Pakistan's antiterror strategy scrutinized
For the sixth time in a month, Pakistan fell victim to a devastating suicide attack on Saturday, heightening concerns about the stability of a pivotal front in the war on terrorism.Skip to next paragraph
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The surging violence, which has left nearly 45 dead in recent weeks, has raised new concerns about a counter- terrorism strategy dominated by the military, analysts say, and reinforces those who say that civilian government is a crucial but missing voice.
The military has traditionally been seen as the only bulwark against rising extremism. And even though it has reversed its policy, offering truce to militants instead of war, neither tactic has worked, according to critics and international observers. The longer General Pervez Musharraf remains at the helm of the state, critics say, his regime will continue to address the problem of militancy with unilateral decisions that may fan the fires of extremism rather than put them out.
"A civilian government would pursue a policy of power-sharing, coalition- building, alliances, and promote ownership in government," says Rasul Bakhsh Rais, a professor of political science at the Lahore University of Management Science. "If you have a genuine, open political system, you create competition against extremists. The extremists would be ostracized."
Since 9/11, when Pakistan became a key US ally in the war on terrorism, its counterterrorism policy has mostly been conceived and executed by Mr. Musharraf's military apparatus, with the political and financial backing of the White House.
The Musharraf government, many analysts note, has made a substantial effort to fight militants within its own borders and provide support for US operations in Afghanistan, a significant turnabout from its pre-9/11 stand of supporting Afghanistan's Taliban regime.
But after years of full-scale war against militants failed, leaving hundreds dead on both sides, Islamabad dramatically reversed its strategy five months ago. Amid raised eyebrows, it released weapons and militant prisoners who sympathize with the Taliban in the restive enclave of North Waziristan, extracting in return vows of peace. The truce was never debated before parliament, something that caused concern among members of the opposition parties.
Pakistan's military, then, as now, called it a novel political step for peace. "I think the deal is the right step that should have been taken," says Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Shaukut Sultan.
But a growing chorus of critics, including a steady stream of American officials, says that the deal has rendered North and South Waziristan the haven for Taliban and Al Qaeda militants that Afghanistan once was. Officials in Washington are concerned that the area, which shares a porous border with Afghanistan, is now home to several training camps that have boosted Al Qaeda's tactical capabilities, according to a report Feb. 18 in The New York Times.
On Friday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice became the highest ranking US official to express her concern.
"Frankly, there have been some problems and some disappointments with that plan," Ms. Rice told lawmakers in Washington on Friday, referring to the September truce.