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JULY 16th 2007

Can President Musharraf control Pakistan's militants?  The comments in this BBC News Forum are well worth reading

JULY 21 2007

A BBC World Service interview with Pakistan's Religious Affairs Minister explains clearly how the methods used by the West in the fight against the Taliban and Al-Qaida are not succeeding because the Taliban and al-Qaida's ruthless tactics ensure that collateral damage and innocent deaths breed anti-western and anti-american sentiment in the region. Even deaths caused by terrorists are blamed on Nato or America or the UK. On the other hand Ejaz ul-Haq does not offer a solution were political methods to deal with terrorists have been tried and failed. For that reason he remains a supporter of the war on terror but points out that Pakistan is paying a terrible price and not winning this war. He calls for a re-think, for a new strategy. The Americans would say they tried that. Perhaps they should try again now that the alternative has been seen to have such a serious downside.  At the same time he is refreshingly honest about the hypocrisy of the Islamic fundamentalists, their mistaken interpretation of the spiritual and moral elements of Islam and the pretence that Islamic banking cannot, should not and does not work on the same basis of charging interest as the rest of the world.

Ejaz ul-Haq's father is said to have encouraged radical Islamic groups in Pakistan - but then America encouraged them in Afghanistan when it suited them.

audioListen to The Interview with Ejaz Ul-Haq
Updated weekly at 05:32 GMT on Saturday

Owen Bennett-Jones talks to Pakistan's Religious Affairs Minister Ejaz ul-Haq on The Interview

ul-Haq was heavily involved in trying to stop the Red Mosque seige
Ejaz ul-Haq, Religious Affairs Minister of Pakistan

Ejaz ul-Haq is at the centre of the storm surrounding Pakistan's current actions against Islamic militants. When the government used force to end the siege of the Red Mosque in Islamabad, which was being used as a base by radical Islamists, the actions left more than one hundred people dead. Now questions are being asked about how the siege was handled.

Meanwhile militant Islamists have called for a holy war to avenge the storming of the mosque. And over the weekend of the 14 - 15 July, more than sixty people were killed in three suicide bombs.

Ejaz ul-Haq is the son of the former president of Pakistan, General Zia ul-Haq, who is said to have encouraged radical Islamist groups in Pakistan. Meanwhile Mr Haq himself went to a Catholic school.

AUGUST 29h 2007

For many weeks now we have had suggestions that Benazir Bhutto and Gen Musharraf could bury their differences and work together. This has disturbed the more fundamentalist elements who are hoping ex-premier Sharif, who has been allowed a safe return by the Pakistani Supreme Court will take the political helm [ ]. A Bhutto-Musharraf agreement holds most appeal for the outside world and in most people's opinion, for Pakistan. The important thing is to have a free and fair election to decide who is president and who is prime minister.

Bhutto: Musharraf to quit as army chief

By PAISLEY DODDS, Associated Press Writer 

Pakistan's exiled former prime minister said Wednesday that President Gen. Pervez Musharraf had agreed to step down as military chief in a move she expected before the next presidential election.

Such an agreement would be a key step forward in political negotiations for a power-sharing deal with the opposition.

Benazir Bhutto, who has been engaged in talks with Musharraf on a power-sharing deal, also said corruption charges would be dropped against her and dozens of other lawmakers as part of the negotiations to restore civilian rule.

Bhutto, a two-time prime minister who left Pakistan in 1999 to avoid a government collapse, represents Pakistan's main opposition party.

In a telephone interview with The Associated Press from London, she confirmed reports that Musharraf had agreed to step down as military chief.

"We're very pleased that Gen. Musharraf has taken the decision to listen to the people of Pakistan by taking the decision to take off the uniform," Bhutto told the AP. "I expected that he will step down (as army chief) before the presidential elections, but that is for the president to say."

There was no immediate reaction from Musharraf to Bhutto's comments.

Earlier, a close Musharraf ally, Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, confirmed the two sides had reached an agreement regarding Musharraf's military role. "Both sides have agreed on the issue of uniform," he told reporters.

Envoys for the U.S.-allied president have been trying to work out a pact with Bhutto that would rescue his bid for another five-year presidential term.

Bhutto and other opposition leaders argue the constitution obliges Musharraf, who seized power in a coup in 1999, to give up his post as military chief before he asks lawmakers for a fresh mandate in September or October.

However, Musharraf has insisted the constitution allows him to remain in uniform until the end of 2007 and has left open what will happen after that.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Tom Casey would not comment directly on the reports that Musharraf and Bhutto had come to a deal.

"Our principal concern in Pakistan is that there be free, fair and transparent elections held in which all legitimate political forces in the country have an opportunity to participate," Casey said. "We certainly want to see the Pakistanis have an electoral process that results in a government that they feel represents their interests."

Musharraf has seen his authority erode since March, when he tried unsuccessfully to remove the Supreme Court's top judge. The move triggered protests that grew into a broad campaign against his continued rule.

The court reinstated the judge in July, raising expectations that it will uphold legal challenges to Musharraf's re-election. The court on Wednesday admitted a petition filed by Qazi Hussain Ahmad, head of the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami party, against Musharraf's dual role as president and military chief.

Last week, the court ruled that Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister toppled in 1999 who is also living in exile, can return to Pakistan ahead of parliamentary elections due by January.

Sharif quickly denounced Musharraf as a dictator who must be removed from the political scene.

In an interview published in Wednesday's Financial Times, Sharif said he would return before the start of the holy month of Ramadan in mid-September.

Government threats to arrest him on charges dating back to the coup would strengthen his support, he said.

"Today the people, civil society, the judiciary, the political forces and the media are on one side, and the dictator and his shrinking support are on the other side," Sharif was quoted as saying.

He said he felt "let down by the United States," which he has accused of confusing Musharraf's interests with those of Pakistan as a nation.

Musharraf urged Sharif on Wednesday to abide by an agreement he signed in 2000 to spend a decade in exile in Saudi Arabia in exchange for his release from a jail term.

Sharif should "show character and not violate the agreement," Musharraf said, according to the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan news agency.

The prospect of Sharif making a tumultuous return has added to the urgency of an accommodation between Musharraf and Bhutto, who share a relatively liberal, pro-Western outlook and stress the need to prevent the political crisis from destabilizing the nuclear-armed nation.

"I can foresee the external and internal threats and the vested interests that want to create an atmosphere of uncertainty, and urge the people to be wary of it," Musharraf said.

Musharraf had vowed to prevent either former leader from re-entering Pakistan.

He blames them for the corruption and economic problems that nearly bankrupted the country in the 1990s, when Bhutto and Sharif each had two short-lived turns as prime minister.

But with the United States pressing for more democracy as well as a redoubled effort against al-Qaida and Taliban militants near the Afghan border, Musharraf recently began calling for political reconciliation and an alliance of moderates to defeat extremists.

Ahmed, the railways minister, said an understanding between Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party and Musharraf was expected to be finalized this week.

An accord is expected to include constitutional amendments to allow Musharraf to continue as president and lift bars to Bhutto again becoming prime minister.

OCTOBER 19th 2007
Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan yesterday with the approval of but also ignoring the warnings of the Pakistani government of General Musharraf that plots to kill her had not yet been fully identified or neutralised. The result was a terrible slaught at midnight, with two bomb blasts, at least one by suicide. Bhutto survived and spoke very bravely today. She did not blame the Pakistani government.

Bhutto points finger over blasts

Ms Bhutto called for a probe into security during the procession
Bhutto's reaction
Former Pakistani PM Benazir Bhutto has accused former army officials of being behind twin bomb attacks on her convoy that killed more than 130 people.

She said she had been warned that she would be targeted by four groups and had earlier told the government the names of the masterminds of the blasts.

Ms Bhutto condemned the "dastardly and cowardly" attack in Karachi and said Pakistan faced a battle for democracy.

But she stressed that she was not blaming the government.

Ms Bhutto, who had returned to the country after eight years of self-imposed exile, was unhurt.

'Attack on democracy'

In her first public statement since the blast, she told a news conference that before the bombing, shots had been fired at her vehicle to stop it. It was unclear whether the driver had been disabled by this gunfire, she said.

Extremists will not be allowed to stop Pakistanis from selecting their representatives through an open and democratic process
Gordon Johndroe
US presidential spokesman

Ms Bhutto also called for an inquiry into why the street lights along her route had been switched off, saying security guards would have spotted suicide bombers if the street lights had been on.

She said she had been warned that Taleban, al-Qaeda and an unspecified group in Karachi were planning attacks on her, but she blamed "certain individuals who abuse their positions" - without specifying what these positions were - for orchestrating the blasts.

"For me, the attack was not on an individual, the attack was on what I represent - it was an attack on democracy, an attack on the very unity and integrity of Pakistan," she said.

Ms Bhutto said those who had died in the attack - including 50 of her security guards - had made the "ultimate sacrifice" for democracy.

Questions and accusations

The BBC's Damian Grammaticas in Karachi says Ms Bhutto is clearly attempting to portray herself as a brave fighter for democracy.

But he adds that there are bound to be questions about why, if she had been warned of a suicide bomb attack, she authorised such a slow public procession from the airport attended by hundreds of thousands of supporters.

Earlier, in an interview published on the website of Paris-Match magazine, she accused former officials in the government of late military ruler Mohammed Zia ul-Haq of masterminding the attack against her.

06 Oct: Presidential polls held
17 Oct: Supreme Court resumes hearing challenges to Musharraf candidacy
18 Oct: Benazir Bhutto's homecoming
15 Nov: Parliamentary term ends and general election must be held by mid-January

"I know exactly who wants to kill me. It is dignitaries of the former regime of General Zia who are today behind the extremism and the fanaticism," she said.

Zia overthrew Ms Bhutto's father, Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1977, and had him hanged two years later. The military ruler died in mysterious circumstances in a plane crash in 1988.

Subsequent elections saw Ms Bhutto elected for the first of two stints as prime minister.

Scenes of chaos

The twin blasts in Karachi took place after midnight local time, as Ms Bhutto and her entourage were moving slowly through a crowd of hundreds of thousands of supporters.

Hundreds of people were injured and there were scenes of chaos, with the streets littered with bodies and body parts.

Authorities say the first blast was caused by a hand grenade and the second was a suicide blast, but the exact sequence of events remains unclear.

It was estimated that the suicide bomber had had 15-20kg (33-44lb) of explosives strapped to his body, senior police official Manzoor Mughal told Reuters news agency.

No group has said it carried out the attack, police say they are investigating whether the attack has links to tribal regions bordering Afghanistan, which are deep wells of support for al-Qaeda and the Taleban.

Ms Bhutto's return followed a deal with Pakistan's military ruler, President Pervez Musharraf. The two could end up sharing power after elections in January.

On both occasions that Ms Bhutto served as prime minister, her government was prematurely dismissed by the president of the day under special powers.

She left Pakistan in April 1999, shortly before Gen Musharraf seized power in a coup, and two years after her husband was jailed and a series of corruption charges were brought against her. She denies the charges.

Mrs Bhutto was travelling from the airport to the Quaid e Azam mausoleum where she was due to address a rally
Her slow moving convoy was attacked near the recently built Karsaz bridge on the Sharah e Faisal, the main road into the city centre
Following the blasts, scores of wounded were taken to the nearby Jinnah medical centre

NOVEMBER 1st 2007

Scores dead after Pakistan fighting

By Mohsin Raza Reuters 

SARGODHA, Pakistan (Reuters) - A suicide bomber rammed an Air Force bus in Pakistan on Thursday killing 8 people while troops killed up to 70 militants in the northwest, as rumours swirled President Pervez Musharraf could invoke emergency rule.

Nearly 800 people have been killed in militant-linked violence and there have been more than 22 suicide attacks in the last four months, heightening concerns about the stability of nuclear-armed Pakistan at a time when U.S. ally General Musharraf is trying to engineer a transition to civilian-led democracy.

The second suicide attack this week targeted a bus taking personnel to an air base in Sargodha in the central province of Punjab, the military said.

"Eight people have been killed including four officers," military spokesman Major-General Waheed Arshad said, adding civilians were among those killed. An air force statement said 27 people were wounded.

Police said they had found the head of the suspected bomber, and circled blood stains on the road with white chalk and collected evidence. The handlebars of the motorbike used by the attacker lay on the tarmac.

Separately, troops killed up to 70 militants as fighting flared in the scenic Swat valley in North West Frontier Province, where more than 180 people have been killed since last week as the military battles a pro-Taliban movement seeking to impose strict Islamic code in the area.

Pakistani shares fell 2.7 percent on Thursday following the blast and as rising violence and political uncertainty worried investors ahead of an election due by January.


The Supreme Court on Thursday put back a ruling on whether General Musharraf's re-election by parliament on October 6 was legitimate, adding to uncertainty. Rivals have challenged his right to have stood while still army chief.

The court said it would reconvene on Friday, and has scheduled the following session for November12 -- just three days before Musharraf's term is due to expire.

He can still carry on as president so long as no-one else is sworn in, according to constitutional experts.

Government ministers have fuelled speculation Musharraf, who came to power in a coup eight years ago, could ditch plans for the election, and impose emergency powers or martial law if the case goes against him.

Musharraf has said he will quit the army if he gets a second five-year term, and has allowed opposition leader Benazir Bhutto to return from self-imposed exile without fear of prosecution from a raft of old graft charges against her.

Former prime minister Bhutto boarded a plane for Dubai on Thursday to visit her family, a day after she put off the trip citing fears Musharraf could impose emergency rule. A spokesman said she would be away for up to four days.

Pakistan has seen a surge in violence by militants linked to the Taliban and al Qaeda since the army stormed Red Mosque in the capital, Islamabad, to crush a Taliban-style movement in July.

Al Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri, in audio and video tapes released in September, exhorted followers to wage war on Musharraf and Pakistan's security forces.

Seven people were killed in a suicide attack on Tuesday less than a kilometre from Musharraf's army residence in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, neighbouring Islamabad.

A suicide bomb attack killed 139 people at a rally in the city of Karachi on October 19 to mark Bhutto's return.

(Additional reporting by Kamran Haider, Zeeshan Haider and Augustine Anthony)

NOVEMBER 3rd 2007         This is not good news, but it is too soon to draw any certain conclusions.

Pakistan's Musharraf imposes emergency rule

By Kamran Haider Reuters

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf imposed a state of emergency in a bid to end an eight-month crisis over his rule fuelled by challenges from a hostile judiciary, Islamist militants and political rivals.

General Musharraf said he decided to act on Saturday in response to a rise in extremism and what he called the paralysis of government by judicial interference.

"I fear that if timely action is not taken, then God forbid there is a threat to Pakistan's sovereignty," he said in a midnight televised address, after purging the Supreme Court and rounding up lawyers opposed to him.

"I cannot allow this country to commit suicide."

There had been increasing speculation that Musharraf, who seized power in a 1999 coup, might declare an emergency rather than run the risk the Supreme Court would rule against his re-election as president last month.

The United States, a staunch Musharraf ally, called the measure "very disappointing". Musharraf's announcement effectively dashed U.S. hopes that parliamentary elections due in January would mark a transition to civilian-led democracy.

In the capital Islamabad, armoured personnel carriers and military trucks patrolled the streets while roadblocks with metal barriers were set up on the main thoroughfares.

Nuclear-armed Pakistan's internal security has deteriorated sharply in recent months with a wave of suicide attacks, including an assassination attempt on former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto last month that killed 139 people.

Bhutto flew back to Pakistan on Saturday from a brief visit to Dubai and accused Musharraf of imposing "mini-martial law" Another leading opposition figure, former cricket captain Imran Khan, was placed under house arrest.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, whose earlier suspension in March marked the beginning of a slide in Musharraf's popularity, was sacked, Information Minister Mohammad Ali Durrani said.

The court had said on Friday it would reconvene on Monday and decide quickly on whether Musharraf could remain president.

Chaudhry was escorted home by police from the Supreme Court where he and other judges had refused to endorse the emergency.


The United States, which regards Musharraf as a crucial ally against al Qaeda in Pakistan and neighbouring Afghanistan, had earlier urged Musharraf to avoid taking authoritarian measures.

"This action is very disappointing," White House National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said. "President Musharraf needs to stand by his pledges to have free and fair elections in January and step down as chief of army staff before retaking the presidential oath of office."

But Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters the emergency had no immediate impact on U.S. military cooperation. "At this point the declaration does not impact our military support of Pakistan's efforts in the war on terror."

Musharraf, who also suspended the constitution, banned the media from publishing anything that defames, ridicules or brings himself, the armed forces or government into disrepute.

Pakistan Television said that the cabinet, national and provincial assemblies would continue to function and that Abdul Hameed Dogar had been appointed as new Chief Justice.

Witnesses said troops were also deployed at Pakistan Television and radio stations. Most phone lines were down, and private television channels taken off the air.

Musharraf had been awaiting a Supreme Court ruling on whether he was eligible to run for re-election last month while still army chief. He had promised to quit as army chief if he was given a second term.

Farzana Shaikh, a Pakistan expert at London's Chatham House think tank, said the declaration of emergency by Musharraf was "clearly a pre-emptive move on his part" that was designed to act before the Supreme Court issued its ruling.


Musharraf's troubles began in March when he suspended Chaudhry on allegations of misconduct.

Then in July, Musharraf ordered troops to storm the Red Mosque in Islamabad to crush a Taliban-style movement based there. At least 105 people were killed in the raid and a wave of deadly militant attacks and suicide bombings followed.

Musharraf also faced a strong political challenge from Bhutto, who returned to Karachi in October from eight years of self-imposed exile, a homecoming marred by the suicide bombing that killed 139.

On Saturday she went straight from Karachi's airport terminal to her bullet-proof Landcruiser smiling and waving to hundreds of supporters who chanted: "Long live Bhutto".

Before the emergency, there had been speculation she would strike a deal with Musharraf to share power after the elections -- an alliance that had been encouraged by the United States.

She said she believed emergency rule was designed to delay elections by "at least one to two years".

Britain said it was "gravely concerned" by the declaration of emergency rule while India urged a return to democracy.

NOVEMBER 5th 2007
It must be said first of all that there would have been little chance of any election proceeding in the security situation that existed before this state of emergency was announced.  However, there are widespread complaints that rather than arresting terrorists, the Pakistan police have been rounding up lawyers, judges, religious extremists, intellectuals, journalists and opposition activists  I think this is a first step, a clearing of the decks as it were. There has been no firing on the civilian population. Ideally the media, which has been largely shut down, will be free to broadcast again in a week or two. While there are some noisy protests in some places the majority of the population just want some peace and a chance to go about their endeavours to survive financially.

The Pakistan Prime Minister has announced that the general election scheduled for next January is still planned for the original date. General Musharraf has confirmed that he will be resigning his position as head of the Pakistan Armed Forces.

I do not think this is the time for the International Community to stop financial assistance to Pakistan.

NOVEMBER 7th 2007
Benazir Bhutto is playing a brave, dangerous game. Of course Musharraf MUST yield to demands for a return to democracy, to civilian rule, to a constitution. It may be right to give him a deadline and withhold cooperation till he obliges with some more definite announcements. But if she thinks all the political activists and lawyers who are accusing Musharraf of hanging onto power for personal reasons are dedicated public servants with an understanding of the forces at work in their country, then she had better think again. Musharraf has had more than enough of power. He is a good man. He is just in one hell of pickle. It is time to be careful, forthright, calm and reasonable, not to encourage hundreds of thousands of people to waste their time and energy screaming and shouting in the middle of the road.

NOVEMBER 9th 2007
Bhutto has been under temporary house arrest simply for her own good. She could easily have been killed if she had attended a mass rally at this time. Musharraf declared an emergency and effective martial law so that people could just calm down. He is trying to control a country suffering from quite a few deluded demagogues, fanatics and emotionally confused and hurt individuals, terrorists and religious extremists. There is not another indvidual or party that holds in its gift the salvation of Pakistan. Imran Khan has no more idea than anyone else what should or should not be done at this moment, excellent cricketer though he may be. In due course, Musharraf does need to retire from the army if he wished to run for President, though we could bear in mind that the President of the United States is also the Commander in Chief of the US armed forces and can wear the appropriate uniform when he wishes.
7:00 pm - I see now that Bhutto has been released from temporary house arrest.

NOVEMBER 14th 2007
This comment by H D S Greenway appeared in the International Herald Tribune today.
It is full of insight.

International Herald Tribune
Musharraf and his enemies

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

For the United States - and especially for President George W. Bush, who holds such romantic ideas about the transformative powers of democracy - the sight of an ally in the war on terror beating up pro-democracy demonstrators in the streets of Pakistan, arresting lawyers and rival politicians, and dismissing Supreme Court justices holds a special disappointment. For the world desperately needs a secular Pakistan in the field against Islamic extremism. But when its leader turns on the very institutions that underpin a secular democratic society, then it is the extremists who are most likely to benefit.

When Pakistan's Pervez Musharraf declared his unconstitutional state of emergency, he seemed to be appealing directly to the United States, begging for patience from those who had had a couple of centuries to build their democratic institutions. He said his state of emergency was a temporary and necessary step in the struggle against extremists.

Musharraf has a point when he says that Pakistan's democracy has not yet formed a more perfect union. Its army has long had too much power, and is far too involved with civic, political, and economic life. Feudal landlords, too, control too many votes.

He is right that Islamic extremism is a rising danger, not just in its cross-border operations against the vulnerable American-backed government of Afghanistan, but against Pakistan itself. Suicide bombings and takeovers of mosques and government buildings are a growing problem.

The Pakistani Army has taken considerable casualties fighting tribal forces and religious extremists, but alarmingly, many units have surrendered without firing a shot, saying that this is not their fight. Much more of the same could prove fatal to the army's morale. And Musharraf himself has had close calls from would-be assassins since he threw his lot in with the Americans.

There is a low-level but worrisome nationalist insurrection in Baluchistan, which has never been very happy with Islamabad's rule. In Pakistan's northwest, the Taliban are increasingly becoming the militia of the Pashtun people who, thanks to British colonial cartography, straddle both sides of the border and make up some 40 percent of the Afghan population. Not everybody in Pakistan's security services is reconciled to Musharraf's turn against the Taliban, and the Afghan government blames Pakistan for letting insurgents freely cross the border. But then much of the border is so wild as to be uncontrollable, and the Kabul government has not been entirely successful in making the Pashtun feel included in the new Afghanistan.

It is true, too, that Osama bin Laden is most likely somewhere on the Pakistan side of the frontier. But then the Americans couldn't catch him when he was in Afghanistan, and the Pakistanis have helped arrest several high-level Al Qaeda lieutenants.

Civilian politicians and parties have regularly let the Pakistani people down. Both Benazir Bhutto and Musharraf's immediate predecessor, Nawaz Sharif, left Pakistan mired in corruption and decline, which Musharraf helped reverse.

Musharraf bettered relations with India, and his American-trained prime minister, Shaukat Aziz, has turned around a failing economy into one of the economic success stories of the developing world.

It is also true, as the Harvard terrorism expert Jessica Stern has pointed out, that democracy is not always the best tool for fighting terrorists, and that too many countries fall into a sort of halfway place that neither fulfills the demands of fighting extremism nor expresses the will of the people. And hanging over all this is the nightmare of Pakistan's nuclear technology falling into the wrong hands, as it did before Musharraf put a stop to it.

But for all of that, Musharraf did not suspend Pakistan's Constitution because of Islamic extremism, but because of his obsession with Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. Musharraf most certainly feared that the court would not confirm his election as president while he remained in army uniform, but his grievance with the justice was broader than that. The court under Chaudhry, a stubborn Baluchi, showed an independence of mind that Musharraf couldn't abide. His previous attempt to rid himself of this turbulent jurist ended in the embarrassment of having Chaudhry reinstated, and Musharraf lost lots of face.

As of this writing, Musharraf seems willing to compromise on the date of elections, but not on the Supreme Court. The justices are gone, he says, and with them he may be planting the seeds of his own fall. History is full of leaders who once did much good, but whose ambitions took them too far on the road to perfidy.

H. D. S. Greenway's column appears regularly in The Boston Globe.

International Herald Tribune
In interview, Musharraf defends rule by decree
By Carlotta Gall, David Rohde and Jane Perlez
Tuesday, November 13, 2007

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan: This article is by Carlotta Gall, David Rohde and Jane Perlez.

Pakistan's president, General Pervez Musharraf, on Tuesday rejected an appeal by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to lift his state of emergency, insisting in an interview that it was the best way to ensure free and fair elections.

He vigorously defended the emergency decree issued 10 days earlier that suspended the Constitution, dismissed the Supreme Court, silenced independent news stations and resulted in the arrests of at least 2,500 opposition party workers, lawyers and human rights advocates.

"I totally disagree with her," Musharraf said in an interview with The New York Times at the presidential building here in the capital. "The emergency is to ensure elections go in an undisturbed manner." He said Sunday that elections would go ahead by Jan. 9.

Dressed in a dark business suit rather than his military uniform, Musharraf spoke in a confident tone, saying the decree was justified because the Supreme Court had questioned the validity of his re-election, and because of the seriousness of threats from terrorists.

He refused to say when he would step down as army leader and become a civilian president, a demand that President George W. Bush has made publicly and, in a telephone call last week, privately. "It will happen soon," he said.

Musharraf, who has been criticized as being increasingly isolated and receiving poor advice from a shrinking circle of aides, insisted he was in touch with the mood of Pakistanis.

Dismissing consistent reports that a vast majority of Pakistanis oppose his emergency decree, he said he had information from "several organizations" and feedback from politicians and friends that the move was popular.

"I know what they feel about the emergency when all these suicide bombings were taking place," he said, speaking of the rising number of suicide bombings in Pakistan. "Their view is, Why have I done it so late."

He sharply criticized the opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, saying she was confrontational and would be difficult to work with. Bhutto returned to Pakistan last month in a deal brokered by the Bush administration, which hoped that the two could find a way to share power, in order to increase public support for Musharraf's increasingly unpopular military government.

The understanding was that she would take part in elections that could make her prime minister, while he would run for re-election as president. Instead, they have engaged in increasingly public sparring, and Bhutto has come in for criticism that she is an American pawn who is not mounting serious opposition to the general.

Early Tuesday, 900 police officers surrounded the house where Bhutto was staying in the eastern city of Lahore, preventing her from leading a march to Islamabad to protest what opposition groups say is martial law. After waiting for more than a week, on Tuesday she joined other opposition leaders and called for Musharraf to resign.

"You come here on supposedly on a reconciliatory mode, and right before you land, you're on a confrontationist mode," he said in the interview, conducted in English. "I am afraid this is producing negative vibes, negative optics."

As for her demand that he resign, he said "she has no right" to ask.

On Nov. 3, Musharraf imposed emergency rule when it became clear that the Supreme Court was about to declare his re-election last month illegal. That election was carried out by the national and provincial assemblies and boycotted by many opposition parties, though not by Bhutto's.

After a more compliant court was impaneled this week, Musharraf said he expected to be sworn in as a civilian president after the new court validated his re-election. But asked when emergency rule would end, he said matter-of-factly, "I don't know, I don't know."

He said Pakistan was suffering from a "disturbed terrorist environment," and he appeared to be unaffected by calls from Europe as well as the United States for an end to the emergency rule.

Instead, the general, whose government has received more than $10 billion in aid from the Bush administration, mostly for the military, asked for even more support, and more patience.

The Bush administration has called the general the best bet to fight Al Qaeda and Islamic militants, but has also complained that the cooperation of the Pakistani military has been sporadic and often ineffective.

Analysts here and abroad have said that the state of emergency has diverted thousands of police and intelligence agents from the fight against terrorism to the enforcement of the crackdown. But Musharraf said the decree had done no such thing.

"If we are dealing with moderates, that doesn't mean that we are not dealing with terrorists," he said. "Who has said that? They are two different issues."

He said his army was limited in its resources for taking on the militants. "Ten days back, of 20 Cobra helicopters, we have only one that was serviceable," he said. "We need more support."

His army even needed help from the United States on efforts to shut down the FM radio signal of a leading pro-Taliban religious leader, Maulana Fazlullah, whose militant followers have been rapidly gaining territory in the area of Swat in the North-West Frontier Province.

"You give us the technical means to do it," he said. "We've tried everything."

"We've adopted all technical means," he added, but so far his forces have failed to squelch the imam's transmissions, which are believed to be fairly amateurish.

Militant activity in the rugged northwest has increased markedly this year, raising questions among Pakistanis about how American money for the army was being used. Musharraf said the army had now regrouped in northern and southern Waziristan, where it faced the strongest challenge from the militants, whom he called a "vicious enemy."

"Now wherever the disturbance, we will strike very, very strongly," he said.

In Washington, Bush administration officials said privately that they were increasingly frustrated with both Musharraf and Bhutto. Administration officials said they were quietly trying to take the temperature of Pakistan's army for signs that Musharraf's top officers were starting to turn cool toward him.

"It's not a question of trying to prompt anything," one senior official said. "We're just trying to make sure we're keeping tabs of all the concerned parties."

Rice, meanwhile, is dispatching John Negroponte, her deputy, to Pakistan for a face-to-face meeting with Musharraf, they said. The envoy, who last week called the general "indispensable" to American interests, is expected to arrive in Islamabad at the end of the week.

But other administration officials fretted that Negroponte's efforts may yield as little as the phone calls from his boss, Rice, and her boss, Bush.

Officials at both the White House and the State Department also said they were worried that Bhutto had overplayed her hand in calling for Musharraf to resign, and that she may no longer be able to accept an olive branch from him on a power-sharing deal, should he decide to extend one.

Musharraf said Bhutto had been placed under house arrest because she had accused the chief minister of the province of Punjab, Chaudhry Pervez Elahi, of plotting against her.

The detention, he said, was to prevent an incident that she could then use to lay blame on the government. He added that her plan for her party members to participate in the march across the Punjab to Islamabad was "a preposterous thing to do."

Musharraf questioned Bhutto's popularity, and at one point scanned an article she recently wrote for the Op-Ed page of The New York Times that he had brought to the interview.

In reaction to her claim that her party would most likely sweep parliamentary elections, the general said, "Let's start the elections, and let's see whether she wins."

"Constitutionally today she has been prime minister twice," he said. "What about the third time? She is not legally allowed; she is not constitutionally allowed. Why are we taking things for granted?"

Western governments and Western news media, he said, have overestimated Bhutto's support because they listen too much to human rights advocates in Pakistan.

"You go and meet human rights activists," he said, challenging his interviewers. "Ninety percent of them may have never cast their votes. They sleep on the day of elections."

Musharraf said 58 privately owned television channels in Pakistan that had been closed under the emergency decree — including a dozen independent news stations — would be allowed to open if they agreed to a government code of conduct.

"The media is independent," Musharraf said. "We have taken certain actions against the media because we want to bring some responsibility to them."

Journalists and Western diplomats have condemned the code as a blatant attempt at political censorship. The code carries a jail sentence of up to three years for journalists whose coverage "ridicules" the president or other government officials, they said.

Regarding his opponents other than Bhutto, Musharraf yielded no ground.

Asked why Asma Jahangir, who heads the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, had been arrested when she attended a meeting at the commission's headquarters on the first day of emergency rule, he replied, "Because she was agitating and trying to disturb the peace."

Musharraf said Jahangir, the leading human rights advocate in Pakistan and one of the first women to become a lawyer, was too ambitious in her fight for women's rights. He agreed that Pakistani women deserved more opportunities, and he cited his own legislation amending the laws to protect women against accusations of rape and adultery.

But Jahangir, he said, wanted to go too fast, and would therefore fail. He called her "quite an unbalanced character."

NOVEMBER 22nd 2007
Pakistan has been suspended from the Commonwealth until the emergency rule is ended. I suppose they felt better doing that but frankly it will not help. Musharraf is doing his best. It is all very well wanting him to do it faster but I would not recommend it.

NOVEMBER 29th 2007
They also played Auld Lang Syne. Why is that not mentioned? I think the Pakistan Army will miss Musharraf, a great man for whom they had great love and respect. It is true that 'the issue' is not so much Musharraf as the 'stranglehold the army has over every sphere of life'. That strangle hold was imposed in the name of national survival. It has been loosened and tightened and t has to be let go. But there is hardly a nation in the word that has not gone through a dose or two of civil war before tyranny can relax its grip. Mabe the nordic races are the exception as its so bloody cold they have a permanent common enemy to unite them.

Musharraf gives up army uniform
Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf has handed over the command of the military in a ceremony in Rawalpindi.

Gen Musharraf passed a ceremonial baton to Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani at the army's headquarters.

In his farewell address, Gen Musharraf said the army was his "life" and he was proud to have been the commander of this "great force".

He had been under huge pressure to quit as army chief and is due to be sworn in as civilian president on Thursday.

Opposition leader Benazir Bhutto welcomed President Musharraf quitting his army post but said her party was in no hurry to accept him as a civilian leader.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said President Musharraf's stepping down was a good first step but called for a state of emergency to be lifted ahead of January elections.

Without this army, the entity of Pakistan cannot exist
President Musharraf

President Musharraf has led Pakistan's military for nine turbulent years. As a civilian leader he will have to work out a relationship with a new army chief and an elected prime minister.

The BBC's M Ilyas Khan in Karachi says President Musharraf has shown great resilience over the years, often bouncing back when seemingly on the ropes.

His legacy as a military leader on the front line of the "war on terror" is a country beset by militancy.

Despite his having preached "enlightened moderation", President Musharraf is a reluctant democrat whose policies have provided political space for religious conservatives to the exclusion of moderates and liberals, our correspondent says.

'Half a century'

Dressed in full military uniform, Gen Musharraf arrived at the ceremony with a baton under his left arm.

On his arrival, he was greeted by Gen Kayani and inspected a guard of honour.

A military band played Pakistan's national anthem and the ceremony began with a recitation from the Koran.

The colourful ceremony was shown live on national television.

"I am bidding farewell to the army after having been in uniform for 46 years," Gen Musharraf said in his address. He became army chief in October 1998.

"This army is my life, my passion. I love this army, and this relationship will continue, although I will not be in uniform," he said.

Gen Musharraf added:

"I am fortunate to have commanded the best army in the world. This army is an integrating force, the saviour of Pakistan.

"Without this army, the entity of Pakistan cannot exist."

'Excellent soldier'

Gen Musharraf expressed full faith in the ability of his successor, Gen Kayani, to lead the force.

"He's an excellent soldier and I can say with full confidence that under his command, the armed forces will achieve great heights," Gen Musharraf said.

He had designated Gen Kayani, a former head of the intelligence services, as his successor in October.

The most serious pressure on the president to give up his uniform had come from the United States, his main international backer.

Washington has grown concerned in recent months at the army's inability to rein in pro-Taleban militants and by Gen Musharraf's growing unpopularity.

The issue is not the individual, Pervez Musharraf. The real issue is the stranglehold that Pakistan Army has over every sphere of life.
Nausherwan Lahori, Lahore

As a civilian leader, President Musharraf will still have considerable powers, including the ability to sack a civilian government.

He imposed emergency rule on 3 November in order, he said, to control an unruly judiciary and deal with the growing threat from Islamist militants.

General elections are to be held on 8 January. President Musharraf's critics in Pakistan and allies in the West say they cannot be free and fair unless the emergency is lifted.

NOVEMBER 29th 2007   

Of course Sharif will still aim to boycott the election. He will not accept defeat and will maintain the election is not free and fair, whether it is or not.  Bhutto will have to take part if she has any sense. She will do so 'under protest'. Methinks the lady doth.....

DECEMBER 15th 2007

Musharraf says emergency rule saved Pakistan

by Rana Jawad     AFP    Sat Dec 15, 11:50 AM ET

President Pervez Musharraf said Saturday that his emergency rule had saved Pakistan, as he addressed the nation just hours after repealing it in the face of fierce criticism at home and abroad.

In a televised speech that underlined what he said was his central role in bringing democracy to the nuclear-armed Islamic nation, the president also vowed that elections next month would be "absolutely fair".

The 64-year-old former army general drew international criticism when he put the country under emergency rule on November 3, citing a surge in attacks by Islamic militants as well as what he alleged was interference by the judiciary.

Musharraf, who lifted the order earlier Saturday, said he had imposed it as a last resort because the country, a key part of the US-led international "war on terror", faced a serious threat of militant violence.

"Against my will and as a last resort, I imposed emergency rule and saved Pakistan from destabilisation," he said.

"It was inevitable, in my view, and that is why I imposed it," said Musharraf, wearing a sombre black tunic in the pre-recorded announcement.

"The wave of terrorism and militancy has been stopped under the emergency and there has been considerable improvement in the overall situation," he said.

Around 700 people have been killed in militant attacks across Pakistan this year, including five people hit by a suicide bomber earlier in the day.

More than half of those have died in an escalation of the bloodshed since July, after the army raided a radical, pro-Taliban mosque and killed around 100 people.

Opponents alleged the real reason for the emergency was to provide cover for a purge of anti-Musharraf judges, who could have entertained legal challenges to his controversial re-election in October.

Under the emergency, the constitution was suspended, thousands of people were jailed, uncooperative judges were sacked and tough new curbs were slapped on the media.

Now, just three weeks before parliament elections, analysts and opponents say the lifting is unlikely to quell deep discontent over his handling of a political crisis that erupted when he took on the country's lawyers in March.

The main opposition leader, former premier Benazir Bhutto, added to the pressure on Musharraf on Saturday, accusing him of trying to rig the election -- a charge the president flatly rejected.

"I give this commitment to the people of Pakistan and to the world outside that the elections are going to be absolutely fair and transparent," he said.

"Some political leaders are talking about rigging when the elections take place on January 8. They are talking about this rigging when the campaign has not yet started," he said. "This is totally baseless."

Late Friday, Musharraf authorised a raft of last-minute amendments to the constitution -- including one to block the next parliament from challenging the legality of the emergency order or trying to undo its provisions.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain, a crucial backer of Musharraf along with the United States, said he had used a phone call with the president to call for a "level-playing field" in the elections.

"The international community supports his wish -- and that of the people of Pakistan -- to hold free and fair elections," Brown said.

Critics insist that the amendments and the weeks of emergency mean the vote cannot be free or fair.

Curbs on the media introduced during the emergency -- including a ban on all live TV broadcasts, and anything that "defames" Musharraf or the armed forces -- remain in place. The final list of candidates is to be released on Sunday.

"Musharraf's so-called return to constitutional rule provides legal cover to laws that muzzle the media and lawyers," Ali Dayan Hasan, of US-based activist group Human Rights Watch, said Saturday.

