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Pakistan is being slowly Talibanised - Guardian, UK

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  • Zafar Khan
    Pakistan is being slowly Talibanised Musharraf has handed over the border regions to al-Qaida allies Isabel Hilton Wednesday December 11, 2002 The Guardian
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 11, 2002
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      Pakistan is being slowly Talibanised
      Musharraf has handed over the border regions to
      al-Qaida allies
      Isabel Hilton
      Wednesday December 11, 2002
      The Guardian


      Akram Khan Durrani is not a politician likely to loom
      large on the world stage. But in his own pond, Mr
      Durrani is a very large fish. And his pond -
      Pakistan's North West Frontier Province - has, since
      September 11, become a place of strategic interest. It
      is of more than passing concern, then, that when Mr
      Durrani was sworn in as the new chief minister of
      NWFP, he banned the sale of alcohol, put an end to all
      gambling and outlawed music in all public vehicles.
      No doubt Mr Durrani had sound reasons for these
      measures. Alcohol, after all, is banned in Pakistan,
      though it is a prohibition widely ignored. And if the
      ban on music carries echoes of the Taliban regime, Mr
      Durrani can argue that it was a safety measure. Music,
      he said, tends to cause accidents. But among his
      supporters, it was a promising start to honouring
      their party's promises: a ban on cable television and
      cinemas, and the enforcement of sharia law.

      Looked at one way, NWFP is a remote part of the world.
      Yet it is also a critical border region between
      Afghanistan and Pakistan, inhabited by people who call
      themselves Afghan (otherwise described as Pashtun) and
      once the southern extension of the Afghan kingdom.
      Whatever happens in NWFP impacts on Afghanistan and
      vice-versa. What Mr Durrani thinks and does is of keen
      interest not only in Islamabad but in Washington, too.

      The irony is that the US and its ally President
      Musharraf have helped bring this situation about. The
      religious parties came to power on the back of two
      factors: Pashtun anger at General Musharraf's support
      for the war in Afghanistan, and Musharraf's desire to
      hold on to power while honouring his promise to hold
      elections. Musharraf excluded Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz
      Sharif from the elections, the two secular leaders
      most likely to win. And in the NWFP and Baluchistan,
      secular parties that supported the war are regarded
      with suspicion by Islamabad because of the capital's
      fear of local nationalism. They, too, lost to
      religious militants. Power was handed to men whose
      sympathies for the Taliban and al-Qaida had never been
      in doubt, men who had sworn to throw the US out of

      Mr Musharraf presents himself as a moderate,
      pro-western figure who has taken a stand against
      militant Islamism in Pakistan. Was it political
      incompetence, then, that facilitated the unprecedented
      success of the religious parties? Perhaps.

      But some observers see an advantage for Mr Musharraf
      in the new situation. Before September 11, he was a
      military leader whom right-minded democracies kept at
      arm's length. A week later, he was a key ally in the
      war on terror. Had a secular party won the elections,
      Musharraf risked being challenged internally and
      marginalised internationally. Now he is confirmed as
      the man the US needs more than ever to hold back the
      tide of religious extremism in Pakistan.

      As the election results were announced, EU observers
      called the process "deeply flawed". But the US state
      department spokesman, Richard Boucher, called it "a
      credible representation of the full range of opinion
      in the country".

      Back in the NWFP, Munawwar Hasan, a leader of the
      winning religious alliance, the Muttahida
      Majlisi-Amal, was elaborating his own version of
      stability and moderation. "Taliban and al-Qaida
      members are our brothers," he said. "Whether it is
      Osama bin Laden or Mullah Omar, we will not hand over
      anybody to the US without any proof. Our government
      will rule according to the Quran and Sunnah and not
      with the whims of the US." Of the 442 al-Qaida
      suspects arrested by Pakistani authorities since last
      year, 380 were detained in the northwest border
      region. Now both NWFP and Baluchistan are ruled by men
      who regard US policy as "tyranny".

      None of this is reassuring to those organisations in
      the NWFP who do support moderation - the human rights
      organisations, the NGOs and the secular political
      parties. In the last couple of years civic groups, aid
      workers and development organisations have been
      targeted by religious groups in NWFP: several have
      been subjected to grenade attacks.

      In Baluchistan, the new chief minister, Jam Mir
      Mohammad Yousaf, has released Islamist radicals whom
      Musharraf detained earlier this year when he banned
      extremist groups. The arrests were applauded in the
      west as evidence of his determination to eliminate
      sectarian killings and terrorism.

      It is in this hostile terrain that the US continues to
      hunt for al-Qaida fugitives. The FBI has reportedly
      now formed its own force of retired army, paramilitary
      and police personnel to pursue al-Qaida, in an attempt
      to bypass Pakistan's new political powers. The war on
      terror, in north-west Pakistan at least, is going to
      be a long one.


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