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    Volume 9 Issue 3 | January 15, 2010|

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Still no Light
There is still no light at the end of Pakistan's long tunnel

Bunn Nagara

Asif Ali Zardari

In Pakistan the new year began with a suicide car bombing that killed nearly 100 people on Friday. The bomber had detonated 300kg of explosives in the suburbs of Lakki Marwat city. Twenty houses in Shah Hasan Khel village collapsed, as the vehicle exploded during a volleyball match organised by the local peace committee.

Hours later, two boys' schools in Bajaur district near the border were blown up. Girls' schools are routinely worse off, since Taliban militants reject education for women and girls. On Sunday, a roadside bomb in Bajaur killed two anti-Taliban local leaders and critically wounded four others. Hours after that, another roadside bomb killed a former minister and three others in nearby Hangu district.

Militants have killed nearly 700 people over the past seven months, ever since a government anti-Taliban offensive in South Waziristan. The current wave of militant attacks is considered a retaliatory response.

The United Nations wants to relocate a third of its Pakistan-based staff abroad, beginning with moving 20% out of the country. A Taliban bomb attack in October had already killed five staff, with the situation deteriorating almost by the day.

The volatile border region includes Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province as well as south-eastern Afghanistan. It has become difficult to distinguish between the two countries tactically in this volatile area, particularly since Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters move at will from one territory to the other.

Al-Qaeda leaders like Osama bin Laden have in recent years moved from Afghanistan to Pakistan. Meanwhile Afghan Taliban leaders like Mullah Omar are known to hold sway over the Pakistan Taliban, as both groups move closer to each other in chosen means and desired ends. Last Wednesday a militant attack in this volatile part of Afghanistan killed seven CIA agents and injured six others. The Pakistan Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack on Camp Chapman in Khost Province.

It was the deadliest blow ever suffered by the CIA in either country, with twice as many agents killed on that day than had perished in Afghanistan since 2001. The bomber was a CIA informant and was not searched when he was invited into the base.

Pakistan's Taliban identified him as an army officer and CIA spy, whom they had “turned” into a militant after he volunteered for the suicide bombing. The US covert presence in “AfPak” may have reached a turning point of sorts when it is no longer possible to distinguish between friend and foe.

In response, US forces can only continue with sporadic special forces strikes and robotic drone aircraft targeting suspected militant hideouts. In the process more civilians are killed, raising the ante as well as the ire of locals against US intervention.

This week, five US nationals who were arrested last month as terrorist suspects appeared in court in Sargodha, eastern Pakistan. In mitigation, they said they were not planning on creating any problem in Pakistan, but were only on their way to Afghanistan to “help out.”

Nonetheless, Pakistan officials had information that the five had established contact with the Pakistan Taliban, and were on their way to meet the leaders. Pakistan's nuclear sites are said to be among their intended targets. The police believe that the five had linked up with militants and were planning to conduct terrorist attacks. However, complicating the situation further is the Pakistan military's perceived hand in cultivating the Taliban to influence Afghanistan, in turn developing an Afghan buffer against India over issues like Kashmir.

Beyond the murkiness, three things are clear: political violence is deteriorating, foreign fighters are involved, and Pakistan and the United States are at the centre of the brewing storm. No less than President Barack Obama had proclaimed that US forces reserved the right to attack or invade Pakistan because of the militants there. That created waves of anxiety and dismay in Pakistan, not least because it would violate international law.

But if unilateral military action is permissible at all, any country finding itself in a similar situation would be entitled to act similarly. Besides, Obama is said to support equal rights based on moral equivalence. Since militants also originate from US territory, might Pakistan's leaders now claim the right to act unilaterally on US soil?



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