Lawyers have been at the heart of the country's political turmoil since March, when Musharraf tried to suspend the chief justice of the Supreme Court, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry.

That move, later overturned by the Supreme Court, led to massive street protests. Chaudhry was later sacked and remains under house arrest.

DECEMBER 27th 2007

The conniving cowardice of her murderers is unspeakable.
Nawaz Sharif blames Musharraf for her death, presumably on the grounds of inadequate protection, but does this really add up? Benazir runs her own campaign. Standing up in an open car in the middle of a crowd that could not possibly be 'security cleared'. Sharif calls for "vengeance against the rulers" - are these the words of a man suitable for election to the presidency? Rousing opposing parties to vengeance is scarcely in the interests of the nation.

Pakistan's Bhutto killed in attack

By SADAQAT JAN and ZARAR KHAN, Associated Press Writers

Pakistan opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was assassinated Thursday in a suicide attack at a campaign rally that also killed at least 20 others, aides said.

Bhutto's supporters erupted in anger and grief after her death, attacking police and burning tires and election campaign posters in several cities. At the hospital where she died, some smashed glass and wailed, chanting slogans against President Pervez Musharraf.

The death of the charismatic 54-year-old former prime minister threw the campaign for the Jan. 8 parliamentary elections into chaos and created fears of mass protests and violence across the nuclear-armed nation, an important U.S. ally in the war on terrorism.

Musharraf blamed terrorists for Bhutto's death and said he would redouble his efforts to fight them.

"I want to express my resolve and seek the cooperation from the entire nation and we will not rest until we eliminate these terrorists and root them out," he said in a nationally televised speech. He announced three days of mourning for her across the country.

Musharraf also convened an emergency meeting with his senior staff, where they were expected to discuss whether to postpone the elections, an official at the Interior Ministry said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks.

The attacker struck just minutes after Bhutto addressed thousands of supporters in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, 8 miles south of Islamabad. She was shot in the neck and chest by the attacker, who then blew himself up, said Rehman Malik, Bhutto's security adviser.

Sardar Qamar Hayyat, a leader from Bhutto's party, said he was standing about 10 yard away from Benazir Bhutto's vehicle at the time of the attack.

"She was inside the vehicle and was coming out from the gate after addressing the rally when some of the youths started chanting slogans in her favor. Then I saw a smiling Bhutto emerging from the vehicle's roof and responding to their slogans," he said.

"Then I saw a thin, young man jumping toward her vehicle from the back and opening fire. Moments later, I saw her speeding vehicle going away," he added.

Bhutto was rushed to the hospital and taken into emergency surgery. She died about an hour after the attack.

"At 6:16 p.m., she expired," said Wasif Ali Khan, a member of Bhutto's party who was at Rawalpindi General Hospital.

"The surgeons confirmed that she has been martyred," Bhutto's lawyer Babar Awan said.

Bhutto's supporters at the hospital exploded in anger, smashing the glass door at the main entrance of the emergency unit. Others burst into tears. One man with a flag of Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party tied around his head was beating his chest.

"I saw her with my own eyes sitting in a vehicle after addressing the rally. Then, I heard an explosion," Tahir Mahmood, 55, said sobbing. "I am in shock. I cannot believe that she is dead."

Many chanted slogans against Musharraf, accusing him of complicity in her killing.

"We repeatedly informed the government to provide her proper security and appropriate equipment ... but they paid no heed to our requests," Malik said.

As news of her death spread, angry supporters took to the streets in the northwestern city of Peshawar as well other areas, chanting slogans against Musharraf. In Rawalpindi, Bhutto's supporters burned election posters from the ruling party and attacked police, who fled the scene.

In Karachi, shop owners quickly closed their businesses as supporters from Bhutto's party burned tires on the roads.

Nawaz Sharif, another former premier and opposition leader, arrived at the hospital and sat silently next to Bhutto's body.

"Benazir Bhutto was also my sister, and I will be with you to take the revenge for her death," he said. "Don't feel alone. I am with you. We will take the revenge on the rulers."

Speaking to the BBC, Sharif also questioned whether to hold the elections.

"I think perhaps none of us is inclined to think of the elections," he said. "We would have to sit down and take a very serious look at the current situation together with the People's Party and see what we have to do in the coming days."

Hours earlier, four people were killed at a rally for Sharif when his supporters clashed with backers of Musharraf near Rawalpindi.

Bhutto's death will leave a void at the top of her party, the largest political group in the country, as it heads into the elections. It also fueled fears that the crucial vote could descend into violence.

Pakistan is considered a vital U.S. ally in the fight against al-Qaida and other Islamic extremists including the Taliban. Osama bin Laden and his inner circle are believed to be hiding in lawless northwest Pakistan along the border with Afghanistan.

In Washington, the State Department condemned the attack.

"It demonstrates that there are still those in Pakistan who want to subvert reconciliation and efforts to advance democracy," deputy spokesman Tom Casey said.

The United States has for months been encouraging Musharraf to reach an accommodation with the opposition, particularly Bhutto, who was seen as having a wide base of support in Pakistan. Her party had been widely expected to do well in next month's elections.

Pakistan was just emerging from another crisis after Musharraf declared a state of emergency on Nov. 3, and used sweeping powers to round up thousands of his opponents and fire Supreme Court justices. He ended emergency rule Dec. 15 and subsequently relinquished his role as army chief, a key opposition demand. Bhutto had been an outspoken critic of Musharraf's imposition of emergency rule.

Educated at Harvard and Oxford universities, Bhutto served twice as Pakistan's prime minister between 1988 and 1996. Her father, who also served as prime minister, was executed in 1979 two years after his ouster in a military coup.

Bhutto had returned to Pakistan from an eight-year exile on Oct. 18. On the same day, she narrowly escaped injury when her homecoming parade in Karachi was targeted in a suicide attack that killed more than 140 people.

Islamic militants linked to al-Qaida and the Taliban hated Bhutto for her close ties to the Americans and support for the war on terrorism. A local Taliban leader reportedly threatened to greet Bhutto's return to the country with suicide bombings.

At the scene of Thursday's bombing, an Associated Press reporter saw body parts and flesh scattered at the back gate of the Liaqat Bagh park, where Bhutto had spoken. He counted about 20 bodies, including police, and could see many other wounded people.

Police cordoned off the street with white and red tape, and rescuers rushed to put victims in ambulances as people wailed nearby.

The clothing of some victims was shredded and people put party flags over their bodies. Police caps and shoes littered the asphalt.

Hundreds of riot police had manned security checkpoints around the venue. It was Bhutto's first public meeting in Rawalpindi since she came back to the country.

In November, Bhutto had also planned a rally in the city, but Musharraf forced her to cancel it, citing security fears.

In recent weeks, suicide bombers have repeatedly targeted security forces in Rawalpindi, where Musharraf stays and the Pakistan army has its headquarters.

Countries condemn Bhutto assassination

By ANDREW O. SELSKY, Associated Press Writer

From Moscow to Washington to New Delhi and points in between, dismay and condemnation poured forth Thursday over the assassination of Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, along with concern for the stability of the volatile region.

In India, which has fought three wars against Pakistan, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Bhutto is irreplaceable, and noted she had striven to improve relations between the two nuclear-armed countries.

"I was deeply shocked and horrified to hear of the heinous assassination," Singh said. "In her death, the subcontinent has lost an outstanding leader who worked for democracy and reconciliation in her country."

Bhutto's assassination "is not only bad for Pakistan," said former Indian Foreign Minister Natwar Singh. "It is bad for the entire region."

In a letter to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, French President Nicolas Sarkozy called the attack an "odious act" and said "terrorism and violence have no place in the democratic debate and the combat of ideas and programs."

Bhutto, a former two-time prime minister of Pakistan, was killed in a suicide attack in Rawalpindi just 10 weeks after she returned to her homeland from eight years in exile. The articulate, poised 54-year-old had lashed out at the spread of Islamic extremism as she campaigned for next month's parliamentary elections.

The United States had been at the forefront of foreign powers trying to arrange reconciliation between Bhutto and Musharraf, who under heavy U.S. pressure resigned as army chief and earlier this month lifted a state of emergency, in the hope it would put Pakistan back on the road to democracy.

"Certainly, we condemn the attack on this rally," said deputy State Department spokesman Tom Casey. "It demonstrates that there are still those in Pakistan who want to subvert reconciliation and efforts to advance democracy."

Sarkozy said Bhutto had paid "with her life her commitment to the service of her fellow citizens and to Pakistan's political life" and urged Pakistan's elections be held as scheduled on Jan. 8.

In Britain, where Bhutto had attended Oxford University, Foreign Secretary David Miliband said he was "deeply shocked" by Bhutto's death.

"Benazir Bhutto showed in her words and actions a deep commitment to her country," Miliband said. "She knew the risks of her return to campaign but was convinced that her country needed her. This is a time for restraint but also unity."

Italian Premier Romano Prodi said he was filled with grief and called Bhutto "a woman who chose to fight her battle until the end with a single weapon — the one of dialogue and political debate."

"The difficult path toward peace and democracy in that region must not be stopped, and Bhutto's sacrifice will serve as the strongest example for those who do not surrender to terrorism," Prodi said.

In Moscow, Anatoly Safonov, Russian President Vladmir Putin's envoy on international cooperation against terrorism, expressed fears the assassination would trigger violent repercussions.

"The already unstable situation in Pakistan will be further exacerbated by this powerful factor," Safonov said, according to the Interfax news agency.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin condemned the attack, the RIA-Novosti news agency reported.

"We hope that the leadership of Pakistan will succeed in taking all measures for guaranteeing security in the country," Kamynin said.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who personally knew Bhutto, said he hails her memory and called on the international community to support Pakistan and its democracy.

Sweden's Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said he had felt disgust when receiving the news of Bhutto's murder, which he called "bestial."

"I feel a strong worry for the consequences this will have for Pakistan," he said.

DECEMBER 28th 2007
Here is a useful comment from TIME. It has to be said that those complaining that Musharraf's security forces should be capable of jamming bombs to stop them exploding are talking through their fundaments. It seems Bhutto was Killed by a combination of shrapnel from the bomb, possibly a bullet and hitting her head violently on the lever that operated  the sunroof of her car. The observations here are nevertheless pertinent. For the moment the levels of public unrest are apparently containable.

Pakistan After Bhutto 


Even as Pakistan buries assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto today, mourning Pakistanis are beginning to think about what comes next for their beleaguered nation. Bhutto supporters vented their anger late into Thursday night, burning shops, police stations and buses in Lahore, Karachi and Rawalpindi, the site of yesterday's suicide attack. Rioting continued on Friday. "It has released bottled up national energies," says lieutenant general Hameed Gul, the former director general of Pakistan's intelligence organization, Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). "[The assassination] is going to really excite the people, bring them out. Which direction this energy takes, that's the question."

Many leading Pakistanis believe that the only way to head off further civil unrest is to form a broad-based coalition government - what Gul calls "a national government of consensus" - to tackle the extremist forces suspected in yesterday's attack. I.A. Rehman, the director of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan agrees: "Pakistan's survival depends on the earliest possible transition to democracy and the formation of an all-party national government." Elections are scheduled for Jan. 8, although so far there has been no official word on the vote's status in the wake of Bhutto's assassination, and some speculate they are likely to be delayed. Opposition leader Nawaz Sharif announced Thursday that his party would boycott the elections, threatening the vote's legitimacy if it were to go forward. But if the vote is delayed and unrest continues, Rehman fears there is a real chance that regional divisions could lead to the breakup of the country. Karachi, the site of some of the worst violence, is Pakistan's biggest city, the capital of the southern province of Sindh and the traditional power base for Bhutto's family. (Her father, former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali, also died in Rawalpindi, executed by Pakistan's then-leader General Zia Ul-Haq). Many in Sindh resent the government in Islamabad. "The provinces are pulling in different directions already and if all these forces are not kept in check then there is a serious threat to the integrity of Pakistan," says Rehman.

Even if elections go ahead, there's still the problem of whether a new parliament could work with embattled President Pervez Musharraf. The opposition parties likely to do well, including Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and Sharif's Pakistani Muslim League, are insisting that he quit. In the wake of the assassination, Sharif called Musharraf "the cause of all our problems" and demanded that he resign immediately. The President is deeply unpopular after a series of moves that opponents say was intended to prolong his hold on power, culminating in his declaration of a state of emergency on Nov. 3. While Musharraf, who lifted the state of emergency earlier this month, has called for calm and three days of mourning in the wake of the assassination, "He is really the red rag to the bull at the moment," says Gul. "The nation is enraged."

Although there is no evidence linking Pakistan's security forces to Bhutto's assassination, Gul, like Sharif and many other Pakistanis, says Musharraf is to blame for her death. He argues that the government should have provided better security to Bhutto, who had been targeted by a suicide bomber the day she returned to Pakistan from self-imposed exile two months ago. That blast killed some 140 people. "Why didn't the security forces have jamming devices [to stop the bomb exploding]?" asks Gul of Thursday's attack. "How is it possible that a man with a weapon could enter the arena and get so close to her? It's a comprehensive failure of the government."

Rana Sana Ullah Khan, a member of the provincial assembly in Punjab who is fiercely opposed to Musharraf's rule, agrees. Khan believes a democratically elected unity government could better deal with the Islamic extremists who have unleashed a wave of attacks and suicide bombings in Pakistan's cities over the past year than could Musharraf, a military man who seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999. "With force, with helicopter gunships, with bombardments, with army actions, you can't solve this problem," he says. "But the generals only know how to use force." A unity government, Khan argues, would be better able to negotiate "with these forces in opposition to Pakistan" and end the bloodshed.

Perhaps. But following the assassination, Pakistan's already-clouded future is even more uncertain. Syed Kamran Zafar, an Islamabad-based PPP official, says supporters of the charismatic Bhutto are too shocked to think about what happens next. "We are not yet in a position to talk coherently," he says, before breaking down in tears. "We are in shock and don't know what the future holds. Only that it will be without Benazir."

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DECEMBER 30th 2007

Benazir Bhutto's will conferred all her authority on her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, and son Bilawal, 19.
They have called for unity and intend to lead their party in the coming election, in whch they will participate. Good.
While supporters of their party - The Pakistan People's Party - contest the governments version of Benazir's death (in which the sniper missed) the Bhutto family will not permit an exhumation to settle the issue. From this we may assume the family, who would have seen the wounds inflicted, accept the government's version but wish to profit from the controversy. There is little that is straightforward in Pakistan politics, though for my money General Musharraf is as straight as there is.

DECEMBER 31st 2007
It will take a few weeks now to prepare again for the election. Those calling for no postponement, not even 3-4 weeks to sort out the damaged infrastructure and the registers, are presumably linked to those who have done the damage. Whatever the case against the present government this seems a little dubious to me.

JANUARY 19th 2008
DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan - A teenager who said he was part of a team of assassins sent to kill former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was arrested near the Afghan border, Pakistani officials said Saturday.    Story:

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistani forces captured 40 militants in South Waziristan region on the Afghan border, a military spokesman said on Saturday, a day after up to 90 militants were killed in two battles. Fighting has intensified in recent days between government forces and al Qaeda-linked militants led by a commander the government and the U.S. CIA say was behind the assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto last month.  Story:

FEBRUARY 8th 2008
Scotland Yard have submitted their conclusions on the cause of death of Benazir Bhutto based on examining X-rays and all witnesses statements. She died because after she stuck her head and shoulders through the escape hatch in her armoured car her assassin, having missed with his rifle, blew himself up with a massive bomb. The shockwave struck her as she was withdrawing into the car and smashed her head against the extremely rigid side of the escape hatch. A member of the Bhutto team, a Mr Hasan, interviewed on BBC News 24 said the report would not be accepted by the people of Pakistan. When asked why, he proceeded to tie himself in such knots of twisted emotion and illogic that the interviewer out of kindness brought the dialogue very politely to an end.  It really did bring home the point that dealing with some of these people by rational means is a total waste of time, they live in an emotional soup that is not subject to reason. No wonder our statesmen prefer to deal with Mr Musharraf and his supporters.

The clumsiness of the Bush administration in its public diplomacy has caused anti-Americanism to dominate throughout Pakistan, in spite of the financial and political support the US has given. The support they gave in former decades was very much responsible for the growth of the Madrassas which have fed fundamentalism. That this fundamentalism has attracted so many followers, in spite of the wish by a majority for a democratic, secular state, is once again attributable to their perception of America, a perception derived quite reasonably from Bush's crass rhetoric, his bragging talk of Victory, Crusades, Axis of Evil and his impression of a Texan cowboy willing to flatten with explosives any opposition. Little wonder the poor and primitive use personal explosive kits to fight back. While we deplore the targetting of 'civilians', to these damaged and abused people with nothing to lose, the enemy is the enemy and 'those not with them are against them'. Where have we heard that before?

I see no way out until the US has a new President who can speak to the Pakistani people, whether it be Obama, Clinton or McCain. Musharraf, a truly great man, has had his pitch so queered that it can no longer be well played.

FEBRUARY 16th 2008
Suicide bombers continue to attack political meetings of parties preparing for elections. A poll says most people want Musharraf to go simply because it would lead to fewer bomb attacks. If indeed that is the result of the election I am sure Musharraf would be delighted to retire. Those who think this man has a hunger for power are sadly deluded.  There is no possibility that he himslef will be responsible for any vote rigging. Unfortunately those who surround him are not all so alruistic and there may well be attempts by those who see their position and wealth as dependent on Musharraf to push the vote in his direction by less than fair means. This would be disastrous. The voice of the public must be heard, for good or ill.


Pakistanis vote amid fears of violence

By MATTHEW PENNINGTON, Associated Press Writer

Pakistanis fearful of militant attacks voted Monday for a new parliament in a key step toward democracy after eight years of military rule under President Pervez Musharraf, whose political survival hangs in the balance.

Polling got off to a sluggish start in major cities amid tight security after a wave of suicide bombings, including the Dec. 27 assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto that forced a six-week delay in the vote. A bomb over the weekend left 46 people dead at a campaign rally near the Afghan border.

Public antipathy over Musharraf's support of the U.S.-led war on terror could count against his political allies, as could his recent declaration of emergency rule and purging of the judiciary to safeguard his controversial re-election as president in October.

An overwhelming victory by the opposition, headed by Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party, or PPP, could leave Musharraf politically vulnerable to impeachment.

"It is the fate of the Pakistan People's Party that it will win, and we will change the system after winning," said Bhutto's husband, Asif Ali Zardari, after casting his vote in his hometown of Nawab Shah.

Two public opinion surveys by U.S. groups have suggested that if the election is fair, Bhutto's party will finish first, followed by the opposition party of ex-Premier Nawaz Sharif. The pro-Musharraf party — the Pakistani Muslim League-Q — is trailing in third.

But the PML-Q still predicts it will fare strongly in rural areas of the largest province, Punjab, where the election is likely to be lost or won and where allegiance to feudal landlords, rather than a party's profile, can determine how people vote.

Opposition politicians have accused the government of planning to rig the balloting, and have threatened street protests.

Musharraf, who recently ceded his command of Pakistan's powerful army, has warned he would not tolerate such protests, which could set the stage for a dangerous confrontation in this nuclear-armed nation.

Before casting his vote in the city of Rawalpindi, he urged candidates to accept results of the vote.

