Monday, November 07, 2005

Pakistani peril

With the troubling developments in both Afghanistan and Iraq for the U.S., more troubling developments seem to be occurring with our ally Pervez Musharraf. In his nation's provinces South(and North) Waziristan, bordering Afghanistan, and Baluchistan, battles have raged and natives are restless. Since partition in the late 1940s, Pakistan has occupied the western fringe of the British Indian territory(as well as present-day Bangladesh on the eastern fringe until political separation). Throughout the history of Pakistan, the western provinces have largely been allowed self-governance. Foreigners are traditionally distrusted, even Pakistani forces, much like the Afghan distrust of foreigners in the rural tribal areas. The turmoil in South Waziristan warranted the use of Pakistani airpower to attack the foreign fighters(some foreigners apparently are o.k.) and native tribal fighters. According to BBC's Zafar Abbas, airpower has never been used to quell domestic insurgencies until the three recent air attacks on the growing insurgency.

The steps taken to combat insurgents in S. Waziristan are troubling as are the earthquake disaster and the poor country's inability to deal with domestic disasters of the magnitude of the recent earthquake largely affecting Kashmir, the endless thorn in the side of both India and Pakistan. Indian influence has been exerted in Afghanistan for years and is now on the rise again as Pakistan's proxy force, the Taliban, is no longer able to diminish their influence. Pakistan's military is taxed by the needs of checking the huge Indian army. When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in the late 70s, Indira Gandhi amassed 400,000 forces along the Pakistani border, leading the Pakistani leader Zia to believe his nation was the real target of the Soviets to insure a secure path to the Indian Ocean. Violence throughout the nation are sources of concern for anyone hoping to see Musharraf survive as leader of one of the most important allies in the War on Terror.

In Baluchistan, Musharraf faces a restless native population which required help from Mohammad Reza Shah's (Iran) forces to quell in the mid-70s. The Baluchistan Liberation Army has been killing Pakistani police and troops with regularity. Rebels are angry at the Punjabi domination of the nation since partition. Punjabis traditionally run the Pakistani armed forces and hence the nation. They are also perturbed that new settlers in their region along the coast of southwestern Pakistan will outnumber Baluchis, since plans to make Gwadar, a coastal city in Baluchistan, a major hub of commerce(religious and tribal leaders don't want another Karachi forming). Also, the heart of Taliban country in Afghanistan is just across their border as is Iran. Pakistan helped build the Taliban into a formidable force, even lending troops to some of the operations, during the Afghan Civil War. Now they have to take a firm hand in combating Taliban and fundamentalist foreign al-Qaeda forces threatening the effort to rebuild Afghanistan into a self-governing, stable nation.

Since the earthquake, India has helped Pakistan as much as it believed it could. Hopefully, the recent thaw in relations can be very helpful in possible future peace negotiations, which Musharraf has spurned for his reasons as has the Indian leader of the day. Musharraf is afraid negotiation and possible concessions to Hindu-dominated India will further anger the Pakistani military leadership (as well as fundamentalist religious leaders) responsible for promoting the Taliban reign in Afghanistan who weren't thrilled about Musharraf's complicity in their proxy's downfall. The religious warfare in Kashmir, clashes among majority Sunni and minority Shiite factions, the potential for warfare with Shiite Iran, weakening influence in Afghanistan, tribal uneasiness and outright rebellion in the western provinces, the al-Qaeda foreign fighters including new arrivals crossing the border into Afghanistan at will, the recent natural disaster, and the countless attempts on Musharraf's life has made it difficult for him not to crack down and hope to avoid assassination in the process.

For all our sakes, let's hope Musharraf can lead his country through these troubling times and western aid is requisite in this effort. With the trouble brewing for U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, American armed forces are in greater peril of a widening of this conflict into a war throughout S. Asia meaning more losses of American lives than any of our nation's neo-con experimenters ever envisioned. Wise use of U.S. resources for the region is particularly vital to securing a future without a major landwar in S. Asia. Iraq is nothing compared to what could potentially erupt, particularly with the latest rhetoric of the newly elected president of Iran.


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