March 2008

Vol 7 - No. 9
 

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SOUTH ASIA - Pakistan | March 2008

 


______________________________________________________________________________

 

                News Briefs                   

 
On Democracy and Elections in Pakistan   
             



 (Afghanistan and Myanmar in the 
  map are not members of SAARC)

The More Things Change…

BY KANCHAN LAKSHMAN
Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management; 
Assistant Editor, Faultlines: Writings on Conflict & Resolution
 

Democratic processes, it has been noted, "however flawed they may be, nevertheless have a tendency to set the unexpected into motion, and can never be entirely orchestrated." While Pakistan celebrates the outcome of a surprisingly free election, the new coalition Government that will bring together two hitherto bitter rivals will have its task cut out. And among the most pressing of tasks awaiting the new regime is a disastrous and worsening internal security situation and the challenge of halting Pakistan’s slide towards state failure. Significantly, while 3,599 people died in terrorism-related violence in 2007, January 2008 alone saw 654 such fatalities in a continuation of the increasing violence across large swathes of the country.

Notwithstanding the fact that President Pervez Musharraf's control over the Army – and indeed over the state’s counter-terrorism campaign – still continues, the new dispensation in Islamabad and in the militancy affected provinces may force him and the Army to dilute operations against the Islamist terrorists and others. Furthermore, Musharraf will find it increasingly difficult to hold on to power with a hostile Parliament and could be progressively marginalized, even if he is able to ward off the threat of impeachment from some political constituencies, particularly the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N).

 

Crucially, irrespective of the regime that will be installed in Islamabad, it is the Army that will have to continue the fight against the extremists across Pakistan. The February 18 mandate has secured nothing dramatic in terms of the transformation of the structure of power in the country. The Army remains the dominant power in the state structure. However, there is bound to be divergence in the overall strategies to be adopted against the militants since the Elections have led to a 'polarisation', with each of the four provinces 'going in different directions'. The North West Frontier Province (NWFP) has gone to the Awami National Party (ANP); Punjab will be controlled by the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N), supported either by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) or the independents; the PPP will be in power in Sindh; and the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) is expected to be in the saddle in Balochistan.

 

With the defeat of the extremist Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) in the NWFP and Balochistan, the jihadis have lost significant over-ground space. Consequently, they could now be driven deeper into the underground. In fact, the rout of the MMA at the hustings is likely to have a far-reaching impact on the socio-political landscape of at least three regions – NWFP, North Balochistan and FATA, where the pro-Taliban/al Qaeda militancy has been entrenched over the last six years. The vote share of the MMA has decreased from approximately 11 percent in the rigged elections of 2002 to around three percent in 2008. The MMA, which had 59 seats in the outgoing National Assembly, and was the ruling party in the NWFP after the 2002 elections has been trounced, winning only three seats in Parliament and nine in the NWFP Provincial Assembly. However, the MMA were a divided lot in the NWFP during the current elections, with the Jamaat-e-Islami boycotting the polls and leaving the Maulana Fazlur Rehman faction of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JuI) stranded. While Fazlur Rehman, the former Leader of the Opposition and a leading backer of the Taliban, lost in his home town of Dera Ismail Khan to PPP candidate Faisal Karim Kundi, he did win a seat from another constituency in the Bannu District. Three of Rehman’s brothers, Maulana Ataur Rehman, Maulana Lutfur Rehman and Maulana Obaidur Rehman, who were contesting for National and Provincial Assembly seats, lost their elections.

 

Another reason for the loss of the ‘Mullah’s Party’ is that the Rehman faction of JuI could not overcome the impact of the Jamaat-e-Islami’s boycott. The MMA’s defeat is also being attributed to the alliance’s inability to stop military operations against the jihadis in NWFP and Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s vacillation against adopting a tough line vis-à-vis President Musharraf. At the same time, the ANP is reported to have "regained its lost territory in its former strongholds of Peshawar, Nowshera, Charsadda, Mardan and Swabi. It has surprisingly won all the seats in the troubled Swat region as well as the adjoining Buner District." The PPP won most of its seats from "Peshawar, Mardan, Nowshera, Upper Dir, Lower Dir and Malakand in the former strongholds of the Jamaat-e-Islami." The Jamaat boycott and a MMA ‘split’ meant that the ANP and PPP were direct rivals in most of the NWFP.