"If they win they should not show arrogance and if they lose they should show grace, accepting the result," Musharraf said in comments broadcast Monday on state television.

Pakistan has lurched in its 60-year history between weak civilian governments and military rule — including the period since Musharraf's takeover in a 1999 coup.

"This is about Pakistan and the government's relationship with its people, and it is about Pakistan's ability to show the world that it has a credible election, therefore a credible government," said Sen. John Kerry as he observed voting in the eastern city of Lahore.

More than 470,000 police and soldiers were deployed nationwide and a public holiday declared to encourage citizens to turn out to vote.

But while fears of attack warded off some voters, sympathy for Bhutto and disaffection over rising food prices compelled others to exercise their democratic rights.

"My vote is for the PPP," said Munir Ahmed Tariq, a retired police officer in Nawab Shah. "If there is rigging this time, there will be a severe reaction. This is a sentiment of this nation."

Opposition parties and analysts claim that local authorities have used state resources to back ruling party candidates — claims that have been denied by the government, which has promised a free and fair vote.

The last general election in 2002, which installed pro-Musharraf parliament, was widely regarded as flawed and lawmakers have provided little check on the president's dominance. But with power — and popularity — now diminished the incoming parliament could have more leverage.

Along with fears of Taliban attacks, political violence stalked the election.

Four people, including a provincial assembly candidate from Sharif's party, died in a shooting Sunday night in the eastern city of Lahore. Bhutto and ruling party supporters wielding sticks clashed in Qadirpur in southern Sindh province, injuring six people, police said.

Police arrested an election official after 600 ballot papers went missing from a polling station in the southern city of Shikarpur, said police official Ali Mohammed Shahni.

Inflation, power outages and insecurity were key issues for voters.

In Karachi, housewife Nargis Hamid just said she was voting for "peace" as the country could not progress without it. In Multan, Fatima Bibi, 45, said she supported Sharif's party to cut the price of flour and cooking oil. Mohsin Ali, a 24-year old business administration student in Lahore, said he cast his ballot at random to show support for democracy and contempt for Pakistan's notoriously corrupt politicians.

"They are all simply seeking power and once they are in power we are nobody," said Ali, wearing a trimmed beard and a prayer cap. "Democracy has not been given a chance. Any time anything happens, the military steps in."

In the remote border region of Bajur — a possible hiding place of Osama bin Laden and his top deputy Ayman al-Zawahri, hundreds of Pashtun tribesmen turned out to vote at a polling set up inside a government college, and dismissed the threat of attack.

"We are not afraid of the situation. Death comes only once," said farmer Amanat Shah. A nearby, segregated polling station for women, was empty — a reflection of conservative attitudes in Pakistan's tribal belt.


Associated Press writers Stephen Graham in Lahore, Zarar Khan in Nawab Shah, Sadaqat Jan and Munir Ahmad in Islamabad contributed to this report.

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FEBRUARY 19th 2008
The preliminary results of the Pakistan elections are excellent. There are no complaints of election rigging, the secular and moderate and democratic parties have achieved good result, particularly in areas where extremist terrorists have been active, proving the violence has been counter productive. It will be interesting to see if the politicians that have been elected will thank President Musharraf by impeaching him. In his place, I would retire and take a well deserved holiday. This very brave man has been the subject of endless assassination attempts. He should let someone else take the hot seat.

The BBC has described, as news, as fact, that the election has been "a great setback for Musharraf". How different the world looks to journalist hacks as opposed to those who take the responsibility for actually governing. Theatre critics are, lets face it, an unattractive breed, This is surely Musharraf's greatest success and a justification of his work so far.

MARCH 9th 2008

Pakistani parties to share power
The leaders of the two parties that won Pakistan's elections have signed an agreement on a coalition government.

Asif Ali Zardari, widower of ex-premier Benazir Bhutto, and ex-PM Nawaz Sharif called on President Pervez Musharraf to convene parliament immediately.

February's parliamentary elections delivered a crushing defeat to parties loyal to President Pervez Musharraf.

Mr Musharraf has urged the incoming government to leave politics aside and concentrate on good governance.

The coalition deal will bring together the Pakistan People's Party, which was led by Benazir Bhutto until her assassination, and the PML(N) party of Mr Sharif.

'Blow to Musharraf'

Mr Sharif has consistently called for the president to step down in the wake of the elections, which were regarded as a key step in Pakistan's transition from military to civilian rule.

The BBC's Barbara Plett, in Islamabad, says the deal will be seen as a further blow to Mr Musharraf who will face a parliament dominated by his adversaries.

Two issues had dominated the talks: The PML(N) party's insistence that judges sacked by Mr Musharraf in November be reinstated, and the PPP's desire for Mr Sharif's party to formally sign up to the cabinet.

Mr Zardari and Mr Sharif told a news conference that both matters had been settled.

All the sacked judges will be reinstated via a parliamentary resolution passed within 30 days of forming a new government.

That appears to mean that the chief justice will get back his job, in defiance of Mr Musharraf's strong objections, our correspondent says.

In return Nawaz Sharif has agreed that his party will join the cabinet - even though he does not recognise the president's right to rule.

The PPP said it would proceed cautiously when it came to dealing with the president.

But most analysts see this as a step either to the reduction of his powers - or a confrontation between the new parliament and the presidency.

Benazir Bhutto was killed in a suicide attack in the garrison city of Rawalpindi on 27 December, causing the elections to be delayed.

MARCH 23rd 2008

Musharraf vows to support new Pakistan government

By Masroor Gilani AFP

ISLAMABAD (AFP) - President Pervez Musharraf on Sunday pledged his full support to Pakistan's new coalition government led by his political opponents, who have vowed to take on the embattled US ally.

Musharraf, speaking at a military parade marking Pakistan's national day, hailed the start of what he called a "real democratic era" in the country, plagued for months by violence linked to Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants.

"Whichever new government is formed, it will have my full support," Musharraf said, adding that he hoped the new administration would maintain peace, economic growth and vigorously combat terrorism and extremism.

The man set to become Pakistan's new premier -- former parliamentary speaker Yousuf Raza Gilani, who was nominated by the party of slain ex-premier Benazir Bhutto -- on Sunday promised to deliver following his party's big election win.

"I can only assume that we are here to deliver -- we are not here just to stay for a period," Gilani told reporters outside parliament, where he filed his nomination papers ahead of Monday's election for the premiership.

"Inshallah (God willing) we will deliver and there is a will and there is a hope."

Gilani was named on Saturday by Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party as its candidate for prime minister, more than a month after the PPP won the most seats in general elections.

The party has agreed to form a coalition government with the party of ex-PM Nawaz Sharif, who was ousted by Musharraf in a coup in 1999, and other smaller groups who trounced the US-backed president's allies in the February 18 polls.

Party officials said top coalition members including Gilani were set to meet on Sunday ahead of Monday's parliamentary session to elect a new prime minister -- a vote which Gilani is almost certain to win.

When asked how the new government would handle Musharraf, the 58-year-old Gilani, a low-key but stalwart aide to Bhutto and her husband Asif Ali Zardari, replied: "I will follow the constitution."

"We will struggle for the supremacy of the parliament and make it supreme in all policymaking because it reflects the wishes of the people," he said, vowing to pursue the mission of Bhutto, who was assassinated on December 27.

Gilani spent five years in jail under Musharraf's rule on corruption charges stemming from his time as speaker -- charges his PPP colleagues said were politically motivated.

"Yousuf Raza Gilani is not afraid to lead and he knows the way," Zardari said in a statement announcing the nomination on Saturday.

Speculation is rife that Gilani will only be a stop-gap premier until Zardari -- who is not an MP -- becomes eligible to stand for the post by contesting a by-election in May.

Gilani served as speaker during Bhutto's second term in power from 1993 to 1996 and a minister during her first term from 1988 to 1990.

"We hope that the country will have a prime minister empowered to tackle the challenges, rather than a puppet on a string with real authority lying elsewhere in the party hierarchy," the leading English daily Dawn said in an editorial.

Meanwhile the former ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Q party, which backed Musharraf in the last parliament, on Sunday named Pervez Elahi, a former chief minister, to go up against Gilani in Monday's vote.

Another nominee of Musharraf's allies quit the race for the premiership on Saturday in a dramatic about-face, saying he would give "unconditional support to the PPP nominee."

Musharraf is set to swear in the new premier on Tuesday.

The coalition government appears set for a confrontation with Musharraf after vowing to reinstate judges whom the president sacked during a state of emergency in November.

If restored, the judges could overturn Musharraf's re-election as president in a parliamentary vote in October and effectively rule his grip on power illegal.

APRIL 30th 2008
The following knowledgable account of the situation in Pakistan was published today in the International Herald Tribune.
It rather contradicts my tentatively optimistic view of the result of the successful completion of democratic elections.

Pakistan's planned accord with militants alarms U.S.

By Eric Schmitt and Mark Mazzetti
Published: April 30, 2008

WASHINGTON: Bush administration officials are expressing increasing alarm that a deal being negotiated between the new Pakistani government and militant tribes in the country's unruly border area will lead to further unraveling of security in the region.

Cross-border attacks into Afghanistan by militants based in Pakistan doubled in March from the same period a year ago and have not diminished in April, a Western military official said, while Pakistani counterinsurgency operations in the tribal areas have dropped sharply during the talks.

American counterterrorism officials express concern that the new coalition government in Islamabad may withdraw some of the 120,000 Pakistani troops in the border area or curtail flights by the Central Intelligence Agency's armed Predator aircraft in the region.

Indeed, Washington and Islamabad seem to be on dueling timetables, with the Bush administration trying to cripple Al Qaeda's safe havens before leaving office, and the new Pakistani government seeking to establish credibility with its public by distancing itself from the American-backed policies of President Pervez Musharraf.

American officials say that Washington's options now are even more limited, in part because Musharraf is no longer calling the shots, and that the situation in the tribal areas is unlikely to significantly improve before President George W. Bush leaves office. American economic and development aid aimed to help wean the region off the militants' influence is just now seeping into the tribal areas, while a tribal paramilitary force still needs years of training and equipping to be an effective counterinsurgency unit.

The problems confronting the administration reflect what critics say is a failure over the past several years to pay sufficient attention to the growing numbers of Qaeda and Taliban fighters drawn to safe havens in the tribal area. Even under Musharraf, the administration's main ally in Pakistan, the United States failed to develop a governmentwide plan to combat the militancy in the turbulent borderlands, these critics say.

The leaders of Pakistan's new government, Asif Ali Zardari of the Pakistan Peoples Party and Nawaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League-N, have vowed to honor their campaign pledges to break with Musharraf's emphasis on using military force in the tribal areas, a practice critics say has been heavy-handed and has undercut the government's goals.

The government has begun a negotiating strategy that officials hope will win over those in the tribal areas who in recent years have been caught up in a wave of anti-American sentiment and, in some cases, who are actively helping Al Qaeda.

American policy makers, diplomats and senior military officers voice fears that a new agreement, like past accords brokered with the militants by Musharraf, would allow Al Qaeda and the Taliban to regroup, rearm and plot new attacks in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Europe and the United States. American defense officials and independent analysts estimate between 150 and 500 hard-core Qaeda fighters are operating in the tribal areas.

But administration officials concede they have limited leverage with Pakistan's new government and, for now, may have to allow the talks to play out and then press the government to enforce any deals. "We have only a marginal ability to influence actions right now," said one senior administration official who is involved in Pakistan policy and who agreed to speak candidly on condition of anonymity.

Members of the new government believe that the current peace talks have a better chance for lasting success that those by Musharraf's government because this time around it is civilian Pashtun officials, rather than military leaders, who are negotiating directly with tribal elders in the mountainous provinces.

For example, they believe that negotiations with the Mehsud tribe can help isolate militants from the clan of Baitullah Mehsud, whose network is believed responsible for the killing of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in December.

A spokesman for Mehsud, one of most hard-line militants, said Tuesday that talks with the government had been temporarily suspended over the army's refusal to withdraw from all of the tribal areas. But other Pakistani officials said the stalemate could be a momentary bargaining ploy.

Members of the new government argue that since negotiations during Musharraf's administration had usually occurred after the Pakistani military was soundly defeated by militants in the tribal areas, the government was forced to negotiate from a position of weakness.

"The Pakistan government has no plans to diminish its military presence in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region," said Husain Haqqani, who has been tapped to be Pakistan's new ambassador to the United States. "Negotiations with tribesmen are aimed at supplementing military efforts with political ones. The security requirements will not be abandoned or ignored."

Still, Pakistani officials acknowledge that it could take several years to achieve the ultimate goal: peeling hard-line militants, so-called irreconcilables, from what they see as a majority of tribal area residents who have little desire to support international terrorism. And American counterterrorism officials say that a peace accord could sap momentum from Pakistan's broader campaign against militants.

"An agreement will preclude the need of the Pakistani government to enter into serious dialogue and planning with its military to develop a national, even regional, counterinsurgency strategy," one senior American military officer said in an e-mail message from the region, speaking on condition of anonymity because of diplomatic considerations.

Discussions between senior American officials and Pakistan's new leaders have not gone particularly well. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte and Richard Boucher, one of his top aides, traveled to Islamabad in March to discuss plans to combat militants in the tribal areas.

During the meetings, Pakistani officials bristled at what they saw as an American determination to ignore the results of the recent Pakistani elections that had stripped Musharraf's party of power. "The Americans were acting as if nothing had changed," said one senior Pakistani official.

After the meetings, Pakistani officials told reporters that the new government's counterterrorism strategy would be significantly different from that of Musharraf.

American officials in Islamabad are trying to adapt to the new government's strategy, and in some cases resisting pleas by American commanders to step up unilateral strikes on Pakistani militants in the tribal areas.

Pakistani officials said that Anne Patterson, the American ambassador in Islamabad, is particularly concerned about the fragility of the coalition government. It was this concern, they said, that has led her to turn down requests by American military officials in Afghanistan to hit targets in the tribal areas. The senior Pakistani official said, "What she was saying was, do not go around bombing — and missing — targets inside Pakistan and embarrassing the new government."

Administration officials said the ability of the United States to help the Pakistani Army, and the Frontier Corps in the tribal areas, was constrained. American officials say the Pakistani Army remains focused on India, its traditional adversary, despite efforts by the new army chief of staff, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, to step up counterinsurgency operations.

"I have no information to suggest that what Pakistanis have done in past two to three months has seriously impeded Al Qaeda's ability" to recruit new members and train them in small compounds in the tribal areas, said a senior American intelligence official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Ismail Khan contributed reporting from Peshawar, Pakistan.

AUGUST 7th 2008

Musharraf faces impeachment bid

Pakistan's ruling coalition parties say they will begin impeachment proceedings against President Pervez Musharraf.

Party leaders Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif made the announcement after three days of talks. They would need a two-thirds majority to impeach.

If he has any sense, Musharraf will now retire. He has seen Pakistan through to a form of political reconciliation and the beginnings of a possibly stable democracy for which of course he will sadly get no thanks at all from his opponents who should be thoroughly grateful. Now he will have to give themt a chance. He has given it his best shot, it would be a pity if he now refused to let go and went for the impeachment fight. Not that I have great faith in those who will take his place or the judiciary that must now be replenished with those he removed. Let us hope there will be no civil breakdown when he goes or vengeance wreaked on his supporters.

AUGUST 18th 2008
Musharraf has done the right thing. Pakistan is lucky to have had is services. If they do make a success of it now they will have him to thank for getting to this stage.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf resigns

By ZARAR KHAN, Associated Press Writer 

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf announced his resignation Monday, ending an eight-year tenure that opponents said was hampering the country's labored return to democracy.

An emotional Musharraf said he wanted to spare the nation from a perilous impeachment battle and that he was satisfied that all he had done "was for the people and for the country."

"I hope the nation and the people will forgive my mistakes," Musharraf said in a televised address, much of which was devoted to defending his record and refuting criticisms.

Musharraf said he will turn in his resignation to the National Assembly speaker on Monday but it was not immediately clear whether it would become effective the same day. The chairman of Pakistan's Senate, Mohammedmian Soomro, will take over as acting president when Musharraf steps down, Law Minister Farooq Naek said.

It also was not clear whether Musharraf, a stalwart U.S. ally, would stay in Pakistan.

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said leaders of the ruling coalition would discuss later Monday whether to prosecute Musharraf in court on charges that that were being planned for the impeachment process.

Musharraf's political foes celebrated.

"It is a victory of democratic forces," Information Minister Sherry Rehman said. "Today the shadow of dictatorship, that has prevailed for long over this country, that chapter has been closed."

Musharraf dominated Pakistan for years after seizing power in a 1999 military coup, making the country a key strategic ally of the U.S. by supporting the war on terror. But his popularity at home sank over the years.

Many Pakistanis blame the rising militant violence in their country on Musharraf's alliance with the U.S. His reputation suffered blows in 2007 when he ousted dozens of judges and imposed emergency rule. His rivals won February parliamentary elections and have since sought his ouster, announcing impeachment plans earlier this month.

Musharraf, who has been largely sidelined since his rivals came to power, had resisted the mounting calls to quit, even after the coalition finalized impeachment charges against him and threatened to send a motion to Parliament later this week.

The charges were expected to include violating the constitution and gross misconduct, likely in connection with the ouster of the judges and the declaration of emergency rule.

In announcing he would quit after all, Musharraf mentioned the many problems facing Pakistan, including its sinking economy. He said his opponents were wrong to blame him for the mounting difficulties. "I pray the government stops this down-sliding and take the country out of this crisis," he said.

Allies and rivals of the president said talks had been under way to get him to step down by possibly granting him legal immunity from future prosecution. The second biggest party in the government has said he should be tried for treason, which carries a maximum punishment of death.

Who will ultimately succeed Musharraf is an open question. There has been speculation that both Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari, the leaders of the two main parties are interested in the role.

But the ruling coalition has sought to strip the presidency of many of its powers. Sharif spokesman Saiqul Farooq recently dismissed the idea that his boss wants the job because the presidency would likely be reduced to a ceremonial position.

Qureshi would not say whether Musharraf might be granted a "safe exit" — speculation has focused on whether he might go into exile in Saudi Arabia or Turkey — or dragged through the courts.

"That is a decision that has to be taken by the democratic leadership," Qureshi, who is from the main ruling Pakistan People's Party, told Dawn News television. The leaders would assess the speech and the political situation, he said.

With Musharraf's utility fading, Western concerns appeared less with his ultimate fate than about how the clamor was affecting the halting efforts of the new civilian government against terrorism and the gathering economic woes.

A U.S. Embassy spokesman declined to comment after Musharraf's speech, referring calls to Washington. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Sunday the Pakistani president's future was an internal issue.

While Musharraf was a "good ally" who "kept his word" on ending military rule when he stepped down as army chief last year, whether he should resign "is a matter for Pakistan to determine," she said.


Associated Press Writer Asif Shahzad contributed to this report.

AUGUST 21st 2008

Spiral of violence threatens Pakistan

As Taleban militants inflict the deadliest attack on a military site in Pakistan's history, the BBC's Syed Shoaib Hasan examines the threat insurgents pose to Pakistan's stability.

It was only a matter of time before Taleban militants employed their best weapon - the suicide bomber.

The double bombing outside Pakistan's main munitions factory in the town of Wah killed at least 63 people.

