President General Pervez Musharraf is losing control of his country. The Sunday-morning grenade attack on a church along Diplomat Row is the latest telling example.
It’s one thing for Musharraf to announce to the international community, as he did months ago, that he was cracking down on terrorists. But the campaign has failed. It‘s impossible to effectively order a halt to such rampant violence after looking the other way for years. How can a government go from being complicit in such acts to rooting out the perpetrators?
It may well be that the clock is running out on Musharraf himself. If terrorists can strike in the heart of one of Pakistan’s most sensitive areas, anything is possible. Musharraf is finding himself caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. Since Pakistan joined the international coalition of the war against terrorism, Musharraf‘s authority has been challenged by jihadi groups that flourished in Pakistan during the past two decades with overt state patronization. The West is trying to force him to dismantle the jihadi regime and bring its intelligence agencies under control. But so far, it’s a task that has proved to be beyond the general‘s capacity to deliver.
On January 12, Musharraf announced a crackdown on extremist groups in a widely hailed televised address prompted by a standoff with India, which accused Islamabad of harboring terrorists who attacked the Indian parliament on December 13. Some 2,000 suspects were detained, with little effect.
Not a single person accused of the sectarian violence that has killed hundreds of people has been arrested. To the contrary, the government has set free two religious demagogues, Qazi Hussain Ahmed, chief of the right-wing party Jamaat-e-Islami, and Maulana Fazlur Rehman, chief of the pro-Taliban Jamiat-e-Ulmai Islam. Both of these leaders are believed by many to have spearheaded violent protest movements against the Musharraf government in the early days of the U.S. attack on Afghanistan. Both were booked on sedition charges.
Most of the 2,000 arrested were petty workers of jihadi outfits who had nothing to do with terrorism. Last week, the Interior Ministry announced a general amnesty for all but a dozen hard-liners in return for a pledge to stay out of extremist groups. ”This is how President Musharraf wants to curb the menace of extremism,“ one of my friends said. ”He wants to leave it up to the conscience of extremists to decide what the good is and what the evil is.“
All major jihadi groups belong to the Wahabi sect of Islam, which views other Muslim sects as having reneged on their faith — thus declaring them to be infidels. In Karachi alone, more than a dozen Shiites have been killed, most of them doctors. The Pakistan Medical Association has called for a countrywide strike this week to protest the killings. As I write this on Tuesday, three people were gunned down in Lahore, Pakistan’s second largest city.
”After all, making speeches, no matter how visionary, is far easier than producing tangible results,“ said one columnist about Musharraf‘s speech, which the international community hailed as ”bold and courageous.“
In Pakistan’s press circles, it is widely believed that the jihadi cadre that sprinted from Afghanistan after the Taliban collapsed is regrouping in Pakistan for a final showdown. Some informed sources claim that Osama bin Laden‘s terror network, al Qaeda, has taken sanctuary in Pakistan’s tribal belt bordering Afghanistan.
Sympathies with these radical groups run deep in the military, judiciary and civil bureaucracy. The country‘s powerful intelligence agency is under criticism for its shadowy role in recent developments, including the murder of The Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Pearl.
Ahmed Omar Sheikh, the main suspect in the Pearl case, had this interesting dialogue when he stood before a judge:
”What allegations are against the accused?“ the judge asked the investigative officer.
”He is involved in jihad,“ the police officer replied.
”But jihad is no crime. Contrary, it is part of the teachings of Islam,“ the judge said.
The international community must deal with this way of thinking before extremism can be curbed in Pakistan.
To many ordinary people, Sheikh is a hero of Islam and Musharraf is a puppet of the West who has betrayed the cause of jihad. Some recent intelligence reports have raised the security threat faced by the president and his family.
”There is no way one can conceive that the Musharraf government will tackle the extremist agenda of the Pakistani state,“ wrote Khalid Ahmed, a veteran journalist. ”The state must reach its terminal stage, like the state created by Mullah Omar.“