 

Formed in 2002, the MMA had won in the Frontier largely as a result of rigging in its favour, and on the basis of a furious anti-American sentiment after US-led troops overthrew the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in late 2001_ And their electoral success had led to considerable international apprehension about a rising power of hard-line Islam in Pakistani politics. The Elections of 2008 have, however, exposed the fact that it was the Military-Mullah nexus that was principally responsible for the rise of radical forces like the MMA. Nevertheless, with their control over seminaries and mosques, the jihadi armies and their street power untouched, the Islamist parties, consequent to their electoral defeat, could seek refuge in aggressive mobilization, as well as political and extremist action, which could lead to widespread violence. In the proximate future, there could also be a consolidation of the over-ground Islamist formations and this would add to the complexities arising out of the ongoing mobilisation of extremist cadres across Pakistan.

 

It is important to note that no militant formation has been effectively demobilized since Musharraf’s seizure of power in 1999. While the Taliban have de facto control over most of Waziristan, they and a mélange of local jihadi groups also have full freedom of movement and activities across the FATA, NWFP, North Balochistan and certain other pockets. The current spate of subversion and violence can be expected to continue, indicating a deepening retreat of the state. More importantly, however, the strategy against the widening arc of extremism could run into critical difficulties. The ANP, which is expected to form the Government in the NWFP, has already voiced its disapproval of Islamabad’s strategy in the Province. ANP spokesman Zahid Khan, while indicating that his party was against military operations, stated, "We want to end the problem through dialogue, not by military action." In fact, both the PPP and PML-N have indicated that they would adopt a ‘new approach’ towards militancy by pursuing more of dialogue than force. PPP Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari said that Musharraf had played a ‘double game’ leading to an increase in militancy. "We feel they in the Government are running with the hare and hunting with the hounds," he said. Indicating that his party would hold talks with the militants in the FATA and the insurgents in Balochistan, Zardari said, "We will have a dialogue with those who are up in the mountains and those who are not in Parliament."

 

Past experience has, however, shown that alternating military operations with peace accords with the militants is fraught with immense danger. In fact, the new regimes in Islamabad and in the provinces are confronted with crucial choices in prosecuting the campaign against Islamist extremism and the accompanying terrorist violence. Musharraf’s own counter-terrorism strategy and his over-hyped ‘enlightened moderation’ failed, on the one hand, to neutralize the militants and, on the other, were unsuccessful in securing support at the local level through a succession of peace accords. Simply put, both force and dialogue, or a combination of the two, have already failed to bring order to Pakistan. These options and their associated risks will play out in the proximate future along with added pressure from the election-bound US, which will increasingly press Islamabad to ‘do more’.

 

President Musharraf, who continues to battle survival issues, has, in addition to the new Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kiyani, now to contend with a hostile Parliament as well. There is also a clear lack of national consensus on how to deal with Islamist militancy. Analyst Kamran Bokhari rightly notes that, "on a tactical level, while the Pakistani Army has a history of supporting insurgencies, it is ill-equipped to fight them." According to Bokhari, the prospects for an effective national policy on dealing with the Islamist militancy are slim and "circumstances will require that the new Government be a coalition — thus it will be inherently weak. This, along with the deteriorating ground reality, will leave the Army with no choice but to adopt a tough approach — one it has been avoiding for the most part."

 

The new regime in Islamabad will, moreover, have little impact on the situation in Indian Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), since the Kashmiri jihad still constitutes the principal raison d’etre for the Pakistan defence establishment. The declining trend of terrorist violence in J&K since the peak of 2001 is expected to continue in the foreseeable future. Viewed purely in terms of fatalities, the conflict in J&K has now crossed the threshold from a high-intensity to a low-intensity level. For the first time since 1990 (when they were 1,177), fatalities in this terrorism-wracked State – at 777 in 2007 – fell below the 'high intensity conflict' mark of a thousand deaths. This decrease in levels of violence is, however, not due to any change in Pakistani intent, but is largely the consequence of "changes in capacities and compulsions in Pakistan." On the peace process with India, the new Government, with its own priorities, may not be interested in proceeding with the Musharraf sketch and consequently, there could be a further slowing down of the India-Pakistan dialogue.

