Emboldened militants set sights on Peshawar
PESHAWAR, June 24: The security situation in Peshawar is grim. Officials in the home department, who evaluate the situation on an almost daily basis, believe declaring a state of red alert is now only a matter of time.
With militants knocking at the gates of the capital of the NWFP, even the more circumspect government and police officials now grudgingly concede that Peshawar, too, could fall in a few months.
“Peshawar is in a state of siege and if Peshawar falls, the rest of the districts in the NWFP would fall like ninepins”, a worried senior government official told Dawn.
It would be a shame if Peshawar were to fall. It is not Swat. It is home to the headquarters of the 11th Corps, the paramilitary Frontier Corps, the Frontier Constabulary and the police.
Also, the optimists amongst us would like to believe that it would require an organised force to take over Peshawar. But the might of the militant groups operating around Peshawar from one to the other end is all too visible and alarming to ignore.
And if there were still any doubts left, that too have been washed away in recent days by the forays made into Peshawar by the ‘moral brigade’ of Mangal Bagh.
The kidnapping of Christians from one of the NWFP’s biggest teaching hospitals and the sighting of militants in the very heart of the military cantonment has made even the very laid-back sit up and take notice.
Police stations in rural Peshawar have long given up patrolling at night after a contingent was blown up by a rocket-propelled grenade and charred bodies of policemen were retrieved and buried without allowing their dear ones to see their faces for the last time.
So grim has the situation become that a committee that includes Chief Minister Hoti, Governor Owais and the Corps Commander Masood Aslam met on May 31 to discuss possible options for defending Peshawar.
The prime minister’s adviser on interior, Rehman A. Malik, landed in Peshawar on June 19 to discuss the situation. The two meetings, however, yielded no results.
The military, the paramilitary, the constabulary and the police are unable or unwilling to muster enough force to defend the city.
In some ways, this apparent apathy for Peshawar reflects the federal government’s lack of urgency to handle the situation in tribal regions and cope with a possible fallout of the peace agreements it is pursuing with tribal militants.
President Pervez Musharraf — whose dramatic volte face on the Taliban and alliance with the United States in 2001 largely contributed to the mess in the tribal region, has taken a back seat. The only person constitutionally mandated to
look after Fata, the president has since the Feb 18 elections more or less lost all interest in the borderlands.
Those who have worked with him closely on Fata say that except for occasional briefings, there have been no “brainstorming meetings’ on the subject with key players for months. The last such meeting took place before the general election, according to credible government officials, and they do not even remember the date!
The National Security Council — another of Musharraf’s controversial brainchild — met on Nov 8 last year to discuss, among other things, the situation in Fata.
The elected government, despite being in office for nearly three months now, has yet to find its feet.
Bogged down in the judicial crisis and grappling with economic woes, the coalition government seems to have lost sight of an issue that is exposing Pakistan’s sovereignty to great peril.
The parliament has yet to debate Pakistan’s participation in the “war on terror”, define its rules of engagement and, more important, prepare a comprehensive counter-insurgency strategy.
The initial calls for redefining the “war on terror” by the newly-elected political leadership have all evaporated into thin air. Fata, for all practical purposes, has gone to the back-burner.
In the absence of a national policy, the military appears to be in the process of reorienting its strategy. The bureaucracy, required to implement the state’s policy on the ground in Fata, remains as clueless as ever.
Little wonder then that administrators of the seven tribal regions and the regional coordination officers in their meeting with Mr Malik last week were unanimous in seeking policy directives.
Such is Pakistan’s tribal dilemma that Mr Rehman Malik, who, as the prime minister’s adviser, has nothing to do with Fata, has assumed its charge.
As a matter of fact, the interior ministry has no jurisdiction over Fata except for allocating funds to the Frontier Corps.
So in the given circumstances, it is the governor, the corps commander of Peshawar and sector commanders of security agencies, who are trying to give some direction to an otherwise directionless Fata policy.
The prevailing situation resembles that of a bus-load of drivers, with no one really at the steering l and the bus lurching from one side to the other.
What can be more ironical that those who are supposed to be in the driver’s seat are pretending to be passengers.
The June 11 bombing of an FC post on Mohmand borders with Afghanistan should have been a wake-up call. Sadly, this does not appear to be happening.
THE government came up with warnings on Tuesday of an army action to crush militancy in the vicinity of Peshawar.
The belated move came after the situation in the NWFP took an ominous turn over the past few days with the fall of Jandola, a town on the road to South Waziristan, to Baitullah Mehsud’s men, the relentless advance of Taliban-led militants towards Peshawar and the Swat scenario defying all fire-fighting attempts.
No less a person than Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the chief of JUI, saw it urgent to ring alarm bells, saying in a statement on Tuesday that the government must act to stop the Taliban march before it was too late.