Sunday, August 19, 2007

last chance in Pakistan

Independence Day was highly celebrated in Pakistan. But the slogans and the way the government is presenting it have changed over the course of the last ten years.

It used to be cute children weeping or a little girl praying or a little boy holding a gun, but now it’s a little smiling girl with Pakistan flag painted on her face. It’s still the same tactic, using children for promoting a political cause, but now it’s more nationalistic than religious. Pakistan of the last five years has drastically changed; maybe the $10 billion in aid to Pakistan has caused that much change. But not enough to make Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf stop extremists to arm themselves in the Red Mosque for months, the Taliban to recruit and plan attacks with relative freedom, and Al Qaeda to reorganize itself in the border provinces.


I think its about the right time for Pakistan to take a stronger stand against the extremists. The Pakistan government at some point need to take action against mosques around the country run by the same kind of jihadi Islamic extremists who recruit suicide bombers to move across the border -- as they did in the last month? The peace jirga or any other sort of meeting to improve relation between Afghanistan and Pakistan won’t be efficient unless Pakistan stop the extremists on it’s territory and shut down Taliban's command and control centers in Peshawar and Quetta.


Khorshid Ahmad Qasori in an interview with BBC was emphasizing last week that Pakistan is doing more than NATO to curb extremists. He added “Pakistan has 80000 troops on Afghan border which double the size of NATO in Afghanistan. if that is the case, why has Al Qaeda been allowed to reorganize in Pakistan with more ability to carry out terrorist attacks, according to National Intelligence Estimate alqaida is organized to attack more than ever.


Its almost time for a change in Pakistan, Musharraf's term ends in October, and the following month the National Assembly completes its tenure. For the first time since the October 1999 coup, Musharraf's authoritarian rule appears shaky. His attempts at pre-election rigging -- including his onslaught on judicial independence and the media-- illustrate he refuses to commit to free and fair elections and to leave office if the new Parliament names someone else president.


The Pakistani people have registered their desire for a democratic transition with street protests, which have been met by guns and gas.  But the US is not sure that election is a good option for Pakistan. Musharaff suppressed all the moderate elements of Pakistan society. So there is a good chance for extremists to win the election. Military might be a good option for a country which has promoted military extremism in the region for more than half a century to have some sort of leverage in India and Afghanistan and the broader region. Musharaff was trying to influence the election. He was trying to declare a state of emergency but this would certainly delegitimise the election, while Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made a useful phone call this week to dissuade Musharraf from declaring emergency rule. The following few days will illustrate musharaff’s intentions; he could remain the ruler by postponing elections, or stand for reelection by the current lame-duck assemblies. Yesterday he was telling his army buddies that he will remain chief of the army because that is not an elected job but the nation can choose a president.  


Unless some significant change is brought about in Pakistan, the country will steadily slide into extremism and remain a safe heaven for Taliban.  Musharraf’s dictatorship is a deeply unpopular government, the international community and US government needs to engage constructively in Pakistan long before thinking about any exit strategy from Afghanistan. Musharraf has clearly failed to fight terrorism and neutralize religious extremism. And it puts the United States at even greater risk by feeding the growing anti-American sentiment among pro-democracy Pakistanis. It’s the pro-democracy Pakistanis which have good lives in the US and UK. Their support for extremism would provide a sanctuary for terrorism in the west and financial support for home grown madrass based terrorists.


Musharraf has clearly revealed that he is not interested in dialogue with Afghanistan. Musharraf didn’t attend the afghan pak peace jirga, a grand forum with 700 representatives of both countries, until secretary of state, Rice, called him and told him to attend the closing ceremony with Afghan president Karzai. History has proven that dictatorships tend to rely of force and they are not interested in cooperation. If there is any hope for stopping terrorism in the region then Pakistan and Afghanistan should cooperate. But the US doesn’t have many choices in Pakistan to change it into a cooperative country. The time is fast running out and home grown resentment is increasing against the US and the West. Musharraf is on the same track as the Shah of Iran was in the 70s. the US missed all the chances then but it should keep a sharp eye on Pakistan.


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