 

Almost all state institutions in Pakistan are now intimately and intricately linked to the trajectory of terrorist and political violence. Pakistan, which, as Salman Rushdie expressed it, was perhaps "insufficiently imagined", currently faces several daunting challenges with a direct bearing on its own survival as a nation-state. Amidst the euphoria of ‘democracy’ it is, nevertheless, impossible to overlook the fact that virtually the entire terrorist infrastructure in Pakistan, including the leadership of all the purportedly 'banned' terrorist groups, operates freely in the country. Given the tremendous and irrational hope generated by a new political order, the uncertainty accompanying the transition and the overall chaos in the country, the new Government would find it extremely difficult to find its feet or reverse the trends towards anarchy.

 

[Source: South Asian Intelligence Review]

News Briefs

Taliban call for peace talks with new Government: The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) said on February 24, 2008, that they were ready for peace talks with the new Government, but only if it rejected President Pervez Musharraf’s "war on terror" in the country’s tribal belt. A TTP spokesman quoted Baitullah Mehsud as calling for negotiations with parties that beat the president’s allies in elections. "The Taliban movement welcomes the victory of anti-Musharraf political parties... and announces its willingness to enter into negotiations with them for bringing peace," Taliban spokesman Maulana Omar said, quoting a statement by Mehsud. "Whoever makes the Government, we want to make it clear to them we don’t want fighting. We want peace, but if they impose war on us, we will not spare them," Omar told journalists in Peshawar by telephone. He urged the new administration to "avoid repeating the mistakes of the Musharraf Government." Daily Times, February 25, 2008.

14 people killed in bomb blast in NWFP: A remote-controlled bomb exploded at a wedding party procession on February 22, 2008, killing 14 people and injuring 13 others, mostly children, in the Matta Administrative Division of Swat District in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). The bomb, which was detonated in the Ronial Takh Maira area of the region, exploded around 4pm (PST) when the wedding party was travelling from Kandogai village to Pir Dar Baba village. "There was a remote-controlled bomb explosion which targeted a wedding party. Two cars were destroyed including the car in which the bride was travelling, [and] she died," local police officer Haroon Khan told AFP. Daily Times , February 23, 2008.

Pakistan People’s Party and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz agree to form coalition Government: The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) agreed on February 21, 2008, to form coalition governments, including with the Awami National Party (ANP). "We have agreed on a common agenda. We will work together to form the Government in the Centre and in the Provinces… We will ensure that you complete a full five years’ term," Nawaz Sharif told a Press Conference in Islamabad after talks with PPP Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari. Zardari said there were "a lot of grounds to cover" between the two parties, but added: "Inshallah (God willing) we will be meeting off and on. In principle, we have agreed to stay together." Also on February 21, the PPP and the ANP agreed to work together for the supremacy of Parliament, judicial reforms, provincial autonomy and war on terror, Zardari and ANP President Asfandyar Wali told reporters after their meeting. Daily Times, February 22, 2008.

Pakistan People’s Party emerges as single largest party in election results: The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) emerged as the single largest party in the National Assembly followed closely by the Nawaz Sharif-led Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) in the elections held on February 18, 2008. The PPP led with 87 seats out of 272, followed by 66 for the PML-N, and 38 for the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q). Among the smaller parties, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement won 19 seats and the Pakhtun nationalist Awami National Party got 10 seats. The Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, a religious coalition which won 59 seats in 2002, was able to win only three this time. Other political parties – the PPP-Sherpao, the Balochistan National Party, the National People’s Party and the PML-F – got one, one, two, and four seats, respectively. Independent candidates won 27 seats.

