Page last updated at 14:46 GMT, Thursday, 13 September 2007 15:46 UK

Pakistan crisis 'hits army morale'

Ahmed Rashid, guest journalist and writer on Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia, reflects on mounting political drama and militancy in Pakistan.

Protests against Gen Musharraf
"There is widespread public anger against the army"
Pakistan's worst ever political crisis that has divided the nation also appears to be having a dramatic impact on the morale of Pakistani troops on the Afghan-Pakistan border who are engaged in the "war on terror" and fighting the Taleban.

Talebanisation along Pakistan's border regions has escalated even more rapidly since the political crisis began.

As people flee their villages to escape armed extremists, the state has been unable to protect the population and is rapidly losing credibility and authority.

Moreover, the army's insistence that a pro-Taleban Islamic party once again be part of any future government that may emerge after expected general elections will only lead to a further lessening of state control, an increase in the pace of Talebanisation and further divisions in the nation.

'Terrorism Central'

The surrender of an estimated 280 soldiers, including a colonel and nine other officers, on 30 August in South Waziristan to just a few score Taleban fighters who blocked their supply convoy on the road to the main town of Wana shocked the nation.

People have lost faith in the political system and in the army's attempts to concoct a new one

The Pakistani Taleban, ostensibly belonging to the group led by Baitullah Mahsud, persuaded the troops to surrender without firing a single shot. The group comprised more than a dozen mid-ranking officers, including a colonel.

The militants then split the soldiers into groups and took them into the high mountains as hostages - much as the Afghan Taleban did six weeks earlier near Ghazni to a group of 23 South Koreans who were subsequently freed.

A jirga of tribal elders who met the Pakistani Taleban for two days returned empty handed. The Taleban demanded the release of 10 of their prisoners held by the government and insisted upon all troops leaving the Federally-Administered Tribal Area or Fata, which comprises the seven tribal agencies.

After the hostage-taking, the government arrested 100 Mahsud tribesmen - but was quickly forced to free them in order to appease the militants.

The army attempted to cover up the disaster by making conflicting statements, none of which appeared logical and all of which were contradicted by the militants and local tribal elders.

The government has banned all journalists from the region since 2004 so real information is sparse.

Pakistani soldier searching man in North Waziristan
Pakistani soldiers have been kidnapped in the border region

In case anyone doubted the militants' intentions, 10 Frontier Corps paramilitary soldiers and a major were kidnapped in Fata's Mohmand agency on 1 September, while two deadly suicide bombings killed several soldiers in Bajaur agency on the same day.

After a US intelligence estimate in mid-July that South and North Waziristan had become Terrorism Central and were the headquarters for al-Qaeda and the Taleban, President Pervez Musharraf sent 20,000 troops into the region breaking a ceasefire and a troop withdrawal treaty agreement the army had signed with the Pakistani Taleban in 2005.

Widespread anger

The Pakistani Taleban are now demanding the army returns to the status quo.

But that is impossible with the Americans breathing down Gen Musharraf's neck and threatening to attack al-Qaeda hideouts in Fata if the army does not move first. However, that is looking increasingly difficult.

Many of the army and Frontier Corp personnel serving in Fata are Pashtuns, the ethnic group that lives on both sides of the border and from which the Taleban in both countries originate. Pakistani Pashtun soldiers are now loathe to fire upon their fellow Pashtuns.

The last time the army attacked Fata in 2004 more than 700 soldiers were killed and dozens of Pashtun soldiers and Frontier Corp men deserted, while some army helicopter pilots refused to bomb their own fellow citizens. As a result, Gen Musharraf was forced to do a deal with the militants that took the troops out of Fata - much to the chagrin of the American forces based in Afghanistan.

This time the situation is much more serious.

Apart from the Taleban there is widespread public anger against the army which could make the loss of morale amongst the troops much more serious. People have lost faith in the political system and in the army's attempts to concoct a new one.

In such a political vacuum it is only natural that extremism should grow and the Pakistani Taleban face only a modicum of resistance from the military.

Gen Musharraf has failed to convince the general public that the struggle against extremism is not just President Bush's war, but a struggle that all fair-minded Pakistanis must wage.

