Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Critical time for Pakistan

My friend Muazzam Gill, an international affairs analyst for UPI, didn't have much doubt when I talked to him. The crash of a Pakistani army helicopter escorting Pres. Pervez Musharraf on a tour of earthquake reconstruction in the Kashmir is most unlikely to have been an accident. Muazzam thinks it wasn't an assassination attempt on Musharraf this time, but a broad signal from some of his many enemies: you are in our sights and we are this close to you. Expect maintenance workers to be investigated.

Musharraf, of course, has been focused more on finding a way to get another term as president than on what else is going on in his country. Because he came in via a coup and has continued to be the head of the military throughout his tenure, he has still not made the effective alliances among Pakistan's political class he would have had if he had come up through the political end of things. That seems to be one of the reasons he is so eager to have former prime minister Benazir Bhutto return and be involved in government as prime minister. He apparently had to turn Nawaz Sharif, the other former prime minister who tried to return, away. Bhutto and Sharif are fierce rivals, and he had cast his lot with Bhutto.

Another result of the focus on succession is that little attention has been paid or leadership exercised in the struggle with the various militants, al-Qaida cells, tribal factions and other malcontents in the Federally Administered Tribal Regions and North West Provinces, along the Afghan border, where the writ of the central government has never run. Since July more than 250 of the security forces have been killed in fighting, with 45 killed in a several-day running battle this week. Government troops have been reactive rather than offensive, just holding on. That's partly because even without political turmoil, the government doesn't really know what it wants to do with those territories. The U.S. wants them to go after the Qaida/Taliban camps, but Pakistani public opinion seems to favor trying to find some kind of workable truce.

If, as and when Musharraf gets his second term in a way that confers a semblance of legitimacy, his troubles may have just begun.

No comments: