Pakistan’s uneasy role in terror war
Daily Times Monitor
WASHINGTON: If the statements of Bush administration officials are anything to go by, Pakistan has done a lot in fighting terrorism. It has become a “front-line state” once again, this time in Washington’s “war on terror”.
But is that how officials in American actually view Islamabad’s role?
Not really, if one puts credence in a report recently published by The Washington Post. American officials, it claims, are getting frustrated with Pakistan’s conciliatory approach towards the tribal and foreign fighters hiding near the Pak-Afghan border. They believe the military operations in the tribal belt “underscored persistent contradictions between Pakistani and US priorities despite the two governments’ alliance against terrorism”.
Meanwhile, General Musharraf’s critics fear that the ‘war on terror’ may help the army to carve out an institutional role in the country’s politics.
The report adds: “More than two-and-a-half years after the United States launched military operations in Afghanistan, US officials continue to describe the threat from revived Taliban and Al Qaeda forces there as an urgent and overriding concern. There are constant reports of armed attacks on military or civilian targets in several Afghan provinces along the Pakistani border, and extremist groups have vowed to intensify assaults before the Afghan national elections, which are scheduled for September.”
The WP claims, “From Washington’s perspective, Pakistan’s aborted military mission in the tribal area of South Waziristan was a job half done.”
While the US ambassador in Kabul, Zalmay Khalilzad, and his top military commander in Afghanistan, Lt Gen David Barno, have remained critical of Pakistan’s “conciliatory approach”, authorities in Islamabad have bristled at the American criticism.
The Pakistani officials claim “they remain determined to uproot Islamic terrorism but must balance the concerns of their allies with the need to respect public opinion and keep the peace at home”.
“We are committed to the war on terror and we will pursue it to the end,” The Post quotes an unnamed senior government official as saying. “We have a well-thought-out operational and political strategy. We need American support, but we are also sensitive to public opinion, and we do not want to add fuel to the extremists.
“It’s a tricky situation, and we must be nimble. If we don’t take care of our domestic constituents, we cannot deliver to the Americans either.” The American newspaper, which describes Pakistan as “an impoverished Muslim country of 150 million people, rife with religious passions and bristling with weapons”, observes: “The agreement that was sealed at the April meeting in South Waziristan may have rewarded a group the government had vowed to punish for harbouring foreign terrorists, but analysts say it also averted a wider clash with restive tribesmen, a potential split in the army and a backlash by the country’s militant Islamic movement.”
It claims: “A similar balancing act has blunted many of the initiatives promoted by Pakistan’s president, Gen Pervez Musharraf, since he seized power in October 1999. He frequently has been forced to scale back or even abandon ambitious reform efforts, backed by Western governments, after encountering strong resistance from political, religious or economic groups at home.”
The newspaper adds the April 24 agreement that gave full amnesty to five tribal guerrilla leaders have evoked mixed feelings in Pakistan. “Numerous critics said that while it temporarily pacified the tribal region, it also may have emboldened such troublemakers as Mohammed and set back efforts to reform the governance of tribal areas, which have traditionally been havens for crime, smuggling, violence and primitive forms of justice.
“Some, however, saw the agreement as something more portentous: a tactical retreat from an anti-terrorist policy that government critics say could lead to further military intervention in Pakistani politics.”
The newspaper quotes Senator Khursheed Ahmad as saying: “The Americans are using Pakistan, and what their officials in Kabul are asking of us is the road to suicide. We do not condone terrorism, but the Americans are trying to persuade us to kill our own people. If the war on terror leads the army to carve out an institutional role in politics, it will be bad for Pakistan and bad for America too.”