldiers and police and intimidated the residents of the Swat region. 170 schools, mainly girl’s schools, were destroyed, on a nearly daily basis civilians were killed if they were assumed to be non-believers.
One third of the 1.5 million people living in Swat fled the valley. “At the moment the Taliban are gaining power because the state is very weak, governance is very poor, the vacuum and the politics is really somewhat not functional and the vacuum is being filled by the Talibs.”
The agreement with the insurgents could further encourage them to undermine the existence of the incompetent and inefficient Pakistani government.
The militants are not just confined in the north and west of Pakistan. All over the country the militants are now committing suicide attacks. The attack on the national Sri-Lankan cricket team in Lahore in February underlined the instability factor.
Better equipment needed
The Pakistani government now plans to give priority to the fight against terrorism, especially in the tribal areas along the border to Afghanistan, says Foreign Minister Shah Mahmoud Qureishi:
“The troops fighting in Federally Administered Tribal Areas need better equipment and better training. We need more focus on socio-economic developments.”
The money for that will come from abroad, especially from the USA. Already the US has paid ten billion dollars to the Pakistani army. But Pakistan is still focusing on its propaganda war with India instead of a guerrilla style war with its own people. An additional factor is that the army is demoralized.
The fight against terrorism is unpopular in Pakistan. It is believed that the government’s secret intelligence service ISI is still working with the Islamists. Therefore Al Qaeda and the Taliban, which are active in the Afghanistan border area, are able to operate and maintain unhindered their training grounds and propagate their agenda freely.
General David McKiernan, Commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan says:
“I think the region will remain an insurgent environment as long as those sanctuaries exist.”
Since last year the US has been firing missiles at insurgents from unmanned drones and targeting areas inside Pakistan. Eleven prominent leaders of the Al Qaeda have apparently been killed in such raids. But opposition to US tactics is growing in Pakistan. Thus there is a keen sense of anticipation in Pakistan with regard to the details of the new US strategy for this region.