In the Punjab province, the PML-N won 101 seats out of 280, while the PPP and independent candidates got 78 and 35 seats, respectively. The PML-Q got 66 seats. In Sindh, the PPP won 65 seats out of 125, while the MQM and the PML-Q got 38 and nine seats, respectively. The PML-N failed to win a single seat while one independent candidate was successful. In Balochistan, the PML-Q won 17 seats out of 44, while the PPP won seven seats. Independent candidates won ten seats. In the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), the ANP won 31 seats out of 85, while the PML-Q and the PML-N won six and five seats, respectively. The PPP won 17 seats in the NWFP. In the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), results for six constituencies out of a total of 12 have been officially announced. Elections in two of the constituencies were postponed. As all the candidates in the region contested the elections as independent candidates, no political parties gained any inroads into the region. The Hindu; Daily Times, February 20, 2008.

19 people killed in country-wide elections: 19 people were killed and 157 others were injured in countrywide election-related violence on February 18, 2008, caretaker Interior Minister Lt-Gen (Retd.) Hamid Nawaz stated. The Minister said that nine persons died in Punjab, seven in Sindh and three in the North West Frontier Province. He did not give any casualty figures for Balochistan, where four people were reported to have been killed. According to independent reports, the overall death toll in the country was 26. "Despite 19 deaths, the Government considers the election quite peaceful, with no incident of terrorism in any part of the country… We are happy that neither any incident of terrorism nor any obstacle in the election process was reported in the country," the caretaker minister said. Private TV channels reported that clashes between supporters of different political parties occurred in Khairpur, Gujranwala, Chakwal, Kamoki, Mirpur, Jacobabad, Muzzafargarh, Mandi Bahauddin, Dera Ghazi Khan, Sargodha, Charsadda, Sukkur, Gujar Khan, Shikarpur, Hangu, Gakharmandi, Sialkot, Samandri, Sanghar and Peshawar.

Polling is reported to have begun at a slow pace as voters appeared to be wary of violence. However, as the day progressed, the voter turnout improved and, according to unconfirmed reports, was estimated to be 35 per cent at the end of polling. The Ambassadors of UK, USA, Japan, China, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Iran, the South Asian Association of Regional Corporation (SAARC) and European Union Countries, visited different polling stations in the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad and expressed their satisfaction over the polling process, security arrangements and performance of election staff. The Government had deployed 81,000 troops and nearly 400,000 police personnel to provide security to the more than 64,000 polling stations, a third of which had been declared sensitive. Dawn, February 19, 2008.

47 persons killed in suicide attack in FATA: A suicide bomber on February 16, 2008, rammed his explosives-laden car into the election office of an independent candidate in Parachinar city of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), killing at least 47 persons, including six children, and injuring 150 others. "It was a suicide attack, there were people outside the candidate’s house and they were waiting for food when this man attacked," Caretaker Interior Minister Hamid Nawaz told AFP. According to eyewitnesses, the bomber hit the election office of independent candidate for NA-37 Kurram Agency, Syed Riaz Hussain Shah, where a large number of people had gathered. The blast came on the final day of campaigning for National Assembly (NA) polls being held on February 18. Daily Times, February 17-18, 2008.

Awami National Party leader among 10 persons killed in suicide attack in North Waziristan: At least 10 people were killed and 13 others sustained injuries when a teenaged suicide bomber blew himself up amidst a gathering of the Awami National Party (ANP) and tribal Lashkar (force) at Mirali in North Waziristan on February 11, 2008. President of the North Waziristan chapter of the ANP, Haji Anwar Shah, was among the dead. Witnesses from Mirali, the second biggest town after the regional headquarters Miranshah, said that a suicide bomber blew himself up when the party workers reached Eedak village, where armed men of the tribal Lashkar were manning a checkpoint set up on the main Bannu-Miranshah road to search vehicles carrying goods to Afghanistan. The tribal Lashkar was recently raised by the Dawar tribes-people to evict foreign militants from their area, which according to them, provoked military operations by the Pakistani security forces and caused them multiple hardships. The News , February 12, 2008.

Envoy to Kabul abducted in Khyber Agency: Pakistan’s Ambassador to Afghanistan Tariq Azizuddin was abducted along with his bodyguard and driver in the Jamrud Sub-district of the Khyber Agency in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) on February 11, 2008. "He is missing and we believe that he has been kidnapped," a security official said. A political administration official in Jamrud confirmed the incident, but said that the administration had no prior information about his visit. "We had no prior information of his travel. The Ambassador would never inform us whenever he travelled to or from Afghanistan," said Deputy Administrator of Landi Kotal Ahmad Khan Orakzai. No group has so far claimed responsibility for the kidnapping. Dawn, February 12, 2008.