In the aftermath of the attack, a Taleban statement spelled it out: "This is our reply for the killing of women and children in Bajaur [near the Afghan border] by Pakistan army bombs."

Pakistan Taleban spokesman Maulvi Umar warned that if the military continued its campaign "we will launch bigger attacks in all major Pakistani cities".

Wah is close to the troubled North West Frontier Province (NWFP) which - along with the neighbouring Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) - continues to be at the centre of an insurgency led by pro-Taleban militants.

Security has deteriorated sharply in recent weeks in those regions, which the Afghan government and the US say are also a haven for al-Qaeda.

There is mounting pressure on Pakistan's government from the US to crack down on fighters using the lawless tribal regions to launch cross-border raids into Afghanistan to target coalition forces.

While many believe it would be a mistake to further antagonise the militants, others argue that any respite in the army offensive would allow them time to regroup.

Back to square one

Under President Pervez Musharraf - who resigned on Monday - the army used a series of military campaigns and peace deals to try to stem the violence.

These took place between 2002 and 2007, but met with little success.

The power of the militants has grown to such an extent that they have become a law unto themselves.

Pakistan's governing coalition, which came to power in February's elections, has promised to reverse this trend.

It has pledged a policy of diplomacy and negotiation to deal with the situation.

Amid scepticism from the West, the first phase was launched in the north-western Swat district, now home to a resurgent local Taleban militia.

Swat, which was once a scenic valley attracting major tourism, has been the scene of continuous battles since mid-2007.

The new government, offering the militants a ceasefire, was able to bring them to the negotiating table.

A peace deal was hammered out in June 2008, and hailed by the government as a great success.

But, within a month, the deal fell through and the situation was back to square one.

The militants blamed the army, arguing that security forces had continued to carry out attacks against them despite the truce.

They also said the government had failed to honour part of the deal which called for the release of all arrested militants.

The already tense situation was aggravated by a rise in the number of cross-border air strikes by Nato forces in Afghanistan.

These mostly targeted the neighbouring Waziristan tribal region and were said to be aimed at "high value" al-Qaeda figures.

Some of these strikes - from the American point of view at least - met with success.

In July, Abu Khabab al-Masri - an Egyptian national described by US officials as al-Qaeda's leading chemical weapons expert - was killed in a missile strike.

Many lesser targets were also killed in the strikes.

Needless to say these attacks did not go down well in the tribal regions, which have been targeted ever since senior al-Qaeda figures were suspected of taking refuge there following the 9/11 attacks.

No easy exercise

By the end of July 2008, heavy clashes were taking place between security forces and the militants.

Dozens of people, a number of them civilians, have died in the fighting which still continues.

Militants in Bajaur launched attacks against the military and crossed over to Swat to help in the fighting there, prompting the military to launch possibly its biggest offensive against the militants since 2002.

While continuing to battle the militias in Swat, hundreds of troops were moved into Bajaur as well.

Within the first days of the operation, the military claimed to have killed 300 militants and destroyed several bases.

But it will not be an easy exercise - Bajaur has a reputation as a haven for fiercely determined foreign fighters.

The head of the Taleban in the area, Maulvi Faqir Mohammad, is known for keeping Arab and Uzbek bodyguards.

He is also reputed to have close ties to Arab al-Qaeda leaders, including the group's second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

In this context, the operation against militants in the region is the most pressing since the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan.

It remains to be seen whether a democratically elected coalition government can achieve what military ruler Pervez Musharraf - a key US ally in the "war on terror" - could not.

AUGUST 22nd 2008     
The more we see of Pakistan after Musharraf, the more we appreciate how necessary he was. However, the country has to move on and have yet one more stab and establishing a democratically elected government and a judiciary that is truly politically independent and secular (if such a thing is possible in any Islamic culture).

Zardari nominated to be president

Pakistan's biggest party, the PPP, has nominated its leader, Asif Zardari, to be the country's president.

Pervez Musharraf resigned from the post on Monday in the face of the threat of impeachment by his political enemies.

Mr Zardari's main coalition partner, Nawaz Sharif of the PML-N, is not in favour of Mr Zardari getting the job.

The two men are also deadlocked over how many of the judges sacked by Mr Musharraf during emergency rule last November should be reinstated.

Twenty-four hours

PPP spokeswoman Sherry Rehman told reporters in Islamabad that senior PPP members had come to a unanimous decision to nominate Mr Zardari.

"Mr Zardari thanked the Pakistan People's Party of which he is the co-chairman and said he will announce his decision within the next 24 hours," she said.

The PPP and the PML-N have been discussing ways to reduce the power of the presidency. But if Mr Zardari gets the job, it is not clear if such reforms will go ahead.

He took over as PPP leader after his wife, Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in December.

The president is chosen by the two chambers of the national parliament and the country's four provincial elections. The election will be held on 6 September.

Mr Sharif prefers what he calls a consensus president.

Wednesday deadline

Earlier on Friday Mr Sharif agreed to let parliament hold a debate next week on how to reinstate the judges sacked by Mr Musharraf..

Nawaz Sharif had threatened to pull out of the coalition government unless it was agreed on Friday that all the sacked judges be restored.

The PPP fears that if former Supreme Court judges, including ex-Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, are reinstated, they could overturn a controversial amnesty that Mr Musharraf granted Mr Zardari and Ms Bhutto last year that paved the way for them to return to the country.

That would open up Mr Zardari to prosecution on long-standing corruption charges.

Mr Sharif pulled back from his threat to withdraw his PML-N party from the governing coalition after talks with other coalition parties in Islamabad.

But Mr Sharif is still hoping the resolution will result in Mr Chaudhry and the other judges getting their jobs back.

"Wednesday should be the day for reinstatement of judges," he told journalists.


The coalition was elected in February but analysts say it has failed to find solutions to Pakistan's economic crisis and to the militants in its north-western tribal regions bordering Afghanistan.

The BBC's Charles Haviland in Islamabad says the politicians' squabbling is hindering any possible plan for tackling militant violence.

The Pakistani Taleban claimed responsibility for Thursday's suicide bombings on an ordnance factory in the town of Wah, near the capital Islamabad. It was the deadliest attack on a military site in Pakistan's history.

The militant group promised more attacks in Pakistan's major urban conurbations unless the army withdrew from the tribal areas.

On Tuesday, 32 people were killed in a suicide attack on a hospital in the northern town of Dera Ismail Khan.

On Friday the Taleban said at least 16 of their fighters were killed in clashes with security forces in the north-western district of Hangu.

In the Bajaur tribal region near the Afghan border, reports said at least one person was killed and eight others were injured when army helicopters fired at a convoy. Locals said the vehicles were carrying civilians who were fleeing the fighting in the area.

Mr Musharraf, a key ally of President George Bush's "war on terror", stepped down this week after nine years in power to avoid being impeached.

He sacked about 60 Supreme Court judges during a state of emergency in November to prevent them from overturning his re-election as president.

Analysts say that although the PPP and PML-N worked together to hound Mr Musharraf from office, there is a history of intense rivalry and mistrust between the two main parties.

The parties differ over the future of Mr Musharraf, who has been replaced by a caretaker president, the speaker of the Senate.

Mr Zardari's party has said it believes Mr Musharraf may have immunity from prosecution.

But Mr Sharif's party argues he should stand trial for, among other things, abrogating the constitution.

AUGUST 25th 2008  
This was a likely outcome. If The PPP can get enough support to govern, government should be possible. The tactics of the opposition will then be observed and judged.

Pakistan's Sharif pulls party out of coalition


Former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif pulled his party out of the ruling coalition on Monday over disputes with his main partner over the judiciary and who should be the next president.

The departure of Sharif's party is not expected to force a general election as the party of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, which leads the coalition, should be able to gather enough support to govern, analysts say.

SEPTEMBER 6th 2008
The level of support for Zardari is important, as he faces severe problems. He needs to get the wires uncrossed with the US, and he needs to get this straightened out relationship over to his people. If the level of support indicated by the vote is real, then he has a chance.

Zardari wins Pakistan election; bomb kills 16

By Robert Birsel  Reuters

Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, swept to victory in a presidential election on Saturday.

Underscoring the problems he faces, a suicide car bomber killed 16 people in an attack on a police post in the northwestern city of Peshawar. At least five of the dead were policemen, and the blast wounded about 40 people.

Investors and foreign allies led by the United States hope the election will bring some stability after months of political turmoil and rising militant violence. The uncertainty has dragged stocks and the rupee sharply lower.

A former businessman, Zardari is close to the United States and has stressed Pakistan's commitment to the widely unpopular campaign against militancy.

Members of the two-chamber parliament and four provincial assemblies voted on a replacement for former army chief Pervez Musharraf, who resigned last month nine years after taking power in a coup.

Zardari, who had been widely expected to win, secured 480 out of 702 electoral college votes, according to unofficial Election Commission results.

A polo-playing playboy in his younger days, Zardari spent 11 years in jail on corruption and murder charges. He was never convicted and denied any wrongdoing but faces widespread doubts about his suitability to be president.

In brief comments at a gathering with party colleagues, Zardari hailed his victory as the completion of the democratic process.

"To those who would say the People's Party, or the presidency, would be controversial under our guardianship, under our stewardship, I would say 'listen to democracy'," he said, flanked by his two daughters.

Their mother was killed in a suicide attack on December 27 last year, weeks after returning from years in exile. Her Pakistan People's Party (PPP) now holds the presidency and leads the government.

Zardari, 53, will have to contend with a host of problems in the nuclear-armed U.S. ally, including militant violence and an economy in tatters.


The bomb in Peshawar destroyed the police post and brought down roofs of buildings and some people were under the rubble, provincial police chief Malik Naveed Khan said. The bomber's target was probably the provincial assembly where members were voting, he said. Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility.

Zardari was thrust into the centre of politics by his wife's assassination. A February parliamentary election win for the PPP made him one of the most powerful figures in the country.

His decision in August to begin impeachment proceedings against Musharraf led to the latter's resignation.

His two rivals in the vote were Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui, a former judge, nominated by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif's party, and Mushahid Hussain Sayed, from the party that backed Musharraf and ruled under him.

Zardari will take office as anger with the United States is boiling after a bloody incursion by U.S. ground troops into a remote village on the Afghan border on Wednesday.

He will walk a tightrope between reassuring the United States on his efforts against militancy while calming public anger.

In a show of indignation over the raid, authorities blocked a major fuel supply route for Western forces in Afghanistan, Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar told Dawn Television.

Most fuel and other supplies for U.S. forces in Afghanistan are trucked through Pakistan, crossing the border at two points, Torkham, near Peshawar, and Chaman to the southwest.

The Chaman crossing, where supplies cross into the Afghan south, was operating normally.

Political uncertainty, exacerbated by a split in the PPP-led coalition last month, together with security and economic worries, has sapped investor confidence and dragged Pakistani stocks down 34 percent this year.

The main index rose 1 percent on Friday, helped by optimism the vote will bring clarity. The rupee has lost 20 percent to the dollar this year but firmed on Friday.

Some commentators fear rivalry with Sharif, head of the country's second biggest party, could herald a return to the tumultuous politics of the 1990s.

"The real test has begun. Terrorism and the economy will have to controlled and if they do, they could go a long way. But if not, they'll be out in two years," said retired teacher Sajjad Ali Shah.

(Additional reporting by Kamran Haider, Augustine Anthony, Zeeshan Haider, Faris Ali, Imtiaz Shah, Gul Yousafzai, Mubasher Bukhari)

SEPTEMBER 20th 2008
A monstrous bomb attack at 8pm Islamabad local time confirmed the dismal news that in spite of a peaceful and successful election Pakistan is heading towards the category of a failed state. The West, as represented particularly by the US and the UK, has failed to win the hearts and minds of even the 'middle classes' as the efforts on the Afghan/Pakistan border have failed to deal with the Taliban and at the same time caused many deaths [see the Afghanistan file on this site]. Instead of being seen as friendly nations bringing security, we are seen as interfering powers stirring up social division. Of course this perception has been the aim of the Taliban, but it has to be admitted we are failing to counter it. Read the opening paragraph of this file and you will see the very same problem described a year ago. It has got worse.

Terror pledge after Pakistan bomb  

Eyewitness Dirome Antony describes the moment the bomb struck

Pakistan's president has pledged to fight the "cancer" of terrorism after a suicide bomb killed at least 40 people in the capital, Islamabad.

In a televised speech, Asif Ali Zardari appealed to "all democratic forces" to help to save Pakistan.

The bomb, at the Marriott Hotel, left a 20ft (6m) crater. The hotel owner said a lorry blew up as it was being checked by security at the entrance.

US President George W Bush condemned the attack and pledged assistance.

He said it was "a reminder of the ongoing threat faced by Pakistan, the United States, and all those who stand against violent extremism".

He said the US would "assist Pakistan in confronting this threat and bringing the perpetrators to justice".

'Tonne of explosives'

The blast destroyed the entire front section of the hotel and brought down the ceiling of the banqueting hall.

Witnesses described a scene of horror as blood-covered bodies were pulled from the wreckage and guests and staff ran for cover from shattered glass.

The BBC's Barbara Plett, at the scene of the blast, says emergency services have not been able to reach the upper floors of the hotel, where more people are feared trapped.

The police say they suspect it was a suicide attack.

There has been no claim of responsibility so far, but the BBC's Shoaib Hasan, in Islamabad, says the key suspects are the Pakistan Taleban who operate in the north-west of the country.

In a televised address to the nation, President Zardari said he would not be deterred from fighting extremism.

"Terrorism is a cancer in Pakistan, we are determined, God willing, we will rid the country of this cancer," he said.

"I promise you that such actions by these cowards will not lower our resolve."

The explosion is thought to have been caused by more than a tonne of explosives and police are warning that the hotel could collapse.

Analysts say the attack is the most serious in the Pakistani capital to date and will spark fears about the country's stability in the face of a growing Islamist insurgency.

Heavy security

A huge area of the 315-room hotel remained on fire hours after the explosion.

At least 100 people have been injured in the attack, among them four British citizens as well as Saudi, German, Moroccan, Afghan and US nationals.

There are reports that at least 200 people were in the hotel's restaurants when the explosion hit at about 1900 (1500 GMT).

Many of the diners would have been breaking their daytime Ramadan fast.

The Marriott is the most prestigious hotel in the capital, and is popular with foreigners and the Pakistani elite.

The hotel is located near government buildings and diplomatic missions, so security is tight, with guests and vehicles subject to checks.

The Marriott has previously been the target of militants. Last year a suicide bomber killed himself and one other in an attack at the hotel.

Pakistan has been a key ally of the US in its "war on terror", but relations have become strained over tactics.

In recent months Pakistan has voiced growing disquiet over US raids targeting militants in its territory, launched from neighbouring Afghanistan.

The attack came just hours after newly-elected President Zardari gave his first speech to MPs, vowing not to allow Pakistan's territory to be violated by terrorists or foreign powers fighting them.

Al-Qaeda and Taleban militants based in Pakistan's north-west tribal region have repeatedly carried out attacks across the border in Afghanistan.

SEPTEMBER 22nd 2008
No doubt about the target. But see later reports

Official: Pakistan leaders avoided hotel blast

By NAHAL TOOSI, Associated Press Writer 

Pakistan's top leaders were to dine at the luxury hotel that was devastated by a truck bombing over the weekend, but changed the venue at the last minute, a senior government official said Monday.

The blast at the Marriott Hotel in the capital Islamabad killed at least 53 people and underscored the extremist challenge facing nuclear-armed Pakistan, where Taliban and al-Qaida militants are operating out of tribal regions close to Afghanistan.

In a further sign of the country's deteriorating security situation Monday, gunmen kidnapped Afghanistan's ambassador-designate and killed his driver in the main northwestern city of Peshawar, said a spokesman for the mission in the city.

The spokesman, who gave his name as Babri, said Abdul Khaliq Farahi was abducted as he traveled toward his home in the city. He gave no more details, but the kidnapping and killing was also confirmed by the Afghan charge d'affairs in Islamabad, Majnoon Gulab.

Interior Ministry chief Rehman Malik did not specify why the prime minister and president decided to move the dinner from the Marriott to the premier's house but said the decision was kept secret.

"Perhaps the terrorists knew that the Marriott was the venue of the dinner for all the leadership where the president, prime minister, speaker and all entire leadership would be present," he told reporters. "At the eleventh hour, the president and prime minister decided that the venue would be the prime minister's house. It saved the entire leadership."

Some 270 people were wounded in the attack, while the dead included the Czech ambassador and two U.S. Department of Defense employees.

Most of the victims were Pakistanis, a fact likely to increase pressure on the government to stem the rising violence in the Muslim nation that many blame on the country's partnership with the U.S. in the war on terror.

Suspicion has fallen on al-Qaida or the Pakistani Taliban in the blast.

But Amir Mohammad, an aide to one prominent Pakistani Taliban leader, Baitullah Mehsud, said the militant group was not involved and shared the nation's grief. Mehshud was blamed by the last government for a suicide attack that killed Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari's wife, the pro-U.S. politician Benazir Bhutto. He denies that charge too.

"We have our own targets and we execute our plans precisely with minimal loss of irrelevant or innocent people," Mehsud was quoted as saying by his spokesman. "We have nothing to do with the Marriott hotel attack."

The government is under U.S. pressure to crack down on the militants, who are also blamed for staging rising attacks on coalition forces in neighboring Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, two intelligence officials said Pakistani troops and tribesmen opened fire on two U.S. helicopters after they crossed into a northwest tribal region from Afghanistan.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media. The helicopters did not return fire and re-entered Afghan airspace without landing, the officials said.

They said informants in the field told them of the incursion about one mile inside the disputed and poorly demarcated border in the Alwara Mandi area in North Waziristan.

Pakistan's army and the U.S. military in Afghanistan said they had no information on the reported incursion.

A week ago, U.S. helicopters reportedly landed near Angoor Ada, a border village in South Waziristan, but returned toward Afghanistan after troops fired warning shots.

The alleged incident will likely add to tensions between Islamabad and Washington and comes as Zardari heads to New York to attend the U.N. General Assembly.

Although no one has claimed responsibility for Saturday's hotel bombing, officials and experts said the scale of the blast and its high-profile target were hallmarks of Al-Qaida and its Taliban allies.

Interior Ministry chief Rehman Malik Sunday said "all roads lead to FATA" in major Pakistani suicide attacks — referring to Federally Administered Tribal Areas close to Afghanistan, where U.S. officials worry that Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahri are hiding.

Senior al-Qaida leader Mustafa Abu al-Yazid threatened attacks against Western interests in Pakistan in a video timed with the recent anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.

Mahmood Shah, a former government security chief for Pakistan's tribal areas, said while the attack had "all the signatures" of an al-Qaida strike, homegrown Taliban militants probably had learned how to carry out an attack of this magnitude.

Al-Qaida was providing "money, motivation, direction and all sort of leadership and using the Taliban as gun fodder," he suggested.

The blast prompted foreign diplomatic missions and aid groups in Pakistan to review their security status. British Airways said Monday it was temporarily suspending its flights to the country as a precautionary measure.

The airline, which offered six flights to Pakistan each week, did not face a direct security threat, company spokesman Suhail Rehman said.

Dramatic surveillance footage released Sunday showed how the explosive-laden truck sat burning and disabled at the hotel gate for at least 3 1/2 minutes as nervous guards tried to douse the flames before they, the truck and much of the hotel forecourt vanished in a fearsome fireball.


