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President Zardari, please convince General Kayani that Taliban are no longer our natural allies; get rid of ‘strategic depth’ syndrome…

Reining in the militants
Sunday, February 08, 2009

On his first visit to Peshawar since moving into the presidency, Asif Ali Zardari attended a series of detailed briefings at the Governor’s House and met with key provincial officials. At the end of these sessions, which naturally enough focused primarily on militancy, President Zardari declared that it was essential to defeat the militants and to continue an all-out operation against them. He also, quite correctly, noted that the militants comprise a number of groups rather than one homogenous unit – and include extremists, criminals and smugglers. The issue of internally displaced people was also reviewed during the meeting and policies to address their plight discussed.

What we do not know is whether other, more sensitive issues, which are crucial to the battle against the militants, were brought up at all during the meetings with the chief minister and other ANP leaders. The perception in many quarters in NWFP is that the military is not eager to defeat the Taliban, because it sees them as natural allies. The belief that these forces may regain control of Afghanistan strengthens this school of thinking. It is in this matter that we need intervention from Mr Zardari. The lack of will against militants is a very real problem. On the other hand, if the will and commitment is in place, then we need to see why there has been only limited success in combating them. Indeed, in Swat there has been no success at all while in Bajaur, Waziristan and the Khyber Agency the battle continues.

Mr Zardari, and indeed all others who hold prime spots of decision-making, must realize that the militant issue has to be made a key priority. There must be more frequent visits to Peshawar and other areas closer to the crisis by key figures from Islamabad. Recently, the NWFP government has expressed displeasure with the handling of the operation in Swat by the federal government. There is immense apprehension in NWFP about the Talibanization in the province and the fact that this seems now to be fanning out from tribal areas to the rest of the province. Many people have left homes across the province, unable to live under the harsh order imposed by the militants. There is a feeling now that the extremists are eager to capture all the territory they can and that they will not stop at just the tribal territories.

Our leaders must realize that this constitutes an immense threat. All those who can play a part must work closely together. This includes the military, the federal government and the provincial set-up. The series of detailed meetings held in Peshawar constitutes a good first step towards creating such cooperation. It must continue. (The News)

Zardari unveils hefty package for Fata uplift

PESHAWAR, Jan 7: President Asif Ali Zardari on Saturday announced a compensation package of Rs280 million for the heirs of those killed in Fata in attacks by militants.

A total of 610 people have been killed and over 1,000 injured in the area.

Addressing a grand tribal jirga comprising all seven tribal agencies and six frontier regions at the Governor’s House, the president said he was not oblivious to the problems facing the tribal people and was working from day one to mitigate their sufferings.

The president announced an immediate increase in the development outlay for Fata by Rs3 billion, raising it to Rs11 billion from Rs8 billion.

He also announced a twofold increase in the ADP-financed Fata uplift plan — from Rs8 billion to Rs16 billion.

He called upon the tribesmen to demonstrate patience and avoid getting involved in violent acts which will benefit opponents.

He thanked tribal representatives for reposing confidence in him by voting in his favor in the presidential elections and promised to honor all the pledges made by Benazir Bhutto.

The president said that the militants had misused “our soil to launch attacks on the institutions of our country.”

The president regretted that no serious effort was made during last 10 years to tackle militancy and there was a total lack of decision-making among policy-makers at that time.

He said a new thinking was taking shape in the US administration about Pakistan’s tribal regions.

“We will also tell them that problems in our region could be best settled through our own process. They need only assurances, which was lacking in the country for the last eight to ten years. We will assure them that the problems of militancy would be resolved.”

Mr Zardari said time had come to change world opinion about militancy in Fata and the NWFP.

The president referred to ‘Friends of Pakistan’ which “helped us in making clear our point of view to the world.”

He said that the international community had now started “appreciating our stance.”

NWFP Governor Owais Ghani said over 800 tribal elders, maliks and tribesmen had lost their lives in the “war against terror.”

He admitted that war against terror could not be won without tribes’ support.

Parliamentary leader of MNAs and Senators from Fata Haji Munir Aurakzai, called for immediate end to drone attacks.

Malik Waris Khan Afridi called for an early end to attacks in the tribal belt and called for a hefty package for deprived tribal areas.—APP (Dawn)


Presidential morale-boosting in Peshawar

President Asif Ali Zardari has followed the chief of the army staff (COAS), General Ashfaq Kayani, to the NWFP in what must be seen as a morale-boosting gesture to the military and civilian domains there. Addressing a gathering at the Governor’s House, President Zardari warned the extremists that they would not be allowed to impose their will by force. He said the NWFP was facing trained and well-organised militants, and that law enforcement agencies would be strengthened to control militancy. He said no one would be allowed to destabilise the government.

After two years of mayhem in Swat and the virtual siege of Peshawar by criminal gangs posing as Islamic revolutionaries, this was a good though belated voice to hear. What the army and the government are facing now is a popular level despair inculcated by two years of hoping in vain that the state would step in and save them from being brutalised by the local and foreign brigands who destroyed their way of life. Terror was used to intimidate those who thought they could assert their citizenship of a free and sovereign country and not obey the miscreants. In Peshawar, people walk the streets ready to surrender if accosted by terrorists.

Such is the force of official habit that Pakistan kept proudly asserting sovereignty on the western border while it was losing the NWFP to the terrorists within. The ruling ANP in Peshawar was not allowed to establish itself as the government in 2008 and took a beating from the terrorists as the rest of the country watched and was not even sure if the immolation of the ANP at the alter of political expediencies was wrong. Lack of effective action from the government and the army was compounded by what the people at large began to think of the situation.

Positing it as a “moral dilemma”, a recent opinion expressed in the national press stated: “In Pakistan, a large segment of the population is either ambivalent towards the jihadis, or supports their cause, if not their methods. The media is full of Taliban sympathisers. Even moderate politicians like Nawaz Sharif advocate negotiations instead of force”. Things have improved a little after the people of Swat could no longer keep quiet and began fearlessly talking to the media. Popular opinion, obsessed with Lal Masjid, the lawyers’ movement and the American drones, is now taking pause to worry about the way the NWFP is being vanquished by terror. The presidential visit, following on the heels of the army chief’s visit to the battlefront in Swat, will give some hope to those whose lives have been broken by violence. (Daily Times)