Tuesday, January 22, 2008

44 Killed in Pakistan Militant Fighting

Today, Pakistani security forces' struggle with militants along the Afghan border and more statements by President Pervez Musharraf dominated press coverage of the country today. According to the Associated Press, the army said that the Islamic militants attacked a fort on Tuesday, "one of two clashes with government forces that left seven troops and 37 fighters dead." The attack on the fort occurred in southern Waziristan, an area the AP described as, "a lawless tribal region where Al Qaeda and Taliban-linked militants operate." It was the second clash on the fort this month.

Speaking in Paris, France today, Pakistani President
Pervez Musharraf insisted the remnants of the Taliban regime in neighboring Afghanistan is the "most serious issue" plaguing the country. He told reporters, "The 100,000 troops that we are using ... are not going around trying to locate Osama bin Laden and Zawahiri, frankly. They are operating against terrorists, and in the process, if we get them, we will deal with them certainly." However, the President still rejected claims that the violence was a sign of resurgent Taliban, insisting, "There is no Taliban offensive ... being launched. These are pinpricks that they keep doing — and we have to manage all of that." According to BBC News, the President also stressed on Tuesday that it was impossible for "militants to gain any access to Pakistan's nuclear arsenal." More specifically, he stated, "There is a zero percent chance of either one of them, they (the weapons) cannot fall into any wrong hands...We don't think it is possible that this Al Qaeda or Taliban can take over in Pakistan. We cannot be defeated like this."

An article in today's NY Times, entitled, "Musharraf Trip Shadowed by Troubles at Home," commented on the "troubles" in Pakistan as the President continues his four-nation tour in Europe, where he intends to show his resolve in fighting terrorism and to "talk up investment opportunites." However, noted the Times, "his pitch, after the assassination of the opposition leader Benazir Bhutto will be made in the shadow of a rapidly escalating jihadist insurgency, an economy suffering from sudden power and wheat shortages, and worries that elections, which have been delayed to Feb. 18, will not be free and fair." Both supporters and critics of Musharraf feel that his past "pillars of strength" as a leader are now being severely challenged."

Today's NY Times editorial also discussed the issue of Pakistan, particularly the rise of violence and the Islamist militancy, developments that are problematic for the country's future. On the topic of U.S. involvement in Pakistan, the Times' editors advised, "The United States, already bogged down in
Iraq and Afghanistan, must be extremely careful about further military entanglement in Pakistan. As a long-term solution, it must encourage political and legal reforms in the tribal areas and spend as quickly as possible a new $750 million allocation by Congress that could improve the lives of Pakistanis and deprive militants of new converts."

I have attempted to provide daily news briefs to keep readers of this blog updated on the
media's portrayal of the current events in Pakistan. What has struck me while monitoring the press is that in the struggle between militants and Pakistani security forces, we, as Pakistanis, seem very divorced from this conflict. If you look at the Iraq war, and the way the American media addresses that conflict in the United States, there seems to be unflinching support for U.S. troops - American citizens and lawmakers may criticize the administration's strategy in the war, but never will they "be against" the soldiers fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan. In contrast, the military also seems isolated in their fight against Taliban-linked militants. Maybe I'm wrong, but why are we so divorced from the struggle of our own troops? Is it because we do not identify with the Pakistani military, an institution in the country that has acted largely of its own accord, or is it something else?


Rebecca said...

Is the army considered corrupt and untrustworthy? A pawn of the government?

When Musharraf took over as military dictator in 1999, he helped protect Pakistan from its disturbing power struggle between the PPP and the PML. It has been eight years since that time. Does the military really deserve the loyalty and support of the Pakistani people?

reimas said...

Kalsoom, great questions. I think throughout the history of Pakistan there has been an unflinching support for the military institution. Since its conception, there was a ready call to arms to support the “Muslim cause” in Kashmir, and then against India, portrayed as a Hindu nation (despite having an equal, if not greater number of Muslims than Pakistan).

In pretty much every middle-class or lower-class (If I may use such crude terminology) home one can see this allegiance to the military by the framed pictures of an uncle, a brother, a son, or father who has served, or is serving, or has died in service to the military. I would say that historically, the bond between the people and the military in Pakistan is actually much stronger than that in the Unites States.

Of course, since Musharraf took power and the role of the military became more public as the main source of institutional power in the country, the people have begun to overtly rebel. Now the military is in an exposed position to receive blame. Prior to Musharaff, the military remained behind the scenes, although still a recognized source of institutional power in Pakistan, the official government absorbed the blows of a discontented public.

In short, I think the tarnishing of the military image has mostly to do with Musharraf brining it to the forefront of public society as a major player of domestic policy, rather than any other reason, because historically, the military has served as a great source of prestige and respect in Pakistan.