Associated Press writers Zarar Khan and Asif Shahzad in Islamabad and Ishtiaq Mahsud in Dera Ismail Khan contributed to this report.

Now we hear that there was no reception booked at the Marriot. It was to be held at the Parliament. It seems likely the bomber was unable to get to his target and went for the hotel instead, unaware that he could not get past the barrier. If he had the damage would have been total.

OCTOBER 23rd 2008

From The Independent

Pakistan stares into the abyss

A spiralling conflict, economic collapse and blackouts threaten anarchy

By Andrew Buncombe, Anne Penketh and Omar Waraich
Thursday, 23 October 2008

Pakistan Was locked in crisis last night, with the government pressed by Washington to deepen its conflict with Islamic militants in the lawless regions on the Afghan border, and obliged to call in the International Monetary Fund to stave off financial catastrophe.

In the rugged north of the country, a major military offensive to root out Taliban militants has created a flood of up to 200,000 refugees and pitched Pakistani against Pakistani, Muslim against Muslim, in a conflict some are beginning to regard as a civil war.

A new US intelligence estimate meanwhile has warned that the renewed insurgency, coupled with energy shortages and political infighting, means that Pakistan, which isthe only Muslim nation with nuclear weapons, is "on the edge".

"Pakistan is going through the worst crisis of its history," according to a leaked letter signed by the former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, the main opposition leader. It is a view shared by Imran Khan, another opposition leader, who says that the political and economic meltdown "is leading to a sort of anarchy in Pakistan".

"How does a country collapse?" the former cricketer asked. "There's increasing uncertainty, economic meltdown, more people on the street, inflation rising between 25 and 30 per cent. Then there's the rupee falling."

Pakistan is experiencing power cuts that have led to hourly blackouts, a doubling of basic food prices and a currency that has lost a third of its value in the past year. "The awful thing is there's no solution in sight – neither in the war on terror nor on the economic side," Mr Khan said during a visit to London. Heightening the sense of national emergency, the government yesterday turned to the International Monetary Fund for $15bn (£9.3bn) to cope with a balance of payments crisis caused by a flight of capital, after previously saying that applying to the IMF would be a last resort.

Almost every day there are retaliatory attacks against police and soldiers and Western targets. Hundreds of soldiers and an unknown number of civilians are losing their lives. The national parliament rejected the US influence on the government by adopting a resolution last night calling for an "independent" foreign policy and urging dialogue with the extremists.

The military operation against the so-called Pakistan Taliban is concentrated in the largely autonomous tribal areas that border Afghanistan. A total of 120,000 troops and paramilitary forces have been deployed against what senior officers say is a skilled and tenacious enemy. "They do not fight in one place, you cannot fight them in one place. It's basically guerrilla warfare," said Lt Col Haider Baseer, a military spokesman. "The area is mountainous, it's vast. And everybody carries a gun. It's the culture."

Long accused of failing to confront the militants, the military angrily points out that up to 1,500 soldiers and many more civilians have been killed in such operations since 2001. America has triggered national anger by dispatching troops from Afghanistan to attack a Pakistani village. At the same time, Pakistani officials point out that US and Nato forces in Afghanistan are looking to negotiate with the Taliban – something they have previously criticised Islamabad for doing.

Mr Khan claimed that the US-led "war on terror" had led to "approximately one million" men taking up arms in the tribal areas. "The total al-Qa'ida who were supposed to be in Pakistan were 800 to 1,200 people. This is the biggest gift of George Bush to al-Qa'ida, what he's done there," said Mr Khan. "It's like a factory of terror, it's producing terrorists, radicalising our society, pushing those people who had nothing to do with al-Qa'ida or Taliban into the arms of militancy and opposing the Americans and the Pakistan army," he said.

Although Mr Khan leads the marginal Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf – which boycotted the last election – his views carry weight because of the strong moral stand he has taken in support of an independent judiciary and against endemic corruption, according to Pakistani analysts.

This week, perhaps partly to try to smooth relations, Richard Boucher, the US Assistant Secretary of State, praised the current military operation, which is said to have killed up to 1,000 militants. "I think it is good Pakistan is taking serious military action against the terrorists," he told reporters during a trip to the country, during which he met the recently elected President, Asif Ali Zardari. But Mr Zardari's coalition government is weak and the civilian president is accused by critics such as Mr Khan of being a "puppet" of the Americans, as was his predecessor, Pervez Musharraf.

Suicide bombs have become a near- daily occurrence. There have been more than 100 since July 2007, killing around 1,200 people. In 2006, there were just six such attacks. A report by the Pakistan's ISI intelligence agency suggested that in the first eight months of the year, more people were killed by suicide bombers in Pakistan than in Iraq or Afghanistan.

It remains unclear whether the army will continue to remain on the sidelines, as General Musharraf's successor as army chief-of-staff, General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani, has pledged to do. But the army could act as a power broker from behind the scenes.

"I have never known as much uncertainty as this," said Mr Khan, who is based in Lahore and is visiting his children who live with his former wife, Jemima Khan. The security risks are now so grave for Pakistani politicians that for the first time, Mr Khan is considering wearing a bulletproof vest after receiving death threats

October 23, 2008      "We must throw the Taliban out... we cannot surrender.

Exclusive dispatch: Pakistan's hidden war

War has come to the world's only Muslim nuclear state. Not just terrorist bombs, but pitched battles bringing refugees down from the mountains and even into Afghanistan. In a powerful dispatch, Andrew Buncombe and Omar Waraich report on the conflict which has left 200,000 people caught between the Pakistani Army, the Taliban and the tribal warlords

There was a loud, sharp sound followed by flames and massive blast of wind that threw the young boy twenty yards through the air. It felt as if he had fallen off the mountain.

When he pulled himself to his feet, dazed and battered, he discovered nine members of his family were dead and that his mother was badly wounded. All were victims of a deadly artillery shell fired by the Pakistani military battling with Taliban fighters in the country's mountainous border region. As soon as they were able, the boy's remaining family and the rest of his village fled.

That was two months ago. Now 12-year-old Ikram Ullah sits with thousands of others in a wretched, fly-ridden refugee camp close to the north-west city of Mardan, his face streaked with dirt and tears as he tells his story and wonders what will happen to him. The food is poor, there are few proper facilities and there is nothing to do. "Life here," he says, crouching in the dust among rows of canvas tents, "is filled with sadness and grief."

Ikram is not alone. Aid agencies estimate up to 200,000 desperate people have been forced to leave their villages as a result of the fighting. Scattered in camps across northern Pakistan, they offer a glimpse into a deadly conflict largely overlooked by the West but which has created chaos and misery for the region's civilian population. All the while, as the Pakistan Army bends to pressure from the US to do more to confront the Taliban militants building strongholds and extending their influence in the tribal areas, so the fall-out for the civilians gets worse. Every day their lives are threatened both by the pounding jets that sweep into the valleys on bombing runs and by the clattering helicopter gunships that the Pakistan military is using to spearhead its assaults. The people sitting in the dust are the so-called "collateral damage" of Pakistan's own war on terror.

But the danger goes far beyond that. The spread of the Taliban and the seemingly endless cycle of violence they have created threatens the very fabric of Pakistan, an unstable nuclear-armed state that at times appears on the very brink of unraveling. Were that to happen the consequences both for the country and the region would be unthinkable. The civilian administration elected earlier this year, pulled back and forth by the various pressures upon it and its stalted, stuttering approach to confronting the militants, at times looks ill-prepared to tackle this most pressing of problems.

Until now, the conflict - which can trace its roots to the 1970s and 1980s when the Pakistani military and US government funded and encouraged Islamic mujahideen fighters to wage guerilla war against Soviet forces in Afghanistan - has largely played out in remote tribal areas located along its north-western border. For those in the West it has been a conflict easy enough to ignore, should they choose. The tribal agencies have long been considered an area all but outside the control of the central government.

But that has started to change. In recent months, militants have escalated their attacks on targets linked to either the Pakistani military and police or the West in what they say is a direct response to the government's decision to bow to US pressure. The most stunning of these was the truck-bomb attack on the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad in September that more than 50 people dead, including half-a-dozen foreigners. There have also been attacks on the country's prime minister and the Anti-Terrorism Police's headquarters, while in August the Taliban claimed responsibility after two suicide bombers killed around 70 people at a munitions plant at Wah, 20 miles from the capital. A Taliban spokesman said afterwards: "Only innocent people die when the Pakistan army carries out airstrikes in Bajaur or Swat."

At the same time, areas outside of the tribal regions have seen the increasing influence of the Taliban. There was panic earlier this summer when it was claimed militants were threatening to lay siege to the strategically important city of Peshawar, capital of the North West Frontier Province. (NWFP). In the province's Swat Valley, once a leading tourist attraction and considered the "Switzerland of Pakistan", the army has also stepped operations against militants. And last week shopkeepers in Lahore, long considered a bulwark against extremism, began publicly setting fire to DVDs of pornographic movies after receiving threats from militants.

* * *

The tribal areas are a world apart. Officially known as Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), they are squeezed in between Afghanistan and Pakistan's NWFP in a strip that runs north to south-west and contain some of the most mountainous and inhospitable terrain in the region. Large parts of these seven rugged agencies - North and South Waziristan, Kurram, Orakzai, Khyber, Mohmand and Bajaur - are also utterly lawless.

Peopled by Pashtun tribes famous both for their fierceness and code of traditional hospitality, the area has only ever nominally been in the control of the central government and has instead been governed by tribal leaders and their traditional jirgas, or community meetings.

The region's virtual autonomy dates to the creation of Pakistan. After the British left the subcontinent following Partition, the tribal areas technically became independent and it was up the tribal chiefs or maliks to agree whether or not to become part of Pakistan. As part of the deal that was agreed, the tribal chiefs managed to ensure they would retain the large degree of autonomy they had enjoyed under the British empire.

Following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, it was through these tribal areas that dictator Zia ul-Haq - with funding from the US and Saudi Arabia - dispatched thousands of young fighters to join Afghan militias opposing the Red Army. Training camps were set up by the ISI intelligence agency along the border to prepare these fighters for battle. Praised by Ronald Reagan as "freedom fighters", these mujahideen, or holy warriors, were a crucial factor in the Soviet's decision a decade later to withdraw.

In 1994, following years of civil war in Afghanistan, the government of Benazir Bhutto, provided financial and military backing to a group of Afghan fighters based in the city of Kandahar and calling themselves "the students" or Taliban in their efforts to take control of the country. Bhutto argued that stability in Afghanistan and a government of its own sponsorship would help Pakistan. "I don't know how much money they were ultimately given," she later recalled. "I know it was a lot. It was just carte blanche." Two years later the Taliban seized Kabul and set in place an increasingly authoritarian rule that only ended when the US invaded following the 2001 al-Qa'ida attacks on New York and Washington.

When the Taliban and al-Qai'da fighters they had given refuge to were forced from Afghanistan, it was into the tribal areas of Pakistan that many fled. Bin Laden himself managed to slip away in late 2001 through the White Mountains after apparently having been surrounded by Afghan militia at Tora Bora. Eversince, he and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri have been linked to both the South Waziristan and Bajaur areas.

In these tribal areas, among fellow Pashtuns, the Taliban received warm welcome. As they were able to regroup and rebuild and to again take up battle against US and Nato forces inside Afghanistan. At the same time, their influence spread and increasing number of Pakistan Taliban were recruited to an anti-American jihad. A number of Pakistan Taliban leaders are now firmly established in the tribal areas.

It is these fighters that have been the focus of on-and-off operations by the military since Pakistan signed up to George Bush's war on terror. Both Pervez Musharraf and the recently elected civilian government have backed both negotiated settlements and military force to try and deal with the militants.

But in August, after constant pressure from Washington to do more to stop the flood of militants crossing into Afghanistan and attacking US and Nato troops, the Pakistan military launched a major operation in the Bajaur agency - home of the 12-year-old Ikram and his family. The effect has been devastating.

"When the fighter jets came into our valley four people were killed," says Abdul Rauf, a creased-faced 50-year-old refugee from a Bajaur village called Tauheedabada. "All the people were crying, we were frightened. After that we started to run away."

There are thousands of people like Rauf, thousands who have suffered tragedies like endured by Ikram. Aid agencies say a little under 200,000 people have been forced from their homes, but that is partly guesswork. "Since mid-August, we've seen an exodus of about 190,000 people from areas bordering Afghanistan. This includes Bajaur and Swat," said Vivian Tan of UNHCR. "The government tells us over 168,000 people are internally displaced in NWFP, while the Afghan authorities in Kunar province have reported about 20,000 people arriving since mid-August. We have no access to most of these border areas, so we're relying completely on government figures."

* * *

Pakistan's army is headquartered in the neat and well-tended cantonment district of Rawalpindi, the garrison city located near Islamabad. It from here that the fight against the militants is overseen and officers bristle at the suggestion that the military's efforts to root out the militants is only half-hearted.

On the wall of Lt Col Haider Baseer's office, beneath of photograph of Pakistan's founder, Mohammad ali-Jinnah, is pinned a photocopied map showing the location of some of the ongoing operations. A total of 120,000 troops are currently deployed. "We are operating in Swat, in Bajaur, in

Darra Adam Khel and North and South Waziristan," says the colonel, a military spokesman, whose office is located in a quadrangle containing sweet-smelling roses.

The colonel admits the military has been surprised by the resistance offered by the Taliban. A total of 1,400 soldiers and paramilitaries (from the Frontier Corps or FC) have been lost in operations since 2001. He says the Taliban is fighting a classic guerilla war and that both the terrain and the enemy is difficult. "Everybody has a gun," he says. "It's their culture."

The situation is made more difficult by the fact that this conflict pitches Muslim against Muslim and often - in the case of the FC - Pashtun against Pashtun. There have been reports of desertion and surrender. One military officer who has been based in Swat and Warisistan admitted this was, at least initially, a problem for many troops. "At the beginning, before we were inducted into this war, it was troubling. We asked ourselves, how are we going to fight against fellow Muslims? In the Pakistan army we were motivated to fight against India and if we die, we were told we become martyrs who go to heaven," he says. "Now I am convinced that I am fighting this war for my country and my religion. When I arrived in the tribal areas, I saw how the militants, the terrorists were working against the country and the religion. Now we see all the criminal elements getting into their fold. They do not represent Islam in any way."

What has certainly complicated matters in recent months is the involvement of US forces in the battle against militants. For a long time, the US has been using unmanned drones flown out of Afghanistan to attack suspected militant hideouts. Sometimes they claim to kill al-Qa'ida members, often they kill civilians. In June, a US airstrike killed 11 members of the FC.

Such unathourised air strikes have steadily fuelled popular sentiment against the US. But the situation was brought to boiling point in early September 3 when it was revealed US special forces had entered Pakistan and attacked the village of Jalal Khel in the Angoor Adda area of South Waziristan. Up to 20 people were killed, including women and children. The incident triggered angry protests from both villagers and Pakistan's political and military leaders. There were also a series of incidents of Pakistani and US troops exchanging fire along the border. "Obviously this is difficult. No-one wants to see foreign soldiers entering the country," says Col Baseer. "We have asked the US to stop the border incursions."

Yet the most serious allegation concerning Pakistan's seemingly lacklustre effort to confront the militants is that parts of the military establishment do not wish to. In particular, the shadowy ISI intelligence agency (whose director was recently changed) has been accused of maintaining operational links with the Taliban, the organisation it helped create three decades ago. Such allegations are nothing new; in 2002, for example, critics seized on a decision by Musharraf to arrest up to 2,000 militants in a purported crackdown only to release them all a few weeks later.

But this summer the CIA's deputy director, Stephen Kappes, travelled to Islamabad and presented what is said was evidence that mid-level ISI officials were involved in a suicide bomb plot hatched by a veteran Taliban leader Jalaluddin Haqqani that targeted the Indian embassy in Kabul, killing 54 people. Haqqani had previously been described by an ISI official as an "asset".

Remarkably, members of Pakistan's government agree with the US assessment that such links remain. One recent afternoon in Islamabad, seated on the kind of overstuffed sofa so commonly found in South Asian sitting rooms, one minister said Pakistan had always considered Afghanistan its "fifth province". Such a view had created the problems the country was now facing. "The Taliban was created by the Pakistanis and the CIA. All the problems were created here. Who do you think created these people?" said the minister, who asked not to be identified. "That is why they are not prepared to take them on. They consider them their assets."

Even military officers who reject such claims admit that the US and Pakistan have different priorities when it comes to confronting the militants. This could explain why US military operations inside Pakistan using unmanned drones have largely targeted militants blamed for attacks inside Afghanistan, such as Jalaluddin Haqqani, his son, Serajuddin, and members of their network including brothers Daud Jan and Abdur Rehman. This network has been blamed by Washington being largely responsible for a 40 per cent increase in attacks in eastern Afghanistan this year.

The Pakistan military, meanwhile, has focused its efforts on militants believed responsible for attacks inside Pakistan such as Baitullah Mehsud, who operates out of South Waziristan and who was blamed for the assassination of Benazir Bhutto last December, Maulana Fazlullah, the Taliban leader in the Swat Valley and Faqir Mohammed, a Taliban leader in Bajaur.

"The priorities are mismatching," concedes the military's chief spokesman, Maj Gen Athar Abbas. "We cannot risk opening up another front while we don't have the resources." And while Maj Gen Abbas strenuously denies the charge of supporting the re-energised Taliban, he admits too, that indirect links are maintained. "Which agency in the world would break its last contact with them?"

* * *

One morning in mid-August, the day crisp and clean, up to 4,000 Pashtuns from the town of Salarzai in the Bajaur agency gathered to talk. Some had come from up to 10 miles away to attend the meeting, arriving in pick-ups and trucks. The younger men were dressed in Salwar Kameez and vests, while some of the older tribesman wore rough woollen clothes. Many were wearing traditional Chitrali turbans, worn only for special occasions. Almost everyone was armed with many carrying Kalashnikov rifles and rocket-launchers - "a gift from the Soviet jihad".

The jirga had been called by tribal elders after Taliban militants attacked and killed two chiefs, or maliks, and a Muslim priest just days before. One of the slain maliks was Shah Zarin Khan and it was his supporters who addressed the jirga first.

For centuries, the system of jirgas - which women are not permitted to attend - have been used by the Pashtun tribes to decide important issues and make rulings. On this morning, the meeting had been called to discuss setting up a defence force or lashkar, to take on the Taliban, who had increasingly been vying for power with the tribal elders.

Syed Akhunzada Chattan, the local MP, was among those subsequently called to speak. He told the people, sitting on stones that have for decades been used as seats: "The sanctuary that we gave the Taliban was because we thought they were good people, because they had established peace in Afghanistan, because they fought against a superpower in the form of America. Then the Taliban started hurting us. These people are the enemy of Pakistan, they want a weak Pakistan. We cannot surrender our area to these people. We have to throw them out."

As Chattan spoke, the villagers raised their fists in a show of solidarity. There and then it was decided to set up the defence force and to target the Taliban leaders. An announcement went out that anyone with information about a Taliban fighter would receive a reward of 10,000 rupees. On the other hand, anyone found harbouring such fighters would be fined 1m rupees and their home burned down. Within a week, claims Chattan, the Taliban had been driven from the area.