In the meantime, the army is insisting that Maulana Fazlur Rehman, who leads the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI), be part of any future government, whether it is led by Benazir Bhutto or the ruling Pakistan Muslim League.

The JUI has been the mainstay for the revival of the Taleban in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

With supervision from Pakistan's intelligence services, thousands of JUI-run madrassas in Balochistan and North West Frontier Province have provided shelter to tens of thousands of extremists from both sides of the border.

Wider tragedy

As long as the JUI is a part of any future Pakistani government it is impossible to imagine how that government will be able to move against the Taleban.

Thus, by insisting that the JUI does become part of a future government, the army appears to be directly boosting the fortunes of the Afghan Taleban, even as Pakistani Taleban kidnap or kill Pakistani troops.

This is only part of a wider tragedy that is a result of eight years of military rule when Gen Musharraf appeared to be running with the hares and hunting with the hounds - following a deeply contradictory policy course that has now caught up with him and helped plunge the country into its present chaos.

Ahmed Rashid is a Pakistani journalist based in Lahore. He is the author of three books including Taliban and, most recently, Jihad. He has covered Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia for the past 25 years and also writes for the Far Eastern Economic Review, the Daily Telegraph and The Wall Street Journal.

This debate is now closed. Following is a selection of views you sent.

The chickens were always going to come home to roost - you can't keep dancing to the White House tune and not upset the general public of Pakistan. The handling of the Red Mosque siege was amateur at the very least; the troops should never have moved in - they should have waited for the occupants to either give themselves up (after however many days it took) or to let them make the first move (and thereby justifying any response).
Nawaz, UK

The situation now is scary, not just for Pakistan but for the whole region and beyond.A comprehensive peace treaty with its neighbours and a total committment to move away from fundamentalism and state-sponsored terror can perhaps lead Pakistan out of this, not to forget the restoration of democrarcy.The army has to understand now that the enemy is within and it too is to blame for the Talebanisation of the country, not to forget the cross-border support for the other rogue elements spreading terror in Afganistan and India.The politicians have to be accountable and the politics transparent. But that is a long wish list. We are facing a clear and present danger with a strong shadow of nuclear holocaust hanging above the region and beyond. GOD help us.
Amar, Germany

Thanks to Gen Musharraf's success in deceiving the West by making it believe that he is the right man to fight extremism in Pakistan, Talibanization is fast spreading throughout Pakistan. The West needs to realize that the Pakistan Army which is headed by Gen Musharraf and its intelligence agencies are the architects of the Taliban... The West needs to realize that the Pakistan army and intelligence agencies led by Gen Musharraf beleive that only an Islamist Pakistan can survive the challenges which it faces from nationalist Pushtuns both in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Zarghun Khan, Turkey

As usual Mr Ahmed fails to mention one key point while preaching doomsday scenario. Most if not all the troops kidnapped/surrendered were Frontier militia members and not regular army soldiers. These militias are raised from local tribes to enforce goverment decrees. As such they are not very well trained or equipped and are part of local population. Their reluctance to fight against their neighbours and brothers is understood. Mr Ahmed's anti-Pakistan writing is very well known and his attempt to paint this incident as a surrender by Pakistan army is highly inaccurate. Western powers are fighting a losing battle in Afghanistan and would love to see nothing better than a civil war in Pakistan in the name of war against terrorism. This incident shows that Pakistanis will never fight against fellow Pakistanis.
Zeeshan Nabi, Canada

On the dot analysis of the problems of Pakistan and by extension the problems being caused to the world by Pakistan. The world needs to treat 'Pakistan' as the terror virus it has become. Every single act of international Islamic terror seems to have originated in Pakistan. The world needs to 'quarantine' Pakistan and not allow any movement of people in and out of that country. If it does not then it will run the risk of the detonation of a WMD in either London or NY, the consequences of that would be too horrific to contemplate.
Raj Kumar, UK

