Al-Arab Blog - مدونة العرب
Musharraf left counting the cost
By Syed Saleem Shahzad
KARACHI - The 12-day Pakistani army operation in the South Waziristan tribal area near the Afghan frontier is winding down following the release on Sunday of 12 government officials and soldiers seized by alleged al-Qaeda fighters and tribal allies. Similarly, a number of tribal suspects held by the army have been set free or will be released soon.
Those released by the tribals were among 14 people captured at the start of a clash in which more than 100 people have been killed. After cordoning off the area around Wana in South Waziristan with over 5,000 troops and losing about 50 soldiers in the offensive, the military says that "we have almost achieved our set targets" in driving al-Qaeda fugitives and Afghan resistance fighters from the region.
Tension has been high after the execution of eight Pakistan soldiers, who had been taken hostage by the fighters during an ambush on an army convoy last Tuesday.
The end of open hostilities, however, is only the beginning, and far from achieving its targets, the army, and Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf, are left with far bigger problems than when they first embarked on the mission into the tribal region nearly two weeks ago.
Call for help
Although the Pakistan army has put a brave face on its South Waziristan escapade, claiming that its job has been done, in reality it had to rely on outside help to extricate itself with a semblance of its "face" intact.
After all efforts to pacify the hostile tribals failed - the semi-autonomous regions are notoriously anti-central authority - the government persuaded leading clerics to bring pressure to bear on the tribals to negotiate a truce. The clerics, who belong to the six-party Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) religious political party that is well represented in the National Assembly as well as the provincial governments of North West Frontier Province and Balochistan, are usually perceived as anti-US, but in fact, when the chips are down, they dance to Musharraf's tune.
The army sought help from the clerics on two fronts:
- To use their influence among the tribes to get them to compromise;
- To prevent the spread of a campaign started by some extreme religious leaders in Islamabad in which soldiers serving in the tribal regions were to be denied funeral rites.
Winners and losers
Despite heavy United States pressure for a sustained campaign in Pakistan to once and for all drive all insurgents (both foreign fighters and Afghan resistance) from their sanctuaries in the tribal areas, the operation has now ended.
In terms of the broader picture, the plan was for the Pakistan army on the one side and US troops across the border in Afghanistan to sandwich all resistance between a "hammer and an anvil" and drive them from the Shawal area - an inhospitable no man's land that straddles the border. This is nowhere near to being achieved.
And there has been a strong backlash against the Pakistan establishment, both in the tribal areas and in the country in general, the extent of which has severely rattled the country's leaders. Indeed, according to insiders who spoke to Asia Times Online, there is a perception that, given the failings of the South Waziristan operation, there is an "an intelligence within an intelligence" and "an army within an army" in Pakistan and that factions in these organizations backed the tribals "in the name of Islam". According to sources, more than 150 soldiers of the army and para-military forces refused to take part in the action, including at least one colonel and a major.
The release of a tape last week purported to have been made by Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's No 2 in al-Qaeda, also shook the establishment. Al-Zawahiri was reported to be the "high profile target" of the South Wazaristan operation. In the tape, al-Zawahiri called Musharraf a "traitor" and urged people to overthrow his government. "Musharraf seeks to stab the Islamic resistance in Afghanistan in the back. Every Muslim in Pakistan should work hard to get rid of this client government, which will continue to submit to America until it destroys Pakistan," the speaker on the tape said.
As a result, for the first time ever, the Inter-Services Intelligence, Military Intelligence and the Intelligence Bureau on Friday conducted a survey in which they canvassed the opinions of professionals, including writers and lawyers, on the possible repercussions of the taped speech.
The political backlash of the South Waziristan operation has been so powerful that Musharraf has inducted former dictator General Zia ul-Haq's son, Ejazul Haq, into the federal cabinet as minister for religious affairs in order to use his good offices - as the son of the staunchly pro-Islam leader - with the religious segments of society.
Tribals take stock
Soon after the truce was announced on Sunday and the Pakistan army began returning to its camp, pamphlets in the Pashto language were widely distributed in Bannu, North Waziristan and South Waziristan. They claimed: "Do not ever make the mistake of chasing the mujahideen of the Taliban and al-Qaeda." The pamphlets clearly warned those tribals who had cooperated with Pakistan and spied on the fugitives.
In a public gathering on Monday in Wana in South Wazaristan, religious and tribal leaders gathered to take stock. "It was just like Jasn-e-Fatah [D-Day-like celebrations]," a contact who was present told Asia Times Online. "Wazir tribals presented turbans to more than 100 jirga [council] people as a gesture of thanks and confidence."
Members of the National Assembly in Islamabad and others gave speeches, the gist of which can be summarized as follows:
- Congratulations to all the tribes for fighting as a united nation.
- The tribes had once again proved their "glorious traditions" of fighting evil.
- The Federally-Administered Tribal Areas will remain independent.
- The Central administration is always hostile to the tribal people and has established new traditions of "cruelty and barbarism".
- Musharraf was misguided about the alleged presence of bin Laden and al-Zawahiri and other al-Qaeda people.
The meeting concluded that the army had destroyed 84 houses in its search for fugitives, and that claims that the fugitives had used long tunnels to escape were nonsense. In fact, these are trenches that have been used for many years to carry water. Now the army has destroyed them - and with it the region's water system.
The meeting concluded by saying that those who died in the trouble were shaheed (martyrs), and apologized for the army personal who died, saying it was the fault of the "high ups".
(Copyright 2004 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for information on our sales and syndication policies.)
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