Against the backdrop of rising militant violence, the establishment of traditional lashkars has been promoted by the military and the government as a homegrown means of confronting the Taliban. While some reports suggest the tribes are acting against the Taliban's efforts to impose the strictest of moral codes, there appears to be more evidence that the tribes object mainly to the militants' efforts to seize control in the areas and to criminal elements and "miscreants" who use the cloak of the Taliban to behave like mafia.

The military insists it provides the lashkars with "moral support" and encouragement but denies reports that it has supplied them with weapons or money. But the emergence of the lashkars at a time when the military is also increasing its operations, suggests at the very least a degree of central planning.

* * *

Understandably the setting-up of the lashkars remains a perilous task. The Taliban has persistently targeted tribal elders believed to be working against them. Earlier this month in the Orakzai area, more than 30 such elders from the Alizai tribe were killed in a suicide bomb attack at a meeting in the village of Ghiljo. As in the meeting in Bajaur, hundreds of people had gathered to discuss the establishment of an anti-Taliban force.

Indeed, a second meeting called by the tribal elders in Salarzai was also targeted by a suicide bomber sent by the Taliban. "He was caught, stripped of his explosive vest and then shot dead," said Chattan, the MP.

The combination of lashkars and the increasingly heavy military operations in places such as Bajaur and Swat, appears to he having some results. Last week, Maulvi Omar, a spokesman for the coalition of around 40 Taliban groups operating in the tribal areas, announced that it was prepared for unconditional talks with the government if the military halted its current actions. It also offered to help oust "foreign fighters" from the tribal areas.

"We are willing to negotiate with the government without any conditions," he told the BBC's Urdu service. "We are also willing to lay down our arms, once the military ceases operations against us."

The Pakistani government the offer. Its decision indicated either that the army believes it has the upper hand over the militants or that there is ongoing pressure from Washington to continue its military strikes. Either way, it was the first time the authorities had turned down such an offer of talks.

* * *

Inside out the bombed-out interior there is a frenzy activity. Electricians, plasterers, metal workers and general labourers are furiously at work while all around them is the evidence of destruction. There is rubble, there is twisted metal, there are bombed out windows, but there is also a determination to have the Marriott Hotel ready for a grand reopening party on New Years Eve.

On the evening of September 20, a massive truck bomb was detonated at the gates of this Islamabad landmark, creating a huge crater and doing extensive damage to the building. At least 54 people were killed, including 17 security guards on duty at the gates and doors of the building. In the aftermath of the blast, a fire raged here for hours, sending up huge plumes of smoke and delivering the chillingly clear message that no-one was safe from militant violence.

While it is not entirely clear who was responsible for the blast - one Taliban spokesman denied responsibility and there are many in Pakistan who will gladly proffer the most Byzantine of conspiracy theories - most observers believe this was another militant strike on a highly visible target. The hotel was centre stage in the working and social lives of the city's political and diplomatic elite. And while Pakistanis made up the overwhelming majority of the blast's victims, it was also clearly interpreted as an attack on a Western target.

"There were 2,000 people inside the hotel at the time. A lot of lives were saved," says Maj Tahir Qureshi, the hotel's head of security, leading a way past the flurry of labourers and clouds of cement dust. "The only thing we could do was to stop them at the entry gates. Those security guards gave their lives to stop it."

There had been deadlier bomb attacks before the Marriott blast and there have been others subsequently, but it this attack that forced a wider audience to take notice of what was going on in Pakistan. A conflict that had largely been confined to the tribal areas or else bomb attacks on military and police targets, was now taking place against a Five Star backdrop. President Asif Ali Zardari, while in New York, described the event as Pakistan's 9/11.

In the aftermath, Zardari, whose wife, Benazir Bhutto, was assassinated last December, vowed to continue the effort against militants. "Make this pain your strength," he said. "This is a menace, a cancer in Pakistan that we will eliminate. We will not be scared of these cowards."

The attack has also forced a wider debate about how best to confront the militant threat emanating from the tribal areas. Whether militarily or else through negotiation - as the West is now attempting with the Taliban in Afghanistan - Pakistan's recently-elected civilian leaders and its military have been forced to find a solution.

With so many people killed by the violence - one recent report suggested that in the first eight months of this year suicide bombings in Pakistan had killed more people than such attacks in Iraq or Afghanistan - there has also been endless soul-searching about the nature of the enemy. Noticeably this has emerged from within Pakistani society - commentators, politicians as well as ordinary people. Religious leaders have also spoken out against what is happening. Two groups of clerics have issued fatwas or religious orders against what now totals for than 100 suicide bombings since July 2007. they have killed around 1,200 people.

Peshawar sits on the very edge of the tribal areas. In the mid-80s Osama bin Laden had moved his family here from Saudi Arabia and developed his reputation as a patron of humanitarian and Arab causes and a supporter of the jihad. Today, for all its modernity and amenities, there is still a hint of the city's position as a frontier town.

The crenellated sandstone walls of a British-built fort now serve as the headquarters of the Frontier Corps. Meanwhile it along the historic trade route leading from Peshawar through the Khyber Pass and on to Kabul, that 85 per cent of the fuel used by Western forces in Afghanistan is transported. Last month the crossing point on this road into Afghanistan was temporarily closed by the Pakistani authorities because of what they said was poor security.

On a recent evening, the soft golden light of South Asia is slipping away as the faithful arrive to pray at the city's Sunehri mosque. In a large, airy upstairs classroom, the imam, Khan Mohammed Saeed, sits overseeing a group of young boys, hard at their study. The imam is no liberal; his view that Pakistan should be run according to Islamic law would alarm many both inside the country and abroad.

But asked about the militants located just miles from where he sat, he does not hesitate. "There are people in the tribal areas and the NWFP who have come to do bomb blasts and destroy our religion," he says. "Our religion does not give us permission to do these things?In none of our teachings or texts or what our learned scholars have taught, is there any permission to do these things."



Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistan president, widely known as "Mr 10 Per Cent" over numerous corruption cases. He became leader of the main opposition party, the People's Party of Pakistan, after his wife, Benazir Bhutto, was assassinated last year, and became president following elections. Army chief of staff General Ashfaq Kayani says the army should remain out of politics but could yet change his mind.

Pakistani Taliban

The Taliban leaders in the wild and woolly tribal areas include former gym fanatic Baitullah Mehsud, wanted for the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Maulana Fazlullah, the leader in the picturesque Swat valley (which was formerly a tourist destination) has his own clandestine FM radio station. Faqir Mohammed, in Bajaur, leads a religious group that forcibly imposed Sharia in the tribal areas during the 1990s.


Al-Qa'ida's leader Osama bin Laden, and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, may be hiding in the border regions of Pakistan while senior Taliban leaders may be living in the Pakistani city of Quetta.

Tribal leader

Anwar Kamal, a former minister, was the first to rally his tribesmen and form a lashkar, or tribal militia, to beat back the Taliban more than a year ago. Mr Kamal's success in clearing the town of Lakki Marwat, adjoining the tribal areas, has recently been replicated elsewhere.

Faultlines of history

1947 Muslim Pakistan is created out of the partition of India at the end of British rule. More than half a million Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus are killed in riots and massacres following the largest mass migration in history.

1980 After Soviet forces intervene in Afghanistan, the US gives Pakistan military support as they join forces with Saudi Arabia to fund the Islamic mujahedin.

1998 The country explodes five nuclear devices.

1999 General Pervez Musharraf leads a military coup. After 9/11 Pakistan becomes a key US ally in the "war on terror". But as turmoil mounts he is forced to quit.

DECEMBER 28th 2008
The news is not good today.

Scenic Pakistani valley falls to Taliban militants

By NAHAL TOOSI, Associated Press Writer Nahal Toosi

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Taliban militants are beheading and burning their way through Pakistan's picturesque Swat Valley, and residents say the insurgents now control most of the mountainous region far from the lawless tribal areas where jihadists thrive.

The deteriorating situation in the former tourist haven comes despite an army offensive that began in 2007 and an attempted peace deal. It is especially worrisome to Pakistani officials because the valley lies outside the areas where al-Qaida and Taliban militants have traditionally operated and where the military is staging a separate offensive.

"You can't imagine how bad it is," said Muzaffar ul-Mulk, a federal lawmaker whose home in Swat was attacked by bomb-toting assailants in mid-December, weeks after he left. "It's worse day by day."

The Taliban activity in northwest Pakistan also comes as the country shifts forces east to the Indian border because of tensions over last month's terrorist attacks in Mumbai, potentially giving insurgents more space to maneuver along the Afghan frontier.

Militants began preying on Swat's lush mountain ranges about two years ago, and it is now too dangerous for foreign and Pakistani journalists to visit. Interviews with residents, lawmakers and officials who have fled the region paint a dire picture.

A suicide blast killed 40 people Sunday at a polling station in Buner, an area bordering Swat that had been relatively peaceful. The attack underscored fears that even so-called "settled" regions presumptively under government control are increasingly unsafe.

The 3,500-square-mile Swat Valley lies less than 100 miles from the capital, Islamabad.

A senior government official said he feared there could be a spillover effect if the government lost control of Swat and allowed the insurgency to infect other areas. Like nearly everyone interviewed, the official requested anonymity for fear of reprisal by militants.

Officials estimate that up to a third of Swat's 1.5 million people have left the area. Salah-ud-Din, who oversees relief efforts in Swat for the International Committee of the Red Cross, estimated that 80 percent of the valley is now under Taliban control.

Swat's militants are led by Maulana Fazlullah, a cleric who rose to prominence through radio broadcasts demanding the imposition of a harsh brand of Islamic law. His appeal tapped into widespread frustration with the area's inefficient judicial system.

Most of the insurgents are easy to spot with long hair, beards, rifles, camouflage vests and running shoes. They number at most 2,000, according to people who were interviewed.

In some places, just a handful of insurgents can control a village. They rule by fear: beheading government sympathizers, blowing up bridges and demanding women wear all-encompassing burqas.

They have also set up a parallel administration with courts, taxes, patrols and checkpoints, according to lawmakers and officials. And they are suspected of burning scores of girls' schools.

In mid-December, Taliban fighters killed a young member of a Sufi-influenced Muslim group who had tried to raise a militia against them. The militants later dug up Pir Samiullah's corpse and hung it for two days in a village square — partly to prove to his followers that he was not a superhuman saint, a security official said on condition of anonymity.

A lawmaker and the senior Swat government official said business and landowners had been told to give two-thirds of their income to the militants. Some local media reported last week that the militants have pronounced a ban on female education effective in mid-January.

Several people interviewed said the regional government made a mistake in May when it struck a peace deal with the militants. The agreement fell apart within two months but let the insurgents regroup.

The Swat insurgency also includes Afghan and other fighters from outside the valley, security officials said.

Any movement of Pakistani troops from the Swat Valley and tribal areas to the Indian border will concern the United States and other Western countries, which want Pakistan to focus on the al-Qaida threat near Afghanistan.

On Friday, Pakistani intelligence officials said thousands of troops were being shifted toward the border with India, which blames Pakistani militants for terrorist attacks in Mumbai last month that killed 164 people. But there has been no sign yet of a major buildup near India.

"The terrorists' aim in Mumbai was precisely this — to get the Pakistani army to withdraw from the western border and mount operations on the east," said Ahmed Rashid, a journalist and author who has written extensively about militancy in the region.

"The terrorists are not going to be sitting still. They are not going to be adhering to any sort of cease-fire while the army takes on the Indian threat. They are going to occupy the vacuum the army will create."

Residents and officials from the Swat Valley were critical of the army offensive there, saying troops appeared to be confined to their posts and often killed civilians when firing artillery at suspected militant targets.

The military has deployed some 100,000 troops through the northwest.

A government official familiar with security issues estimated that some 10,000 paramilitary and army troops had killed 300 to 400 militants in Swat since 2007, while about 130 troops were killed. Authorities have not released details of civilian casualties, and it was unclear if they were even being tallied.

The official, who insisted on anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity, disputed assertions that militants had overrun the valley, but said a spotty supply line was hampering operations. He said the army had to man some Swat police stations because the police force there had been decimated by desertions and militant killings.

A Swat militant boasted that "we are doing our activities wherever we want, and the army is confined to their living places."

"They cannot move independently like us," said the man, who was reached over the phone and gave his name as Muzaffarul Haq. He claimed the Swat militants had no al-Qaida or foreign connections, but that they supported all groups that shared the goal of imposing Islamic law.

"With the grace of Allah, there is no dearth of funds, weapons or rations," he said. "Our women are providing cooked food for those who are struggling in Allah's path. Our children are getting prepared for jihad."


Associated Press writers Zarar Khan in Islamabad and Riaz Khan in Peshawar contributed to this report.

DECEMBER 31 2008
Some better news

Pakistani helicopters attack militants in Khyber

By Ibrahim Shinwari  -  Reuters

JAMRUD, Pakistan (Reuters) – Pakistani army helicopters attacked militants along the Khyber Pass on Wednesday while tanks rumbled in to secure the vital supply link for Western forces in land-locked Afghanistan.

Authorities suspended the shipment of supplies up to the Afghan border on Tuesday, to clear the way for the military to launch an offensive aimed at ending surging militant attacks on the route.

"Two helicopter gunships pounded militant hideouts while troops moved with tanks to secure the area," said Jehangir Khan Afridi, an administration official in the Khyber region.

The Khyber Pass runs between the northwestern city of Peshawar and the border town of Torkham and is a vital supply line for more than 65,000 Western troops battling the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.

The U.S. military sends 75 percent of supplies for the Afghan war through or over Pakistan, including 40 percent of the fuel for its troops, the U.S. Defense Department says.

A second overland route is through the town of Chaman to the southwest leading to the Afghan city of Kandahar, and is likely to become more important as the United States begins moving up to 30,000 new troops into Afghanistan next year.

Militants in Khyber have been trying to choke off supplies for months and have destroyed hundreds of trucks and killed several drivers.

Many truckers have stopped working on the road and supplies had been disrupted but not cut off until authorities sealed the route temporarily on Tuesday.

A spokesman for NATO's Afghan force welcomed the effort to make the route safer and played down the impact on military operations saying the force had stocks.

Nevertheless, the attacks have exposed the vulnerability of the route and forced the alliance to look for alternatives, including through Central Asia into northern Afghanistan.

Pakistani authorities have not said how long the pass will be sealed, only saying they are determined to clear out the militants.


Intelligence officials said on Tuesday troops had faced pockets of militant resistance and Afridi said two important militant hideouts had been destroyed.

But officials and residents said on Wednesday most insurgents had apparently fled the Khyber region to neighboring areas.

"There has been no fire from the militants. They must have fled to remote areas or to Mohmand," said resident Irfan Afridi, referring to a neighboring region where security forces have also been fighting Pakistani Taliban insurgents.

Militants melted away in June when security forces launched a similar sweep in Khyber.

A pro-Taliban ethnic Pashtun tribal elder surrendered to authorities, promising his tribe would support security.

"We're loyal to Pakistan and the government. We will not fight security forces, offer resistance nor give shelter to militants or criminals," the tribal leader, Attaullah Khan, told Reuters.

The offensive has coincided with growing tension with old rival India after the late November militant attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai that India blamed on Pakistan-based militants.

The Pakistani military has moved some troops off its western border with Afghanistan in response to the tension.

(Writing by Augustine Anthony; Editing by Robert Birsel and Sugita Katyal)

FEBRUARY 18th 2009

Peace is the aim, we all agree, but at what price? When is compromise appeasement, and whose business is it anyway?
Time to re-read this file fom the top?

Pakistanis rally for peace in militant stronghold

By SHERIN ZADA, Associated Press Writer 

MINGORA, Pakistan – A hardline cleric led hundreds of supporters in a peace march in Pakistan's Swat Valley on Wednesday aimed at convincing Taliban militants to lay down their weapons under a pact with the government.

NATO and Britain raised concerns about the deal, which imposes Islamic law and suspends a military offensive in the one-time tourist haven that is now largely under militant control. NATO, which has 55,000 troops across the border in Afghanistan, warned the deal risked giving extremists a "safe haven."

But the U.S. reacted cautiously, with the State Department saying it was still trying to understand Pakistan's strategy.

The regional government in Pakistan's northwest struck the deal Monday with Sufi Muhammad, an aging pro-Taliban cleric who is father-in-law to Swat Taliban leader Maulana Fazlullah. Muhammad agreed to talk to Fazlullah in return for the pledge to introduce Islamic law in the valley, where militants have routed the police, beheaded political opponents and burned scores of schools for girls.

Muhammad and his supporters, carrying black and white flags representing the Taliban and peace, marched through Swat's main city of Mingora as jubilant residents chanted "God is great! We want peace!"

Fighting between security forces and militants has killed hundreds of people in Swat over the past year, while up to a third of the valley's 1.5 million people have fled. While many Swat residents are desperate for calm, critics warned the deal could embolden militants.

The truce "is certainly reason for concern," NATO spokesman James Appathurai said Tuesday in Brussels. "We should all be concerned by a situation in which extremists would have a safe haven."

A statement from the British High Commission in Islamabad noted, "Previous peace deals have not provided a comprehensive and long-term solution to Swat's problems."

"We need to be confident that they will end violence — not create space for further violence," it said.

Pakistani officials insist the deal is not a concession, but rather that it addresses the long-standing demands of residents in Swat and surrounding areas for a more efficient justice system.

The main changes involve already existing regulations that were never enforced, for instance, allowing religious scholars to advise judges, officials said. There are no publicized plans to ban girls from schooling, as hardline Taliban would want.

"We will not introduce the Taliban system here," Bashir Bilour, a senior provincial government leader, said Wednesday. "This is a system about justice. It is for producing swift justice."

Federal Information Minister Sherry Rehman has said President Asif Ali Zardari would not sign off on the agreement "until peace is restored in the region." The Swat Taliban, meanwhile, have said they will stop fighting once Islamic law is in place and are already observing a cease-fire.

When pressed by reporters at the State Department on Tuesday spokesman Gordon Duguid said the U.S. was seeking a "fuller explanation" from Pakistan.

"As I understand it, Islamic law is within the constitutional framework of Pakistan," he added. "So I don't know that that is particularly an issue for anyone outside of Pakistan to discuss."

Pakistan's longtime rival India, still angry over the November attacks in Mumbai that it blamed on Pakistani militants, reacted to the Swat deal Tuesday by describing the Taliban as terrorists.

"Taliban believes in nothing but destruction and violence," Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee told reporters Tuesday. "In my assessment, Taliban is a danger to humanity and civilization."

The muted U.S. response was a sign of an Obama administration wary about weakening an already fragile Pakistani government that Washington needs to help fight Islamic militants using Pakistan to stage attacks on U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan.

Muhammad was detained in 2002 after he sent thousands of volunteers to fight the U.S. in Afghanistan, but Pakistan freed him last year after he agreed to renounce violence. It is unclear how much influence he has over Fazlullah or exactly where and when they would meet.

"We will soon open dialogue with the Taliban. We will ask them to lay down their weapons. We are hopeful that they will not let us down," Muhammad told reporters Tuesday.

A similar deal in Swat last year collapsed in a few months and was blamed for giving insurgents time to regroup.

Some 2,000 militants are believed to operate in the valley and in defiance of some 10,000 paramilitary and army troops have already set up their own courts, meting out punishments in line with an exceptionally harsh brand of Islamic law.

