Pakistan Unraveling

NWFP/FATA map. Red agencies/ districts controlled by the Taliban; yellow under threat. Click map to view.

U.S. soldier killed in Kurram; Peshawar suicide blast, Karachi riots, border clashes highlight deteriorating security sitution and Musharraf’s tenuous grip on power

After a weekend of mortar exchanges between Afghan and Pakistani security forces on the Khost-Kurram border, and the subsequent Pakistani incursion into Afghan territory, a U.S., Afghan and Pakistani commission met in Pakistan’s Kurram agency. The delegation, which was made up of security and diplomatic officials from the three countries, was ambushed as they left the school which served as a meeting place. The initial reporting on the incident varied widely, with the first reports intimating Pakistani security forces or an al Qaeda mole shot and killed the NATO soldier

The first report by Reuters quoted an Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman as saying “a Pakistani officer rose up and fired at U.S. soldiers, resulting in the deaths of two soldiers and wounding of two others.” The Pakistani military reported that 2 of its soldiers and 3 U.S. soldiers were wounded after “firing came from the Afghan side” of the border. Later, NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) reported “one ISAF service member was killed and two ISAF service members and two ISAF civilian members were wounded when they were ambushed by unknown assailants near Teri Mangel, Pakistan.” The Pakistani government labeled them as “miscreants” – which is code for al Qaeda. One Pakistani soldier was killed and 2 were wounded during the attack.

The events in Kurram are unusual in the Northwest Frontier Province only in the respect that U.S. soldiers were killed and wounded inside Pakistan. The Taliban and al Qaeda have been conducting a campaign of murder and intimidation against the Pakistani people throughout the embattled province. A suicide bomber attacked the Marhaba Hotel in Peshawar, the provincial capital, and killed at least 25, with an unspecified number wounded. This is the latest blast in a string of bombings throughout the province.

Recently, nine tankers carrying fuel to US forces were blown up in the Khyber agency by ‘miscreants.’ The vice president of the NWFP People’s Party Parliamentarians was assassinated in Peshawar last week. This followed an assassination attempt on the Interior Minister in Chardassa two weeks ago.

The district of Tank is under a 24 hour curfew after a policeman and civilian were kiled and 10 wounded during a battle with ‘militants’ belonging to Baitullah Mehsud. The district of Swat is bracing for violence after a crackdown on the banned Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi. The interior ministry is warning of suicide attacks by a “Waziristan-based jihadi organisation” against security forces. Northwest Frontier Province Governor Jan Aurakzai “expressed concern” over the Taliban’s grown influence in Bajaur, after he openly promoted turning over the agency to the ‘miscreants’ for the past year. Last week, the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi sent hundreds of its fighters out to establish checkpoints and enforce shariah along the roadways.

Music and barber shops have been the focus of a concerted Taliban campaign of late. After isuing a series of night letters and public notices, the Taliban has begun to order shops closed and bomb those that refused to comply. Over the past week, the Taliban has banned the sale, ownership and playing of music in North Waziristan, bombed 17 video shops in Mardan and Charsadda districts, and a barber shop in Dir. CD and Internet cafe owners in the NWFP are appealing to Taliban supporting Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal government for protection from Taliban threats, but stated “no one from the district administration is lending a helping hand.”

The chaos in the Northwest Frontier Province occurs as the crisis over the suspension of Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Chaudhry boils over in Karachi. Supporters of Chaudhry clashed with a pro government party, resulting in scores dead and over 140 wounded during days of street fighting. The Pakistani police are said to have looked on as pro government gunmen fired into the crowds. The government has issued shoot-on-sight orders to paramilitary forces in Karachi in an effort to end the rioting.

President Pervez Musharraf’s tenuous hold on power is threatened as the Northwest Frontier Province slides further from government control, and the nation is in an uproar over the Chaudhry dismissal and the government’s handling of the crisis. The ‘miscreants’ will take advantage of Musharraf’s political weakness to further consolidate their power over the border regions and beyond.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • Colin says:

    Does the Pakistani government have a move here? I mean, it seems like the Musharraf regime is caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to dissident factions within Pakistan. The more liberal elements are up in arms over the suspension Chaudhry, while the other elements, the Taliban and the Lal Masjid types, are protesting almost every move the government makes towards some kind of secularism as apostacy.
    Can the government make a move that strengthens it, or are that damned whether they continue to hold their present posture, move closer to the Islamists, or try to make common cause with the more liberal factions? Would moving towards the liberals (and I use that word advisedly, knowing that this is Pakistan) inflame the passions of the Islamists without providing any greater base of support for firm action by the government? Would a move in their (the liberals) direction necessitate liberalizing of the political system that could, in a catch-22 type situation, only end up empowering the islamist forces? I’m just not sure what the Pakistani government’s next move should be, let alone what it will actually do.

