May 14, 2007

Pakistan: A Border Shooting and Musharraf's Troubles

Source: Stratfor
May 14, 2007 21 36 GMT


A NATO soldier was killed and four were wounded May 14 after meeting with Pakistani and Afghan forces. NATO said "unknown assailants" opened fire on the soldiers. The Pakistani and Afghan governments have offered wildly different accounts of the attack. The incident spells more trouble for Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's ability to tame his government's relations with Afghanistan and to convince Washington he has what it takes to hold the Pakistani army together while a political crisis boils at home.


Service members of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) held a flag meeting with Pakistani and Afghan forces May 14 in the Kurram tribal agency on the Pakistani side of the Pakistani-Afghan border. After the meeting, which was called to stem a border clash between Pakistani troops and Afghans that started the previous day, "unknown assailants" ambushed the ISAF members near Teri Mangal as the convoy traveled back to the Afghan side of the border, leaving one NATO solider dead and four wounded, according to a NATO statement.

Three to four U.S. soldiers and three to four Pakistani soldiers also were injured, Pakistani military spokesman Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad said, though Pakistan's GEO TV reported that one U.S. soldier and one Pakistani soldier were killed. Another senior Pakistani security official said a man disguised as a Pakistani paramilitary soldier had opened fire on the troops.

The Afghan government offered a starkly different account, however. Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Zahir Azimi said that at the meeting, "A Pakistani officer rose up and fired at U.S. soldiers, resulting in the deaths of two soldiers and the wounding of two others."

Evidently, many different stories are circulating. But it appears that a group of jihadists fired at the NATO convoy after the meeting ended. A great deal of resentment is brewing among Pashtuns in the Kurram tribal agency, and it would be reasonable to assume that a NATO convoy would be vulnerable to an attack in the area, particularly after the killing of the Taliban's top military commander, Mullah Dadullah.

The attack and recent border clashes between Pakistani troops and Afghan troops follow an April 30 meeting between Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf and Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Ankara, Turkey, aimed at quelling hostilities between the two governments. Afghan-Pakistani relations have long been on the rocks because of Kabul's repeated allegations that Islamabad is dangerously undermining stability in the region by fueling the Taliban insurgency next door. Pakistani moves to build a security fence along the border have further inflamed tensions between Kabul and Islamabad, since the Afghan government views such an effort in an area that is essentially impossible to fence because of the terrain as a blatant attempt to seize Afghan territory.

Faced with a growing political imbroglio at home over the suspension of Pakistan's chief justice, Musharraf has decided to clear his plate a bit by making a concerted effort to improve relations with his Afghan neighbors. Though the two countries have deep-rooted Pashtun ties, Pakistan cannot afford to alienate the Afghan government too much for fear of losing influence in Kabul, contributing to the spread of Talibanization within Pakistan's own borders and giving longtime rival India an opportunity to cozy up to the Afghan government and team up against Islamabad.

Musharraf's meeting with Karzai did result in some notable improvements in the Afghan-Pakistani relationship, with both sides agreeing to share intelligence and quell the jihadist insurgency engulfing the region. The intelligence that led to the death of Dadullah might have been the Musharraf government's way of delivering on the promises it made to Karzai at that summit, though the Afghan government clearly is not ready to ease the pressure off the Pakistani leader any time soon.

By claiming that a Pakistani soldier simply stood up at the meeting and fired at U.S. soldiers, the Afghan government delivered a politically motivated message to Washington that Musharraf cannot be relied on to cooperate on the counterterrorism front, and that he cannot even control his own military. Though the NATO statement contradicted the Afghan story, the idea that Musharraf is gradually losing his grip on the Pakistani army could be gaining some ground in Washington.

The political crisis in Pakistan reached its tipping point May 12-13, when more than 42 demonstrators in the southern port city of Karachi were killed in clashes between pro-government and opposition protesters. The legal row over suspended Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry's dismissal has so emboldened Pakistan's civil society and political opposition parties that everywhere Chaudhry travels massive street demonstrations follow in a show of support against the Musharraf government.

The Pakistani government attempted to quell the demonstrations by playing up militant threats against Chaudhry, urging him to not travel by car and to keep a low profile, but Chaudhry saw through the political ploy and has continued to catalyze mass protests throughout the country. By instigating violent protests, Musharraf and his advisers likely were hoping the ensuing instability would pressure Chaudhry into toning down his campaign and bring calm to Pakistan. But this appears to be yet another miscalculation by Musharraf, as the opposition protesters have only became more emboldened following the deadly riots in Karachi.

Pakistan's generals are watching closely as Musharraf's support is rapidly eroded, and they are now seeing it in their best interest to distance themselves as much as possible from the president. It appears that even the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the media arm of the military, has been told to back away from Musharraf. Though the director-general of ISPR has recently operated as Musharraf's press secretary and has often come to the defense of the president, routine journalistic inquiries addressed to the ISPR are now being directed to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. In other words, the ISPR appears to have been issued a directive of some sort telling it not take a stand and to keep a safe distance from the political crisis.

The Karachi riots have backed Musharraf into a tighter corner, and if he wants to finagle his way out of this mess, he will have to make the appropriate concessions: reinstate the chief justice, stand down as army chief and strike a deal with the country's main opposition group, Pakistan People's Party Parliamentarians (PPP-P) that allows PPP-P leader and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto to save face for dealing with a president whose image has been severely tarnished.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and Musharraf has been left with little choice but to yield to the demands of his opponents -- or else risk being pressured by the army generals to step aside in the interest of safeguarding the authority of the military establishment. The Karachi riots have created a scenario in which the best Musharraf can hope for is to be able to play a role in the transition from military to civilian rule during the early 2008 general election and negotiate to stay on as a transitional president, a post that could provide him a safe exit from power. If he does not move soon to quell this political crisis, Washington could need to seriously consider what it can expect from a post-Musharraf regime in Islamabad.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

wASHINGTON HAS ALWAYS BEEN COMFORTABLE WITH DICTATORS and this Truth is always coming back to haunt the US rulers time and time again.They just DONOT learn.Now we in India fear the US need to have a similar DICTATOR in India. they already have one in Bangladesh. Infact US is more comfortable with china than Indian democracy.
The recent effort by Americans to keep its soldiers from Itube,Myspace etc. Its mainline papers blacking out of President Ahmedjnaid's letter to BUsh are some of the syumptoms of declining values of Democracy in US itself.A very worrying sign for people who love FREEDOM which stands highlighted by the statue of Liberty.