MARCH 3rd 2009
The security situation is Pakistan is catastrophic. A week or two back senior security men in the region that includes Lahore were sacked and replaced with new but inexperienced officers. What this has to do with what happened yesterday is not yet clear. What is clear is that fanatics similar to the group that attacked in Mumbai (or Bombay as most Indians call it) attacked the Sri Lankan Cricket team on their way to the stadium. The team were lucky as their driver trod on the gas and made it to the stadium. Their police escort was massacred. The bus with the referee and umpires fared badly with the driver killed, some badly wounded. No police backup arrived till the gunmen were long gone and none have been found, only a large arms cache they left behind. I have no need to add to the comments below.

Lahore: A city in shock

Residents of Lahore voice their fears for the future as their city reels from the attack on Sri Lanka's cricket team.


My first reaction to yesterday's attack was one of complete shock. I knew there was a political protest and I assumed that it had escalated into violence.

I could never have imagined that someone would attack the Sri Lankan cricket team.

We went out last night and although people seemed to be going about their business as usual, there was fear in the air. Whenever a car would slow down I found myself looking at the people inside, watching out for guns coming out of the windows.

People are becoming paranoid. No-one understands why this is happening.

The media coverage has highlighted the antagonism between Pakistan and India, with both countries saying the other is to blame for the attack.

Who would want to tarnish Pakistan's image to such an extent?

The world was already critical of Pakistan. There's no question in my mind that no-one will come here anymore. There'll be no tourists, investors or sportsmen.

I was worried before, I am even more worried now. I am an independent woman: I wear what I want and I go where I want.

But with such extremist elements in our society, I fear our future is not a good one.


Our city is still recovering from the state of absolute shock after this horrible incident.

I hope the injured cricketers are fine. I want to thank them for coming and send my wishes for their well-being to them and their families.

We regret this attack, but we are not responsible and I think there should be more sympathy for Pakistan.

Cricket in Pakistan has been damaged and it will take some time to recover

I don't know who the attackers are, but one thing is certain: they've damaged something everybody in this country loves.

Those people are not just enemies of cricket, they are enemies of civility.

People in the UK are crazy about football, we are crazy about cricket. Cricket is like a religion here and people are very emotional about this.

Cricket's popularity at grassroot levels won't die for another 200 years. But international cricket in Pakistan has been damaged and it will take some time to recover.

Other cricketing nations in the region, Australia, Sri Lanka and India, should support Pakistan in this.


There is shock and disappointment everywhere in Lahore.

This is hurting every citizen of this country. Sport delivers the message of peace and friendship.

But enemies don't want Pakistan to enjoy peace and friends. They want it to be isolated from the rest of the world.

Whoever these people are, we never thought they would come to this.

People in Lahore, unlike other cities, like Karachi, are not used to witnessing such attacks. It's only in the past two years that terrorist attacks started happening here too.

Life has changed for the people of Lahore. There is a strong sense of insecurity now. We have to be careful when we go out shopping or go to see a film. People with small children are particularly worried when they take their kids to school.

This attack could have been prevented. The security was pathetic. Our policemen died and none of the attackers were killed or captured.

We have a strong and brave army. How come they can't protect us?

This government has done nothing and our country is becoming a failed state.

We are in complete shock. Sport is about peace. Sportsmen are the ambassadors from another country and since ancient times it's been considered that harming them is a cowardly act.

I don't know who these people are. I can't imagine who would want to inflict such a damage to Pakistan's image abroad.

We love sport and we praise Sri Lankan sportsmen for coming to Pakistan. What happened is tragic because Sri Lanka is the only country from our region still willing to send their team to Pakistan. Australia and India both cancelled their cricket teams' visits last year.

Not only do I not see any future for cricket in Pakistan - I don't think there's a future for any sport in our country. Who will want to come after this?

Business is also going to be badly affected. We need development in so many areas, infrastructure. I am afraid that nobody will want to do business with Pakistan anymore.

MARCH 12th 2009
Major problems are now coming to together and threatening Pakistan with a real crisis in government. Some of the legal establishment is in opposition to the government, and the Taliban are terrorising a whole new area of the country into submission by wholesale murder of women who do not wear the clothing they demand and abandon their independence and education.

New generations of suicide bombers are being trained from childhood by intensive brainwashing that leaves them as zombies incapable of critical thought. Watch this programme
Pakistani journalist Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy reveals how the war on terror is creating a generation of child terrorists in her homeland

MARCH 15th 2009
A compromise has been reached on the re-instatement of the Chief Justice sacked by Musharraf. That seems to have calmed down the public unrest recently drummed up on this issue. A good thing too. Pakistan has enough real problems without that on every front, economic, social, religious, military and just plain insurgency by those with no other way to vent their frustration or fanaticism.

MARCH 30th 2009
A sad day indeed, with innocent casualties. But it has to come to this if violent, intransigent elements remain implacably opposed to the institution of a modern state, a democratic dialogue, the emancipation of women and an attempt at a peaceful and sustainable future.

12 die in bloody siege at Pakistan police academy

Control was regained by the end of the afternoon with much celebration but sadness for the dead and injured.

MAY 5th 2009
'A dog's breakfast' was how Jeremy Paxman described the situation today in Pakistan and the Pakistani High Commissioner in London agreed. That is not to say the Pakistani government had not done its best to govern properly. It was right, using the democratic process, to seek a compromise with the Taliban to bring peace to the troubled disctrict of Swat. But the policy has failed for a number of reasons, al Qaida being a main one. There is no choice left now for Pakistan other than for its military commanders to get their act together with the elected government and make it clear there is only one government and one rule of law. The Taleban must give way to the march of history and allow the country to join the world where the minimum human rights are part of a citizen's birthright. Some will call it civil wat no doubt, but there is no real democratic support for the fanatical fundamentalists - they base their political hold on terror, the promise of life on their terms, or death by murder without a hearing of the unarmed and defenceless who disagree with them.

MAY 6th 2009
The moment of truth has arrived.

Pakistan military ordered to eliminate militants: PM

ISLAMABAD (AFP) – Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani announced Thursday that the military had been ordered to eliminate militants and "terrorists," appealing to the nation to stand against extremists.

He addressed the nation after attack helicopters and war planes pounded suspected Taliban hideouts in the deadliest fighting in the northwest district of Swat since a peace agreement was reached in February.

"In order to restore honour and dignity of our homeland, and to protect people, the armed forces have been called to eliminate the militants and terrorists," the prime minister said.

Gilani said militant efforts to disrupt peace and security had reached such a stage that the government believed "decisive steps" had to be taken.

Thousands of civilians streamed out of the Taliban stronghold and former tourist resort on foot or crammed into cars in the face of the onslaught, as the Red Cross warned that the humanitarian crisis was escalating.

"I appeal to the international community that they should help Pakistan look after the internally displaced persons at this point of time and also cooperate with us to enhance the capability of our law-enforcing institutions," Gilani said.

"I urge the people to unite to ensure the sovereignty and integrity of the country," added Gilani, wearing traditional Pakistani dress in a departure from the Western suits he frequently favours.

"The government has decided that they will not bow before the extremists and terrorists, but would rather force them to lay down arms," he said.

"The time has come when the entire nation should side with the government and the armed forces against those who want to make the entire country hostage and darken our future at gunpoint," the prime minister added.

OCTOBER 10th 2009
RAWALPINDI, Pakistan – Heavily armed militants were holding up to 15 soldiers hostage inside Pakistan's army headquarters Sunday, more than 16 hours after they stormed the complex in an audacious assault on the heart of the most powerful institution in this nuclear-armed country.

OCTOBER 11th 2009
Pakistani commandos mounted a successful assault to rescue the hostages but 3 were killed along with 17 militants.

OCTOBER 15th 2009
40 killed as militants ambush Pakistani police

OCTOBER 18th 2009
Further attacks and suicide bombings were launched by militant insurgents throughout Pakistan over the last 2 days. These are considered as a pre-emptive strike to counter a major offensive being prepared by the Pakistan Army; however, they have served only to rally public support for a serious attempt to break the hold of the Taliban and al Qaida. The gloves are now off and the fighting will be tough and deadly for both sides. The major problem will be, as in Afghanistan, the difficulty of holding and securing, with a policed civil administration, the areas where the militants have been defeated. More than 20,000 civilians have fled the areas of fighting in South Waziristan, and 100,000 in all aeas in the last few days. It is a truly terrible period for the region and there is no way I can see of avoiding a long and bloody struggle.

NOVEMBER 29th 2009
Gordon Brown has told Pakistan to make more effort to capture bin Laden, and a US Senate committee has concluded US forces had bin Laden in their grasp years ago but let him escape.

My opinion: The US did not want to catch Bin Laden at that moment. They wanted him to be a queen bee attracting key collaborators and traceable communications to money, arma and explosives. Unfortunately he outwitted them. Now, it is much harder to get him as he has years of experience and people on his payroll with nothing to gain and all to lose. Brown may not appreciate the danger and pain in the task he wants Pakistan to pursue even more vigorously. They are going to need help. Or bin Laden may be dying anyway, or dead.

The news from Pakistan is not good. Their supreme court has voided the amnesties that allowed the election to take place, so all the alleged corruption cases involving many members of the current government are now to be reopened. This is occurring at the same time it has become apparent that relations with US forces and aid workers and the Pakistani people are not good. It seems US operatives do not have the diplomatic touch, and Pakistani bureaucrats are doing more than bombers to frustrate both military and civil progress where Americans are involved, even in the transfer of dollars to Pakistan to pay for its anti-terror operation expenses. US diplomats are being harrassed.

The country is divided, and the gloves are off domestically. Elections only resolve matters when a population accepts the result and authority is only challengeable by legal means that cannot re-instate the status quo ante or whatever it is called, or new electoral process.

We shall see now what will happen. I was optimistic that with Obama in the White House, trust by a clear majority of the Pakistani people would be restored. Now it looks more complex. My optimism for the region is on hold.

JULY 24th 2010
Back in the 'old routine'?

From The Independent

A general tightens his grip on power in Pakistan

World Focus: General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani

By Omar Waraich

Saturday, 24 July 2010 

General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani now has another three years in his post

As was once said of Prussia, Pakistan is not so much a country with an army but an army with a country. That fact was made clear when Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani announced that the army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, has been given an extension for another three years.

JULY 31st 2010
We have reached a moment where something is going to give. Pakistan is suffering. They are in the front line of a terrorist movement that cannot be said to be of their own making, even if they are vulnerable to the disease. David Cameron has accused the Pakistan security services of looking both ways, and he could well be right, but anyone who has the imagination to transplant their minds into Pakistani society at the various levels and historically generated situations that now constitute that country cannot fail to appreciate the complexity and intensity of the pressures that bear on individuals and organisations caught in this overheated environment.

Those who are looking both ways are in many cases just trying to stay alive. In the Pakistani Army, they have taken terrible casualties in the fight against al Qaida and the Taliban. In this fight, families can find themselves opposed. Religious and political ideas and traditions, loyalties and property ownership which for some are keys to their identity can tear at the heart of their motivation. Fear and desire and exhaustion can vie for supremacy in the mind of those caught up in the tide of humanity that seeks day after day, week after week, to obtain a foothold in a shifting world. In the security service, there are people who like others have families, wives and children. In a world where terorist organisations have formed and modern technology gives power to those with no morl constraint, many people find they are made offers they cannot refuse.

As I write, England and Pakistan are playing Test Cricket at Trent Bridge - a great match to watch, taking place in an excellent sporting atmosphere. The Pakistan players have at times been quite wrongly accused by Geoff Boycott of not playing at Test level, and of joking after dropping a catch, only completely dumbfound him not long afterwards with superb bowling and fielding. Their morale is high and the outcome of this match and series is far from predictable. But even as this excellent sporting contest ensues the political tensions are rising as Pakistan security officials cancel a visit to London in protest at Cameron's remarks, made in the heart of the Indian establishment, complaining that Pakistan was 'exporting terror'.

I have no doubt that there is a serious problem in Pakistan in realising a coherent, unified stance on how to approach the management of real problems that Taliban and al Qaida can fasten on and, through funding that comes by circuitous means from western users of oil, recruit and fund terrorism. To take hold of the situation while retaining all the trappings of democracy that are the luxury of western countries is next to impossible. I have no doubt that straight talking is needed when facing these problems. But criticising Pakistan publicly, in India, does not seem to me to be the right way to behave.  Pakistan is suffering terribly.

They have just lost an Airbus-full on an approach to Islamabad that went wrong. If that plane had been full of Americans we would be hearing about it every day for the next decade but it seems there were only 2 on board.

And now this:

AUGUST 3rd 2010
The most serious remark so far from the President of Pakistan, now coming on a visit to London, is not that we are losing the war against the Taliban but (not reported in the report linked here) that the battle for hearts and minds in Pakistan has already been lost. This makes very little sense. many, even most Pakistanis may be disillusioned and furious with the US and its allies for fighting the war in a way that has brought too much terror and destruction to the region instead, so far, of eliminating or even reducing it, even if in Afghanistan there is progress at this time. But to say that the Taliban has won the hearts of Pakistanis or Afghans in anything near a majority is clearly a mile away from reality. That could never happen.

AUGUST 6th 2010
There has been much criticism of the President of Pakistan for coming to London, totally unjustified, typically from Yasmin Alibhai Brown who spouts rubbish daily as usual. The rest of the panel on BBC's Any Questions agreed with her. There is not the slightest good he could be doing back in Pakistan, while on the other hand his international tour is important. Some are complaining that he is not here on an official state visit. How stupid is that!?! A state visit is the last thing required. A visit for serious talks with Cameron, and with others he has seen on his way here, was exactly what was needed. Pakistan needs a lot of international support, its President should be making himself known, now is exactly the moment to be doing it.

Daily we have to listen to clueless remarks from BBC presenters who ask such questions as "Why do you think help has not reached so many people in the flooded area" (that gem from Martha Kearney a day or two ago). Can we send these people back to school to learn about mathematics, geometry, water, numbers, methods of transport, time and distance calculations? No need for calculus, keep it simple. Who does she suppose should have arrived where and how and with what? Those who are in the middle of this catastrophe should see that their problems are one of the reasons why others trying to reach them have similar ones as they get to the region, quite apart from anything else. The same nonsense was trotted out in New Orleans on day one when a lone commentator flown in with the resources of the BBC wondered why he was not surrounded by soldier and ambulances and nurses, when all the communications were down, the hospitals inaccessible and admittedly hopeless arrangements made in advance and Bush in charge.

I would like everyone to understand there is NO WAY aid can be got to more than a fraction of these people. If an area like that were to be similarly flooded in the middle of Europe it would be impossible to get aid to more than a fraction. Indeed we might find it even more difficult because so many sources of aid would be flooded. In the case of Pakistan the sources of aid may not be flooded but are remote, while those in need of aid are spread throughout an immense area and unreachable by normal means. All they can do is try not to drown and await for drops of food and drinking water to the extent that their needs can be known and matched, and then wait for the floods to drain.

AUGUST 24th 2010
We have had to listen for days of commentators blaming the troubles for the flooded areas in Pakistan on a lack of money and generosity by the international community. For some reason they seem to think money is a help in these circumstances. Not really, beyond a certain amount so that those able to provide food, water and above all the means to fly,drive or boat it in. The number of aerial and other craft available cannot be expanded instantly just because funds are available. I doubt very much if a shortage of funds is the reason why aid has not reached all those who aere in need. One brave Pakistani who thought his home and property was totally lost was of the opinion that he and many others would be much better off if they had drowned than surviving without any means of self-support. However, iof he does survive he may find that a spirit of rebuilding may provide this if there is a way to engage the survivors and see that they are fed.

Meanwhile in South Africa a hospital cleaner is defiantly on strike because her wages are not enough to bring up a family of 10. I can't imagine how they could be.

AUGUST 31st 2010
Some realism has finally crept into the reporting of these events and the real, instandtand growing difficulties faced by the victims and also by those bringing assistance. The most important thing to understand is that it is the behaviour of all on the spot that is the key to survival.

At least they will have things to bother about slightly more pressing than the test-match, though some good may come out of the exposure of the betting scam.

SEPTEMBER 18th 2010

An exiled Pakistani politician has been murdered outside his home in north London, leaders of his party have said.

Imran Farooq, a senior member of the MQM party who has been in London since 1999, was attacked in Green Lane, Edgware, on Thursday evening.

The MQM Party is seen by its supporters as the hope for stability, by its opponents as fascistic. How often is such a situation repeated throughout human history. In the case of Pakistan, stability has been achieved rarely and briefly without military intervention. The cross-currents formed by conflicts of history, ethnicity, religion, legalism, tribalism and attempts at representative democracy have been enough to keep the pot from boilimg over only when some mix of physical and religious fear has somehow combined with a workable modus vivendi to allow peaceful coexistence to emerge as the lesser evil. It might have been thought that the terrible flood disaster could have united the country more than divide it, but the violent and fanatic have sought only to turn it to their advantage and the military, while heroic in their efforts to combat both nature and extremists, are stretched beyond the limit. It is hard to know what Britain, the EU, NATO, the US or the UN can do separately or together to bring more aid or further the means for Pakistanis to come together in common cause. The essentials of life: food, clothing, shelter and security have been drastically reduced, along with the means to restore them. At a time when only fellowship and the sharing of resources can bring relief, the instincts of competition are not exactly helpful to the cause of national survival. Assassinating those with leadership qualities is not helpful when only if such leaders come together in coalition is there a possibility of progress.

OCTOBER 4th 2010

Pakistan has stopped Nato convoys crossing the Khyber Pass in response to a Nato air strike last week in which three Pakistani soldiers were killed.

Nato said on Monday it regretted the deaths.

Unfortunately the Taliban have taken advantage of this. I am afraid we are about to go through an even more testing time in Pakistan and Afghanistan this month. Al Qaida and the Taliban are going to pile on the pressure there and globally.

OCTOBER 5th 2010
More air strikes:
That one seems to have got the intended targets.

OCTOBER 30th 2010
There are two ways of looking at this problem:

Pakistan's 'forgotten' flood victims three months on

Either in astonishment that so much aid has been delivered or in frustration that there are some for whom there has so far been little or none. I have not been able to do the math on this one and I doubt if anyone else has either, but how could it be possible to ensure that all who deserve and need assistance get it in a situation where the very infrastructure of communication and subsistence has been so widely destroyed? If money alone could solve such problems we could indeed print it without fear or damage. It can't, and that is why printing it can bring more poverty unless it represents available human and natural resources.

JANUARY 4th 2011
A senseless and tragic killing of a brave man. Sadly it is a symptom of a very wide malaise, not an isolated exceptional incident.

The influential governor of Pakistan's Punjab province, Salman Taseer, has died after being shot by one of his bodyguards in the capital, Islamabad.

JANUARY 18th 2011

Strong earthquake hits south-west Pakistan

MAY 22nd 2011

We can expect this spring/summer to be the peak of Taliban/al Qaida attacks in Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

JANUARY 13th 2012

I have refrained from all comment in this file on Pakistan concerning the Bin Laden business. The man is dead now and it is time to move on. But Pakistan is in crisis and at this stage in the past there would be a military coup. Now, however, we are in a different pickle and the military will not want to be landed with the responsibility. If the current President is to resign or be removed it can only be by an alliance of the military with the legislature and with some attempt at an interim government leading to a new election. We can only watch and wait.