Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Has Musharraf Come To A New Agreement With The Islamists In Pakistan?

The Taliban celebrate the capture of Matta

Riots and unrest continued all through Pakistan's cities today...except in the Taliban and al Qaeda strongholds of Waziristan, where a de facto truce appears to be taking hold.

There are increasing signs that Musharraf may have come to an agreement with the Islamists to live and let live...at least for the present.

Yesterday, for instance, while police used tear gas and riot gear to suppress protests by the `democratic' opposition in Lahore and Islamabad, thousands of Islamists were allowed to demonstrate undisturbed after 500 opposition Jamaat e-Islami party members were detained by the government. And Sunday, there was a prisoner exchange in South Waziristan between the Taliban and the government, with over 200 captured Pakistani troops exchanged for 28 Taliban prisoners.

Meanwhile, in the northwest Swat Valley, the scene of earlier heavy fighting between the Pakistani army and the Taliban, the Pakistanis withdrew from three police stations and a military outpost and essentially turned them over to the Taliban without firing a shot as the Taliban seized control of the strategic Pakistani town of Matta ,something that would have been unthinkable a few weeks ago.

It appears obvious to me that both sides are regrouping and working on the next move.
Musharraf has pulled most the Pakistani army out of Waziristan because he needs them to cement his rule in the Pakistani heartland.The Taliban and al Qaeda get to claim a victory for the muhajadeen over the government while consolidating their rule over their stronghold.

Not only that, but according to the Pakistani press outlet Dawn, the government has had also withdrawn seven terrorism cases pending before the anti-terrorism court in Dera Ismail Khan against some of the arrested Taliban fighters.

And according to Maulvi Mirajuddin, a Pakistani member of the assembly, the Musharraf government has now “agreed to implement the Sararogha peace accord in letter and spirit.” Mirajuddin is a member of Musharraf's party,who brokered the deal as the head of the “peace committee.”

The Sararogha peace accord was the agreement signed by the Pakistani government and the Taliban which essentially gave the Taliban a free hand in their stronghold on the frontier in exchange for not attacking Pakistani troops.

Musharraf may have been talking about suppressing terrorism in his announcement of martial law, but what he actually has done is to take his troops out of the fight to suppress his political opponents in Pakistan.

I don't pretend to have a prediction where all this will lead,but it's obvious to me that a large part of the answer lies with the Pakistani army.And I would hazard a guess that therein lies to key to how stable Musharraf's hold on power is.

Pakistan is a largely dysfunctional country, with vast differences between the Pashtun areas in the Northwest and the Pakistani heartland in the Punjab and the Sind, and the tribes in the northwest have always rebelled to some degree against control by the central government. So, historically, religious, tribal, or ethnic rebellions in Pakistan’s northwest have always been been put down by the army.

Today, however, Pakistan’s military is torn. The army has been bogged down in fighting an unsuccessful, piecemeal war against the Islamists for some time, and a number of officers have even become symphathetic to the Islamist cause. And since th earmy attack on the Islamist Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in July, the jihadists have retaliated by targeting military compounds, including General Musharraf’s own ultra-secure compound with bombing attacks. Not only that, but the Islamists have made converts to their cause in the Pakistani heartland, in Pakistan's security service, the ISI, and in the army itself.

Essentially, the army is caught between the jihadis on the one hand and Musharraf's non-Islamist political opponents on the other. They may very well decide that Musharraf is a liability, take him out and go one way or the other.It's not the most unlikely scenario, especially as Pakistan is now facing an unprecedented Islamist bid to take over the country, at a time of the Taliban and al Qaeda's choosing.

If the Islamists are able to tap into the anti-Musharraf, pro-sharia sentiment in Pakistan’s heartland, and split the army, we could very well see a nuclear armed Islamist Pakistan in the near future.

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