Saturday, February 28, 2009

NWFP(Pukhtunkhwa) govt reverses weapon distribution decision in Swat

PESHAWAR: The NWFP government on Saturday annulled its decision about distributing weapons among villagers to tackle the Taliban, saying it could create problems in some areas.The decision was taken during a meeting of the NWFP cabinet with Chief Minister Ameer Haider Hoti in the chair.The inspector general of police, the Special Branch deputy inspector general and the home secretary briefed the meeting about the security situation in the province and the return of peace in the restive Swat valley.Briefing reporters about the decisions taken during the meeting, NWFP Information Minister Iftikhar Hussain said the provincial cabinet had discussed the proposal regarding the distribution of weapons among villagers and had decided to reverse the decision, saying it would create more problems.Iftikhar told reporters that the insurgency had caused damages worth Rs 32.21 billion to state-owned and private properties in Swat district. The minister said the losses to the public sector amounted to Rs 2.21 billion while those to the private infrastructure were worth Rs 32 billion.He said 188 schools in the area were damaged during the violence in Swat. Of them, 122 schools were completely destroyed while another 66 were partially damaged. Iftikhar said the provincial government would implement Nizam-e-Adl Regulation in Malakand division as per the promise made to the people of the area. Regarding abductions for ransom in the province, particularly in Peshawar, the minister said the cabinet had directed the authorities to take immediate steps to tackle the situation.Responding to a statement by Azam Khan Hoti, father of NWFP chief minister, pointing to risk attached with governor’s rule in the NWFP, Iftikhar said no one needed to comment after the clear-cut policy statement on the situation by Awami National Party chief Asfandyar Wali.

Pakistan says wins key region on Afghan border

KHAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistani forces have defeated Islamist militants in a strategically important region on the Afghan border and expect to clear militants out of other areas by the end of the year, a commander said on Saturday.Pakistan's seven semi-autonomous ethnic Pashtun regions, known as agencies, are sanctuaries for al Qaeda and the Taliban and a victory against them would provide relief for U.S. and NATO forces hard-pressed by insurgents in Afghanistan.Major-General Tariq Khan, who is commanding military operations in five of the seven agencies, said his paramilitary Frontier Corps (FC) had driven militants out of Bajaur, the smallest of the agencies but a major infiltration route into Afghanistan, after a six-month offensive."They have lost. They have lost their cohesion here," Khan told reporters on a trip arranged by the military to Bajaur and Mohmand agencies. "The resistance has collapsed."He said his forces had also largely restored "a reasonable state of stability," in the four other agencies under his command."If you are asking me about five agencies ... I think somewhere by the end of the year or so we would, more or less, be over with the military operations," he said.Khan said his forces planned to hand over control of Bajaur, the most northerly of the tribal areas and opposite the Afghan province of Kunar, to government authorities next week.In 2006, a CIA-operated pilotless drone aircraft fired missiles at a house in Bajaur in the belief that al Qaeda number two Ayman al Zawahri was there. At least 18 people were killed.Khan said he had no information about Zawahri's whereabouts but his forces had killed and arrested several Arab fighters.Officials say more than 1,500 militants were killed, along with about 100 soldiers, during the "Operation Sher Dil" launched in Bajaur in September. There has been no independent verification of that militant casualty estimate.Hard-pressed militants led by an al Qaeda ally, Faqir Mohammad, this week declared a unilateral ceasefire in Bajaur. Khan said he rejected an offer of talks and went ahead with military operations.
Khan's strategy appears different to the government's in the neighboring Swat valley, where authorities struck a deal with Islamists, agreeing to enforce Islamic sharia law, after militants virtually took control of the region in recent months.Authorities also sealed peace deals with militants in North and South Waziristan agencies, two major sanctuaries for al Qaeda and Taliban militants on the Afghan border where U.S. drones have carried out more than 20 missile strikes since September.Western countries have expressed concerns over Pakistan's policy of making deals with the militants, fearing the strategy provides breathing space for militants to regroup and intensify their insurgency against Western forces in Afghanistan.
Army spokesman Major-General Athar Abbas said the military and government had devised strategies to suit different areas."There is no single thread that runs across all the agencies ... so one has to deal according to what exactly the situation warrants. That's why the strategy applied in Swat is different and what is being applied in Bajaur is different."Pakistani officials argue that military action against militancy must be backed by political support to reach a lasting solution. "There is no such thing as a military solution. It has to be a political solution," Khan said.

PAKISTAN:Politics of agitation —Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi


Moderation, tolerance and accommodation can help overcome the present crisis. Both sides need to stand-down from their rigid perspectives. The longer they confront each other in the streets, the harder it will be to find a peaceful and mutually acceptable solution

Democracy is a delicate system of governance that can be sustained only if the political class fully subscribes to and implements its basic norms in letter and spirit. The use of violence in the name of exercising the democratic right to protest shows a lack of understanding of the spirit of democracy.

It was disappointing to watch the PMLN leadership discard the democratic framework and call upon its workers to take to the streets to voice their anger against the Supreme Court judgement that disqualified the Sharif brothers from holding public office. Perhaps the PMLN leaders think that democracy is relevant only to the extent that it facilitates the achievement of their partisan political agenda.