Radical Islam is Pakistan's future. The Army has encouraged the Taleban and now the 'chickens" are coming home to roost. Journalists, human rights lawyers, gays, liberals, feminists and secular leaning Muslims will be rounded up and re-educated or killed just as they have been in every country dominated by "Radical Islam". In Iraq, if you smoke, they cut off your nicotine stained fingers, if you wear make up, they cut your face off with piano wire. Ahmed Rashid has much to be concerned about, he is very brave and I wish him well.
William L. Donlon, Rochester New York USA

The best analysis done by the author. It is the reality of course. Thanks
Abdul, Afghanistan

It was a grave error on the part of Britain to partition the subcontinent in 1947, and created a state which has never had democracy. While the Indians enjoy prosperity and relative peace, the Pakistanis and Bangladeshis have never seen peace and stability in their respective countries. Many Moslems in both Pakistan and Bangladesh have perished in the wars with India and against each other, and the only solution for those two wretched and corrupt nations is to reunite with their motherland - Greater India.
amir rashid, Canada

Even in a democracy a coercive sovereign power vested somewhere enables the society behave to agreed dictates. It appears that in Pakistan such power is for the present weildable only by religious heads. Its no use prescribing any other form of governance to such societies. The people need learn their own lessons from strife and emerge with their options. However foolish one might think, there is no option in history that every one should reinvent his wheel.
Ram mohan, India

I thank Allah Almighty for bringing Its wrath upon the Pakistani government for what it did to Afghanistan before/during/after the Afg/Soviet war. Afghanistan, a country that had just sacrificed 2 million of its finest sons and daughters in the defense of Islam and freedom, was destroyed further by Pakistani cowards. Today, Pakistan is being eaten alive by the same monster it created for Afghanistan. The destruction of that pathetic nation has already begun. Allah Akbar
Afghan, USA

Any policy which is seen by both the military and the general population as serving the interests not of Pakistan but of the USA is bound to fail. A democratic leader may have had the credibility to support the war against the Taliban in 2001 but General Musharraf clearly did not. His attempts to win over his fellow citizens to his way of thinking have been weak. The Pashtun fighters along the Afghan border will win their fight against the Pakistani army. Another retreat is imminent.
mark bassett, ireland

With friends like you who needs enemies. You seem to have lost all faith in yourself.
Mohammad Javed, Pakistan

The events in Pakistan get more omminous and omminous. I see a country not so slowly spiraling out of control. Unfortunately, the degeneration of Pakistan is one of the symptoms of George Bush's foreign policy -- an unanticipated consequence.
Karl Eysenbach, USA

As a child i was taught to yell "Pakistan Zinda Baad" long live pakisitan. But in reality it should be "Pakistan say zinda bhaag" run from pakistan while your still alive.
Ali Hassan, USA

Currently Musharraf is the best choice for Pakistan. I donot think that Paksitan Army moral is down. Its just due to the political instability that Paksitan Army is not taking agressive measures. Once Musharraf gets himself re-elected that real show will start. I think before going after these militants Musharraf should address the core of talibinisation in Paksitan and that is Madarsas. All the Madarsas in Pakistan should be controlled by Ministry of Education..
Qasim, Malaysia

ahmed rashid's keyboard is designed to scare the world by the words 'taliban', jihad, islamic terrorism etc...and they make him alot of money..he cares a heck aboutthe consequences...the question is, 'who are the taliban'..? are they aliens..? no they are from the pathan people from pathan lands.if NATO troops want to destroy them,then they will have to destroy a complete race..ethnically cleanse them..because the commitment the pathan has to islamic and tribal code cannnot be changed by war or writing articles or trying to confine them as a nation...many armies have tried it..from alexander to Russia to NATO...none succeeded..and the afghan people paid a high price for it...why does no one talk of the million men, women and children killed by the russians during their occupation of afghanistan..has ahmed rashid wiped that out from his mind..?
asad, pakistan

Well by the looks Pakistan is getting closer to being a failed state , the soldiers are being kidnapped and killed shows the exact situation in that country, pakistan had always made and nurtered terrorists and now they are victims of the same . The pakistani citizens should not include religion in every aspect of their life and let the country to grow economically
Ramon, UAE

