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Commentary: Pakistan inferno

By ARNAUD DE BORCHGRAVE, UPI Editor at Large   |   Jan. 14, 2013 at 7:37 AM
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WASHINGTON, Jan. 14 (UPI) -- While U.S. President Barack Obama and Afghan President Karzai reached a rough understanding this past weekend on how to wind down the longest war in U.S. history, now in its 12th year, the Afghans have been fighting continuously since the Soviet Union invaded their country in 1979. But the latest agreement didn't include the key ingredient -- Pakistan.

And without Pakistan, no peaceful settlement is possible. But even with Pakistan, reeling from sectarian strife that has taken some 32,000 lives this past year, an Afghan settlement would appear a bridge too far.

Karachi, a port city of 21 million, "is a violent urban jungle with an assortment of lowlifes keeping the population hostage to their bastardly instincts," columnist Ejaz Haider wrote last week in Pakistan's The Express Tribune.

Haider's description of the gigantic port city: "There are the scions of Baloch and Sindhi sardars ... who move around in SUVs with guards brandishing weapons...with a rural-medieval mindset."

Then there are, adds Haider, "crooked politicians, their guards, political storm troopers, criminal gangs, ranging from thieves to land grabbers to extortionists and murderers to hired guns; cops on the take; a government split along ethnic lines; anyone who can rent a gun and settle a score."

And at the center of all of this, "Taliban terrorists and sectarian killers and you have, dear non-Karachi-ite reader, what is Karachi."

Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, is the counterpart of Afghanistan's Taliban. With a major difference: the Pakistani Taliban recruited among the low-life and its ranks now include criminal gangs, including felons and murderers.

TTP specializes in urban terrorism where the army is loath to intervene after driving terrorists from the countryside to inner cities where law enforcement lacks counter-terrorism skills -- and funds.

When reading about TTP's criminal and terrorist clout in major cities, it is tempting to conclude this is just one more foreign crisis that doesn't concern us. But Pakistan is a nuclear power.

And not to be dismissed are opportunities for secret alliances between terrorists and younger anti-U.S. army officers on duty in underground nuclear weapons sites. Many officers believe the deluge of anti-U.S. disinformation in the Pakistani media.

Some of the Pakistani officers who were banned from traveling in the United States throughout the 1990s as retaliation for the country's secret nuclear weapons program (designed to match India's) are now one-, two- or three-star generals.

With the TTP's stepped up terrorist operations, safe and secure elections in Pakistan are pure fantasy.

On Dec. 22, a suicide bomber killed Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Minister Bashir Ahmad Bilour, a much-respected political figure, while he was attending a pre-election meeting. Bilour had survived three previous attempts to kill him. His crime: Raising his voice against TTP.

TTP accepted responsibility "in the name of war against secular elements in our political life."

Bilour was a national figure and his Pakistan Peoples Party observed a national day of mourning across the country. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government shut down for three days.

TTP's first prominent target was Benazir Bhutto, killed five years ago. Now influential moderate voices are warned they are on TTP's hit list. And TTP also announced it planned to go international, especially against the United States.

Pakistan's TTP terrorists, like the Afghan Taliban, have bases in the mountain tribal areas on the Afghan border and so far they appear to have escaped the U.S. drone attack strategy. They recently sent a message to the Pakistan army command about a "unilateral cease-fire in order to focus on the U.S. enemy in Afghanistan."

Afghan peace talks cannot be conducted in isolation from a rapidly deteriorating Pakistan security situation.

TTP terrorists are executing a "devastation of Pakistan" strategy, targeting army general headquarters in Rawalpindi, the Mehran naval air station outside Karachi (where they destroyed half a dozen jet aircraft in May 2011); airports; factories; public places, including Christian, Shiite and Sunni places of worship.

Even polio vaccination places are targeted, which forced the government to stop its anti-polio campaign.

The Taliban, reported one UPI correspondent who asked that his name be withheld for his protection, have their network of sympathizers in every walk of life. Many political and religious parties are reluctant to criticize them in public.

A number of media organs don't report attacks by TTP. TTP moles are believed to be embedded in security agencies.

Denials notwithstanding, the Pakistani army is also protecting the "good Taliban" and crushing the "bad Taliban."

There are no easy solutions. Political will, and security wherewithal, are missing.

A recent TTP video said, "The government will have to quit its alliance with the U.S. that will then have to abandon its war in Afghanistan that will then have to rewrite the country's constitution according to Shariah law -- and apologize for the war they launched against us."

A mouthful -- but the message and the ultimate objective are clear.

Pakistan's nightmare scenario is an election victory for the immensely popular Dr. A.Q. Khan, the notorious nuclear black marketer, who stole nuclear bomb manufacturing secrets from the Netherlands for Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, and then sold them to Iran, North Korea and Libya.

On the same election ticket as Khan is fellow traveler Gen. Hamid Gul, a former head of Pakistani intelligence who was the first to launch the canard about 9/11 being the work of the CIA, Israel's Mossad, and the U.S. Air Force.

Gul is also an admirer of the Afghan Taliban chief Mullah Omar, in hiding since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan after 9/11. He met with Omar two weeks before 9/11.

This weekend 14 Pak soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb, a Sunni attack on Shiite Muslims killed 86 in Quetta (Baluchistan) and a "Million Man March" led by an anti-TTP cleric who spent the last six years in Canada, left Lahore for Islamabad -- with 2,000 volunteers.

Forgoing is a guide for the coming week's political upheaval in Pakistan.

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