No, we don't have Taliban in Pakistan.
Ohhh, THAT Taliban.
Well, we do have some of them, but they blow themselves up.
A creeping disaster is continuing to run its course in northwest Pakistan, in the border regions with Afghanistan. Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf is reaping the rewards for mollifying Islamist factions in his country:
Isolated politically, he is incapable of making the strategic changes necessary to meet the challenges the country faces today. Five years ago, he threw in his lot with the clerics of the MMA [Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal]. He gave them political space by driving secular parties into the wilderness. Some selective rigging saw them come to power in the NWFP [Northwest Frontier Province] and in Balochistan as a coalition partner. In exchange, the clerics used their suddenly expanded presence in the assemblies to allow him to remain army chief. Now, the same religious parties have turned against him.
And like this month's showdown at the Lal Masjid mosque, any attempt to bring the Islamists to any civil order will be messy. Just this week, a Taliban commander, Abdullah Mehsud, was discovered in a pakistani border town 350 km northwest of Quetta. When security forces found him, on a tip from some locals, he blew himself up.
Sure, you could say "well, thant's one less militant", but the bigger question is why do Taliban have such free reign in northwest Pakistan and southern Afghanistan? You can chalk it up to a combination of diverting US forces to Iraq, and political maneuvering from Musharraf. the situation is becoming intolerable.
AS bouquets and brickbats are being flung at the government following the Lal Masjid operation, the tough questions are sure to follow. Even as the corpses of the victims and the villains are being buried, most Pakistanis are already asking how events were allowed to come to such a bloody pass.
One of the hallmarks of military governments is that they all pretend to be very keen on accountability. So who will be the scapegoat for allowing the six-month old stand-off at the mosque complex to drag on? Clearly, the Ghazi brothers used this time to stock up on arms and ammunition, apart from sneaking in dozens of trained militants.
Musharraf is not long for the political scene if he cannot defuse the Islamist timebomb under his arse. His maneuvers to preserve his autocratic rule are coming home to roost, as debated in the pakistani Supreme Court last week:
In the 60 years of our tumultuous and mostly star-crossed history, nothing of greater importance has ever come before the Supreme Court. Other famous cases in the past – Tamizuddin, Dosso, Nusrat Bhutto, etc – helped legitimise one martial law after another. In doing so, the highest court in the land became a party to the twisting and distorting of our history, helping to turn Pakistan into a congenial playground for civil and military dictatorships.
In this case alone has the opportunity arisen to mend that history by putting a rein and bridle on military adventurism. For the central issue in it is not just about the person of Justice Chaudhry and the treatment he received when he defied the wishes of Army House, the source of so much of Pakistan’s many discontents.
It is about something far greater: whether Pakistan’s destiny – and this was put well by Fakhruddin Ebrahim, one of the lawyers defending the Chief Justice – is to be ruled by the power of the gun or the power of the law.
Unfortunately, Musharraf's "power of the gun" has been the only thing keeping Pakistan from completely sliding under the power of the Islamist bomb. The vaunted "power of the law" usually wilts in the face of the Islamist threat, which is why the Taliban has such haven in the northwest, and why the Lal Masjid situation mushroomed into the bloodbath that it did.