- The Washington Times - Monday, September 17, 2007

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Some 80,000 Pakistani soldiers manning the nonexistent border between the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Afghanistan have stood down, but no one knows who gave the order or whether they are even taking orders.

Taliban and al Qaeda terror training camps are up and running again with the acquiescence — or impotence — of the Pakistani army. That’s the word by satellite phone from this reporter’s sources in Miranshah and Wana, the capital towns of North and South Waziristan.

Pakistani troops, these sources said, were fed up with the mission and humiliated by the capture of 264 troops who surrendered without a fight. Surprised by a roughly 100-strong Taliban guerrilla unit as they listened to radio news about the political crisis in Islamabad, they were later released with a reported pledge “not to fight on the side of the American crusaders against Islam.”

The scuttlebutt among Pakistani troopers is that President Bush through his “puppet” President Pervez Musharraf ordered their mission in FATA. The two Waziristans are almost entirely Taliban-occupied Pakistan. The central government’s “political agents” have vanished.

It is now abundantly clear that Mr. Musharraf’s deal with tribal elders a year ago to rein in Taliban and al Qaeda elements and prevent them from crossing into Afghanistan was a camouflaged surrender to the terrorists. Taliban chiefs have controlled the Waziristans ever since.

Last Aug. 9, Waziristan’s tribal leaders declined to travel to Kabul for a peace jirga with the Afghan and Pakistani presidents unless they could come with Taliban chiefs. While Afghanistan Hamid Karzai has extended an olive branch to “moderate” Taliban representatives, he wasn’t ready to mix it up with anyone. The jirga, which Mr. Musharraf attended on its last day, adopted resolutions that were promptly ignored.

Bajaur — one of the seven tribal agencies, led by Faqir Muhammad, who calls Osama bin Laden and Talian leader Mullah Omar “heroes of the Muslim world” — is adjacent to Afghanistan’s Kunar Province, where Taliban guerrillas conduct some of the heaviest fighting. Throughout FATA, Taliban has an estimated 40,000 guerrillas, who use the tribal agencies for rest and training.

Pakistan, one of the world’s eight nuclear powers, is in the throes of a national upheaval that dwarfs both Iraq and Afghanistan as threats to regional peace and stability. Almost half the country approves of bin Laden and his terrorist al Qaeda. Mr. Bush and Mr. Musharraf vie in the single digits.

With presidential and parliamentary elections looming this fall, Nawaz Sharif, the president Mr. Musharraf toppled in a bloodless army coup in 1999 and then exiled to Saudi Arabia, was cleared to return home by the Supreme Court. He flew back on Pakistani Airlines from London to begin campaigning only to be arrested on Mr. Musharraf’s orders. Security troops ringed Islamabad’s airport as police clashed with thousands of Sharif supporters trying to welcome him. Mr. Sharif was served with a warrant on corruption charges and four hours later was deported again to Saudi Arabia.

The other powerful political leader in exile since 1997 was twice prime minister and twice deposed Benazir Bhutto, arguably the country’s most popular figure after Dr. A.Q. Khan, the father of Pakistan’s nukes and clandestine purveyor of nuclear weapons of mass destruction (WMD) technology to North Korea, Iran and Libya (whose leader, Col. Moammar Gadhafi, changed his mind and surrendered everything to British and U.S. intelligence agencies in return for the lifting of all diplomatic and economic sanctions). Mrs. Bhutto, who lives in Dubai and also has a London residence, has been negotiating with Mr. Musharraf the modalities of her return to campaign for her Pakistan People’s Party.

But Mrs. Bhutto insists Mr. Musharraf must take off his uniform as Pakistan’s constitution precludes the army chief and the president holding both jobs. Mr. Musharraf, says Mrs. Bhutto, must campaign as a civilian. Vote-counting skullduggery by the Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) would automatically ensure the unpopular Mr. Musharraf’s re-election as a civilian. Mrs. Bhutto would then campaign in a subsequent parliamentary election and assuming her party won a plurality, Mr. Musharraf would ask her to form a government. Mr. Musharraf and Mrs. Bhutto met in Abu Dhabi July 27 but the agreement remains to be sealed.

London and Washington believe a Musharraf-Bhutto alliance will produce a broad-based secular government that might stem Pakistan’s rising tide of Islamic extremism. But Mr. Musharraf feels it may all fall apart with countrywide chaos if he steps down as military chief. Pakistan has spent half its 60 years as an independent country under military rule. And leaders of the politico-religious coalition of six extremist religious parties — Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) — that governs two of Pakistan’s four provinces are muttering darkly about the “collusion of two dictators.”

MMA campaigns openly in FATAland on the Afghan border. Tribal chiefs keep out other political parties. And MMA’s “strategic adviser” is Hamid Gul, a former ISI chief, friend of Taliban leader Mullah Omar and admirer of bin Laden. He laid the groundwork for creation of Taliban in the early 1990s with radical students from Pakistan’s madrassas, one-discipline Koranic schools that have resisted reform despite $11 billion in U.S. aid since September 11, 2001.

ISI is urging Mr. Musharraf to impose martial law. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, in Islamabad last week, strongly advised Mr. Musharraf to bring back Mrs. Bhutto as soon as possible as a safety valve against mobocracy. Mr. Musharraf may well take both options and call it “judicial martial law.” Mrs. Bhutto announced she was coming home Oct. 18 — with or without a deal.

Last March, Mr. Musharraf summoned Chief Justice Iftikar Chaudry and before four other generals, including the heads of ISI and Military Intelligence, ordered him to resign. Justice Chaudry refused and was confined to house arrest — which triggered nationwide demonstrations against Mr. Musharraf, who then backed down. Mr. Chaudry, as well as Mrs. Bhutto, made clear Mr. Musharraf has to doff his uniform if he wants to continue in politics.

Pakistan is the world’s most dangerous crisis. The stakes are who controls Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal — religious fanatics (including some in uniform), middle-of-the-road democrats, or the military under more of the same.

An ominous omen on Ramadan’s first Friday of prayer: a suicide bomber killed 15 Pakistani commandos, wounding 37, only 50 miles from Islamabad. It was a unit trained with U.S. aid to battle against terrorists in FATA. On Sept. 4, another kamikaze killed 25 in Rawalpindi, the capital’s twin city and military garrison. Several intelligence officers were among the victims.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.

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