Pakistan's generals come down hard
KARACHI - With Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's allies routed in last month's parliamentary elections and civil society led by lawyers aggressively calling for his dismissal and trial for his actions in the "war on terror" over the past eight years, Musharraf has received a boost with the top military brass putting their weight behind the presidency.
Faced with rising militancy, the military did not have much option but to close ranks and back the US push to tackle Taliban and al-Qaeda militants head-on.
At a Corps Commanders conference in the garrison city of Rawalpindi on Thursday, army chief Lieutenant General Ashfaq Parvez Kiani rejected suggestions of "distancing of the army from the president", adding that "any kind of schism, at any level" wouldn't be in the national interest, according to a statement released by Inter Services Public Relations.
Qazi Hussain Ahmed, the chief of the Jamaat-i-Islami party and a leader of the All Parties Democratic Movement, called the Corps Commanders' proclamation "disappointing". In a statement released to the national press, he said the move was an intervention by the military in politics.
The Corps Commanders' meeting took place soon after Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, US Armed Forces, had met in Pakistan with top military leaders, as well as with Musharraf.
There has been a noticeable spike in suicide attacks on the military in the past few weeks, including the killing of the army surgeon general, Lieutenant General Mushtaq Baig, and Tuesday's attack on the Navy War College in Lahore, the first on a naval installation.
Asia Times Online has narrated (Pakistan's grand bargain falls apart, March 6) how Pakistan's new military leadership under Kiani had devised a roadmap aimed at national reconciliation without compromising the country's commitment in the "war on terror".
The plan centered on developing an understanding with the Pakistani Taliban in the tribal areas that at the onset of a planned military offensive there, both sides would attempt to keep losses to the minimum; that is, they would go through the motions while Pakistan fulfilled its obligations in the eyes of the world in cracking down on militancy ... but in the latest suicide attack on the military, the fourth in five days, bombers on Tuesday targeted the Navy War College in Lahore, killing six people and injuring 18. This string of attacks leaves the new military chief, Lieutenant General Ashfaq Pazvez Kiani, with the unpopular choice of having to take off the velvet glove to reveal an iron fist against militancy.Now, the militants have shown they want to fight and are not interested in reconciliation, thereby opening a new chapter in regional confrontation.
The chief beneficiary of this would be Musharraf, who has rapidly been losing his grip in the wake of Kiani's popular steps of reconciliation. Politicians elected in last month's polls for a new Parliament have already indicated they want to oust Musharraf for his heavy-handed role in prosecuting the "war on terror" during his eight years as a military ruler.
A new confrontation brews
Cell numbers two and three in Rawalpindi's Adiala Jail and a special cell in Faisalabad Jail are earmarked for those "war on terror" inmates who have been sentenced to death. Cell number two holds prisoners from the Pakistan Air Force convicted for their involvement in an attack on Musharraf in 2004 in Rawalpindi.
Asia Times Online contacts say that soon after Baig's killing, these inmates were subjected to a new round of interrogation. The main persons interrogated were a chief technician identified only as Khalid, a senior technician named Karam Din, and a corporal technician Nasrullah. Their relatives were presented in front of them in jail and the prisoners were threatened that if they did not cooperate in helping to break terror networks, their relatives, including women, would be "roughed up" in front of them.
Subsequently, raids were carried out across the country, including at leading Islamic seminaries, and scores of suspects were rounded up, particularly from Rawalpindi, where the military conducted a massive crackdown.
The raids reinforce the conviction that there is no longer any chance for reconciliation, at least for this year, and that the Pakistan armed forces and the militants will be battling it out with full force, whether in the main cities or in the tribal areas along with North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces.
Thursday's Corps Commanders' meeting confirms this open battle against the militants as a continuum of the Washington-led "war on terror".
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be reached at [email protected]