Political agitation and violence in the last week has perturbed even those most optimistic about the future of democracy in Pakistan. The main concern is whether this is the beginning of an unrestrained power struggle between the two major political parties that would unravel the democratic process and shift the political initiative to the military.

What are the implications of street agitation for the capacity of the government to cope with religious extremism and militancy?

Pakistan’s current transition to democracy cannot succeed without active cooperation between the PPP and the PMLN within the constitutional framework. The cordiality manifested by the leaders of these parties in the immediate aftermath of the 2008 general elections engendered the hope that both have learnt from their experiences and would not engage in a free-for-all struggle against each other.

The optimism generated by their cooperation led many to challenge those who projected a doomsday scenario for Pakistan or argued that Pakistan lacked the capacity to function within a democratic framework.

In the 1990s, the PPP and the PMLN engaged in an all out confrontation. During 1988-90, the federal government was led by PPP leader Benazir Bhutto and the Punjab provincial government was led by Nawaz Sharif. These governments declared political war and adopted various measures to destabilise each other. It was a most unfortunate confrontation that weakened civilian institutions and processes. The bitter legacy of these years overshadowed their bilateral interaction until General Pervez Musharraf knocked both leaders out of the political process in October 1999.

Now, in 2009, the PPP and the PMLN have again adopted confrontational posture. The intensity of the PMLN’s anger against the judgement of the Supreme Court has surprised most political observers. Instead of building pressure gradually, the tempo of response was raised to the highest pitch in one go.

Nawaz Sharif’s press conference on February 25 and a public address in Sheikhupura on February 26 reflected his defiant mood and determination to take on the PPP-led federal government in the streets. He minced no words in accusing President Asif Ali Zardari of securing his disqualification from the Supreme Court, which Sharif refused to acknowledge as a legitimate court. He also talked about Zardari’s alleged moneymaking practices while Benazir Bhutto was prime minister. Nawaz Sharif’s second government — 1997-1999 — instituted corruption cases against Zardari. However, no charge was substantiated in court during the next ten years. However, Nawaz Sharif played up these charges in his press conference.

It was an unusual move by Nawaz Sharif to call upon the people to take to the streets to challenge the PPP-led federal government that he held responsible for hatching a conspiracy against him and Shehbaz Sharif. He also advised civil servants not to obey the orders of the government, and endeavoured to isolate Zardari by arguing that he did not blame the PPP for the disqualification. It was Zardari’s doing, he argued.

PMLN activists came out in the streets mainly in the Punjab in a defiant mood and targeted government property, PPP posters and Benazir Bhutto’s memorial in Rawalpindi, where she was assassinated on December 27, 2007. Some of the protest marches that resulted in violence were led by PMLN parliamentarians.

The agitation is limited mainly to PMLN activists and its base in Punjab, especially in the cities that elected PMLN parliamentarians in 2008. It is weak in other provinces where the PMLN has a weak political standing.

However, if the agitation persists at the current level of intensity for another week or so, it is expected to attract ordinary people. It can also spread to other provinces and become nationwide. If agitation does not establish itself in other provinces, it will turn into a confrontation between the PPP and Punjab, which may have negative ramifications for Punjab’s relations with other provinces.

The PMLN can strengthen its position by joining the lawyers’ Long March and sit-in, which will have some political parties and societal groups in its fold. This depends on the tempo of the agitation over the next twelve days.

Another dimension of the PMLN agitation relates to the imposition of Governor’s Rule in Punjab for two months after Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif was disqualified.

The available evidence suggests that neither the PMLN nor the PPP has the required number in the provincial assembly to elect a new chief minister. The imposition of Governor’s Rule gives enough time to both parties to woo the PMLQ for support. If the PPP musters enough members it can form its government; and Governor’s Rule will come to an end quickly. If the PPP cannot muster enough support, however, Governor’s Rule may continue for a longer period. The efforts by the Speaker of the Punjab Assembly (who belongs to the PMLN) to summon the assembly session have no legal basis. However, it is advisable to bring an end to Governor’s Rule and let the Punjab Assembly elect its leader. This will ease tensions in Punjab.

The PPP-led federal government must also share the blame for the current predicament. Its performance in the socio-economic domain has been poor and has alienated the people. It also built pressure on the Punjab government though the governor who periodically threatened to remove the provincial government. This convinced Nawaz Sharif and other PMLN leaders that President Zardari wanted to remove the Punjab government and neutralise the PMLN. Therefore, when the Supreme Court disqualified the Sharif Brothers, Nawaz Sharif was quick to blame President Zardari for the present crisis.

Time is fast running out for the PPP and the PMLN. The PMLN strategy of using its political clout in the Punjab to paralyse the federal government through violent protest will cause irreparable damage to democracy. The strategy of street agitation is expected to accentuate Pakistan’s internal and external security problems and undermine economic recovery. This strategy may create a situation where democracy suffers a major setback and both the PPP and the PMLN lose.

Moderation, tolerance and accommodation can help overcome the present crisis. Both sides need to stand-down from their rigid perspectives. The longer they confront each other in the streets, the harder it will be to find a peaceful and mutually acceptable solution.

Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi is a political and defence analyst