Taliban commander Mansoor Dadullah captured in Balochistan: Security forces on February 11, 2008, captured Taliban ‘commander’ Mullah Mansoor Dadullah along with five other Taliban militants after a gun-battle in the Gowal Ismailzai village of Qila Saifullah District (near the Afghan border) in Balochistan. He is the younger brother of Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah, who was killed in a clash with the US-led forces in Afghanistan’s Helmand province in May 2007. "Mansoor Dadullah is alive, but he is injured and in the custody of the authorities along with five other Taliban who too have received injuries," caretaker Interior Minister Lt-Gen (retd) Hamid Nawaz said. Dawn, February 12, 2008.

27 persons killed in suicide blast in NWFP: 27 persons were killed and over 50 others sustained injuries in a bomb blast at an election rally of the Awami National Party in the Nahaqi village of Charsadda district in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) on February 10, 2008. Officials said the bomb had been planted near the stage and the explosion occurred as soon as recitation from the Holy Quran began. Federal Interior Minister Hamid Nawaz termed it a suicide attack and the police said it had found a severed head at the scene. Dawn; The News, February 10, 2008.

Taliban declares unilateral cease-fire in South Waziristan and Swat: Taliban spokesman Maulana Umar on February 6, 2008, declared a unilateral cease-fire from South Waziristan to Swat, saying no security forces would be targeted. "We will not attack any security person, be it in Waziristan or in Swat (district)," he told Daily Times from an undisclosed location. Umar denied the truce was the result of "secret negotiations", claiming the Taliban were responding to a reduction in the military’s attacks on them. "We will not attack the security forces till [our] next announcement," he said, adding, "We see a marked decrease in intensity of attacks on us." Tribal sources said a Taliban shura (council) had decided on the cease-fire after the Government had "agreed to meet certain points." However, the military said that operations against militants would continue. "This (Taliban ceasefire) is [a] one-sided (announcement). We received no formal communiqué," military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said. Daily Times, February 7, 2008.

600 suicide bombers present in Karachi: 600 suicide bombers are present in Karachi and they are planning a major attack, revealed two militants Qasim Toori and Danish alias Talha during interrogations by security agencies. Most of the suicide bombers are reported to be former students of Islamabad’s Lal Masjid (Red Mosque). The militants confessed, "Around 600 Jundullah militants are present in Karachi. They are mentally prepared and trained to commit suicide attacks." They also confessed that they had robbed foreign banks and dispatched the money to their headquarters in Wana in South Waziristan, from where their needs for weapons, explosives and other necessities were being met. The two militants were captured along with some women and children during a raid in Sector-17A, Shah Latif, on January 29, 2008. A third militant, who was killed during the raid, was identified as Gohar Muhammad alias Abrar Keamari Wallah. Daily Times, February 6, 2008.

Ten persons killed in suicide bombing in Rawalpindi: At least ten persons were killed and about 10 others were wounded on February 4, 2008, when a suicide bomber crashed his bike into an armed forces bus carrying students and officials of Army Medical College, near the General Headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi. An eyewitness said the suicide bomber hit the 30-seater bus in front of National Logistic Cell offices close to the GHQ, blowing away the roof, windows and doors of the bus. Several other vehicles were also damaged. A van carrying schoolchildren was also partially damaged, but the children remained unhurt. Daily Times, February 5, 2008.

Senior al Qaeda commander Abu Laith Al-Libi killed: Senior al Qaeda commander Abu Laith Al-Libi has been killed in Pakistan, CNN quoted, "a knowledgeable Western official and an unnamed military official" as saying. The 41-year-old Libyan was active in operational planning and training, and according to the US official, "not far below the importance of the top two al Qaeda leaders" – Osama bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahiri. He was placed on the US military’s most wanted list in 2006, behind Laden, Zawahiri and Taliban leader Mullah Omar. Daily Times, February 1, 2008.

[Source: South Asian Intelligence Review]


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