  • anand says:

    No one takes joy in Pakistan’s unraveling in any country. Let us hope and pray that Pakistan can transition to a free, prosperous, secure democracy quickly and with limited bloodshed. This might not be possible . . . Pakistan could make today’s Iraq look like disneyland.
    America has to come strongly on the side of freedom and democracy . . . and although the path might be bumpy and scary . . . hope for the best.

  • mxpwr03 says:

    Colin, the move the President Musharraf will probably be forced to make is to call some form of elections. He kept promising them, but fell short on many occasions. I hear that he is in talks with Benziar Bhutto, allowing her to reenter the country and run as on opposition candidate.

  • Tony says:

    There is another variable at play here which should be factored into the analysis.
    Musharraf was born in New Delhi. Similarly, the MQM, which played a major role in the recent violence in Karachi, largely represents Sindhs who moved into Pakistan after the partition.
    So one of the fault lines which has appeared in recent days is along the ethnic divide of Pashto vs. these individuals born in what is now India.
    How that will all play out is of course uncertain, but it is clearly part of the mix.

  • RJ says:

    You’re watching a mass movement coalescing.

  • The nation-state known as Pakistan may very well devolve. Who gets the nukes?
    Time to look at the maps. Baluchistan wants to seceed from Pakistan. Lots of unhappy Baluchis in Iran would like that. The Chinese have thoughtfully built us a port to replace Karachi as the Sea Port Of Debarkation for Operation Enduring Freedom. They will scream like stuck pigs if the US Navy takes up residence, but what can they really do about it? If the Good Guys lose Karachi, the DFAC in Salerno will be serving goat before it shuts down altogether. ISAF will have to retrograde to where the beans and bullets are.
    China, Russia, all the ‘stans and India will be circling the dying carcass of Pakistan waiting for chow time. Who does the U. S. want to see eat first?
    Start thinking about a post-Pakistan Central Asia.

  • David M says:

    Trackbacked by The Thunder Run – Web Reconnaissance for 05/15/2007
    A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention.

  • Tony says:

    Good post Cannoneer.
    If you look at the hundreds of thousands of civilians slaughtered before Pakistan broke away from India as a separate nation in the late 1940s, you get a sense that there is some possibility (not probable, but it needs to be war-gamed) that the level of violence which could occur would make what is occurring in Iraq look like child’s play.

  • KS BCwala says:

    Pakistan is imploding, and has been on a slow burner (like the frog in al gore’s movie – not documentary) for a long while. It’s only now when the water is in fact on a slow boil that we are seeing the fruits of Zia Ul Haq’s islamization of Pakistan taking shape. If the Indian’s have any guts they’ll take advantage of the instability to ensure Punjab, Sindh, NWFP and Baluchistan, all end up as separate states. Allowing the Punjabis to control Sindh would be a real mistake. I doubt India acts in any coherent manner though as India has always taking a timid posture, and will likely let anyone who wants to, have its way with Pakistan – chinese, ruskies, yanks, or anyone else… take a look at how they gave away Kashmir territory in their possession at the war-cessation talks to end off the 65′ and 71′ wars.

  • anand says:

    This story is entering the mainstream where it belongs.
    I think the world should offer Pakistan two choices:
    1) $200 billion in grants over ten years in return for tough reforms (including democracy, freedom, economic reforms, empowerment of women, and crushing the Jihadis in their mist)
    2) The big stick. The problem is I don’t know what that stick should be.
    We have had this discussion on Pakistan many times here on “The Fourth Rail.” Does anyone have ideas for solutions?

  • Tony says:

    KS, Balkanization is not without its massive problems.

  • JohnD says:

    Putting aside the larger picture, a thoroughly destabilized Pakistan may be of assistance in finishing the job in Afghanistan. If Musharraf is gone and there is chaos, that would seem to make it easier to pursue the Taliban and AQ into Pakistan, unlike now where they have a protected area. All bets would be off. I would be interested to hear others’ comments on this possibilty.

  • grognard says:

    If Pakistan fails as a nation state I doubt if we have the forces to contain it, the war would definitely enter a new and dangerous phase.

  • The big stick is Afghanistan. Plenty there think the eastern boundary should be the Indus. The Taliban is a Pashtun movement. If the U.S. and NATO back the revival of the Durrani Empire under Karzai, most Pashtuns would dump the Taliban, and run off al Qaeda, and we could have an isolationist, but more or less pro-American hermit kingdom in the Hindu Kush. Beats what is there now.

  • Neil says:

    How would the EU feel about a disintegrating Pakistan? Concerned enough to commit NATO troops?

  • TBinSTL says:

    If we have gotten inside enough perhaps we can neutralize the nuclear issue and India and Afghanistan can take their share out of the middle. India already has nukes so as long as they fell into India’s hands the change would be minimal. India growing would really get the Chi Com’s panties in a bunch but then again, what doesn’t?


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