No Muslim countries let alone Pakistan should ever play to the games of Western Power... at the end of the day the western powers will do what they like when they want to. But against a divided Muslim nation... this is how European nations divided and conquered the Islamic world. Just Unite and no one will stop u!
Ismail Patel, UK

War has never been a solution of any crisis. The solution is in education and dialogue.
Dan smith, USA

Unfortunately, Pakistan is being eaten by the extremism it has created in Afghanistan. Maybe this country will sink into daily terror like Irak and Palestine. But worse, an atomic doom is looming over its head. If an atomic war breaks into the world, it will be in Pakistan and hell will be loose in the Muslim states.
Jacques Bissonnette, Canada

The rapidly growing ranks of virulent and violent religious fundamentalists (who now smell the chance for greater control), an army that never sat in the barracks for too long, an intelligence agency that has repeatedly undermined all attempts at democracy and actively supported and funded militancy, a small fuedal elite that only talks about democracy but is corrupt, cynical and power hungry, and a myopic and self-absorbed West - they have all turned Pakistan's political future into a dog's dinner. Unless the moderate and the traditionally tolerant majority of Pakistan becomes stronger and more active, unless the rest of the world provides conscientious support to these voices, I think the religio-secular state that Jinnah wanted to found will slip out of the hands forever.
Kondor, India

The writer of this article explains the details in a very accurate manner, and also contradicts his article by saying that " The government has banned all journalists from the region since 2004 so real information is sparse ". And no wonder there would be biased articles by Mr. Rashid. If any one has read past articles by him, one would find the same theme, negative image of Pakistan, and as above by Asad that trying to scare the readers by words like terrorism central, jihad, al qaida etc. Situation is not perfect in pakistan, but where is it? Take world super powers, their forces are embroiled in conflicts worldwide, with their public against them. He will keep painting a negative image of Pakistan, and BBC and their likes will keep posting his articles :)
Altamash Khan, Oman

Well, first of all Pakistan is not responsible for what had happened in Afghanistan. It is being the center of terror because of their own lack of leadership and skills. We have helped them along with US and Europe to fight against Russians. Not a single nation of the world drove them to create such a problem, they did it by themselves, it's always easy to fire a gun on another's shoulder, as we say in Pashto. Don't blame Pakistan for everything...
altaf afridi, sweden

My sympathies are with the people of Pakistan. They deserve better leaders. The civil society has been trampled by the generals for decades. The military was Talibanised, under Zia-ul-haq. Even now, the soldiers have to take an oath that they would avenge the defeat of 1965. With the mindset of 1000 years war with neighbour India - now, the army has subjugated their own people. The protector has turned predator. What a tragedy.
N.Radhakrishnan, india

Dear Mr Ahmed, do you have a solution? Anyone can criticise but only a true patriot can propose solutions? Why don't you write about all the great things this government has done for Pakistan in these difficult and challenging circumstances. Do you want the wadaras to come back to power and once again take the country back into bankruptcy?
sikendar, USA

Of all the usual "bash Pakistan" posts here from disgruntled Afghans (who can't fix things on their own so they blame Pakistan for it) to perpetually Pakistan-hating Indians posting here, the only thing that makes sense is Qasim's post. Let Musharraf get in for another 5 years and we will see what happens to these tribal areas. Also all these statements bashing Pakistan for becoming the origin of terror are crass! It was the West (US, UK etc) that gave money to revive the Jihadi ideology in the Russo-Afghan when this ideology has taken on its own path, every one lays the blame on Pakistan's door. Fairly typical behavior. Pakistan is a perfect case study of what is to happen all over the Muslim world if the existing policies of use and abuse continue.
Syed Asad, USA

I think the whole issue needs very careful and detailed analyses keeping in view the long term effects on the future of Pakistan, afghanistan, USA and rest of the world - particularlu Muslim world. It is very clear that the war of last many years sparked by Osama factor and engineered by the United States has borne no fruits and apparently there is no end in sight. Now the most affected country is Pakistan -from every aspect. It is imperative now that to save Pakistan from total annihilation all political forces and the incumbent ruling junta sit together with a very clear agenda to have a unified strategy to resolve the issue of militancy once and for all.
Gulzar Khan, Pakistan



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