Three days of fierce fighting have convulsed Pakistan’s tribal areas and exposed what tribal elders, politicians and local officials concede is the government’s lingering paralysis in dealing with the threat from Al Qaeda and Taliban militants spilling out of the region.
The fighting, the heaviest in more than four years, has left at least 45 Pakistani soldiers dead as pro-Taliban militants and foreign fighters mount a vengeful campaign on all law enforcement in the area.
The clashes come on top of months of deteriorating security after the militants tore up peace agreements with the government in July. Since then, more than 250 members of the security forces have been killed in sustained attacks, the highest losses since the 1970s.
The upheaval underscores complaints by a range of officials that the government has been so absorbed in securing the re-election of Gen. Pervez Musharraf as president that it allowed the security threat to go unchecked. [complete article]
While last week’s political machinations were under way in Pakistan, the US was providing intelligence to Islamabad about a massive regrouping of the Taliban in the Pakistani tribal areas in preparation for a big campaign against NATO forces in southeast Afghanistan. The US feared that a disruption of the political dialogue would mean a hiatus in Pakistan’s political transition, and delay military operations against the thousands of Taliban and al-Qaeda forces gathering in North Waziristan before launching attacks on the Afghan provinces of Khost, Paktia, Paktika, Gardez and Ghazni, and then Kabul with unending waves of suicide missions. If the Taliban were allowed to hatch their plans unmolested during a political vacuum in Islamabad, Washington believed the Taliban would seize the upper hand in Afghanistan.
That was the situation when a representative of the US spoke to Bhutto and noted her minimum demand for a political deal: “At least a signed letter by General Pervez Musharraf which would document his promises against my demands.” US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice then spoke to Musharraf by telephone, and immediately thereafter, Musharraf’s legal team promulgated the National Reconciliation Ordinance.
In Pakistan, certain circles are immune from ordinary legal recourse. Corruption in the military, for example, can only be probed and punished by the military. Under the new reconciliation ordinance, politicians and parliamentarians can now only be questioned by parliamentary committees and not through ordinary laws, and all past corruption cases against those who have held political positions in the past have been withdrawn. Some analysts have criticized the ordinance as permitting the rise of the rule of political mafias in Pakistan. [complete article]
See also, 10,000 flee Pakistan border battle (AP).