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Commentary: New dawn in Pakistan?

By ARNAUD DE BORCHGRAVE, UPI Editor at Large   |   Jan. 28, 2014 at 6:43 AM
WASHINGTON, Jan. 28 (UPI) -- Jihadi-sponsored terrorism is sowing chaos in Pakistan's provincial capitals, "eroding confidence in the government's ability to restore order and enforce the law," says the International Crisis Group.

ICG monitors Pakistan closely. 2013 was the deadliest year there on record.

Karachi, a lawless port city of 23 million, closed 2013 with 2,700 killed in targeted attacks. Almost 40 percent of businesses have fled the city to escape a growing wave of extortion rackets.

The provincial capitals of Peshawar, Quetta, Karachi and Lahore "are bases of operations and financing for a range of extremist groups and criminal gangs that exploit poor governance and failing public infrastructure to establish recruitment and patronage networks," says an ICG report.

And as urban population centers "explode, the competition over resources, including land and water, becomes increasingly violent."

Gen. Raheel Sharif, the new army commander, will be fighting an internal war against Taliban, in effect joining the ranks of previous military chiefs who have ruled Pakistan for half its 67 years as an independent nation.

As Sharif sees it, it was either this latest army move to restore a semblance of law and order or a nuclear power disappearing under the fanatical control of religious extremists.

Sharif has made clear to friends that his new politico-military policy is zero tolerance toward all manner of militancy.

The army once again is coming to the rescue against an incompetent, even hostile, government under Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whose intense dislike – some say hostility – for Americans dates to 1999 when his attempt to kill the army chief of staff Pervez Musharraf backfired and he wound up in exile in Saudi Arabia for the best part of the first decade of the 21st century.

Nawaz Sharif, whose sympathies are clearly with the Pakistani wing of Taliban, is about to be sidelined by the army, now under the command of Gen. Raheel Sharif (no relation). The new Pakistani four-star is known for his anti-Taliban views. He lost no time ordering the air force to bomb Taliban's bases in North Waziristan for its operations across the border in Afghanistan.

The army's new chief also made clear to Nawaz Sharif that his job as prime minister is restoring law and order as he is in charge of the civilian police. General Sharif's job is reducing and then eliminating the spreading Taliban menace, not just in the Afghan border areas, but throughout the country where they go under the banner of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan.

In his recent command, Rahell Sharif changed the army's focus to counterinsurgency operations against Taliban militants, a threat he described "as equal to India's."

Ammar Turabi, a Pakistani-American and long-time close observer of Pakistan's politico-military fauna, says "now that General Sharif is in total command of the world's fourth largest army, he has given top priority to clearing operations in North Waziristan."

This, in turn, is expected to trigger stepped up violence in Punjab (Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's home state and the country's second largest with 80 million of Pakistan's 200 million people). No one expects the prime minister to take drastic action against his TTP friends.

Nawaz Sharif's brother Shahbaz has been both chief minister of Punjab as well the provincial governor. It's a family business in covert alliance with TTP.

When it becomes clear again that the brothers, Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif, are ignoring Raheel Sharif's request for anti-TTP action, the army would be ordered into action against TTP in Punjab.

There are more terrorists and their TTP sponsors in Punjab than in any other part of Pakistan.

Turabi says the Pakistani government is fearful that army operations in North Waziristan, on the Afghan border, will trigger massive terrorist retaliation in Punjab with the two Sharif brothers sitting this one out.

Pakistani army intelligence sources say there are more terrorists and their militant backers in Punjab than in any other part of the country, including the northern tribal areas. This doesn't appear to faze Raheel Sharif.

What does puzzle the new army chief is why the United States, "presumably serious about negotiations," hasn't asked Pakistan to facilitate meetings between the United States and the Afghan Taliban "either inside Pakistan or in a (Persian) Gulf country."

"It is clear that President (Hamid) Karzai in Kabul in pursuing multiple routes and venues for negotiations and believes he has enhanced his credentials by diplomatically harassing the Obama administration," said one ranking Pakistani officer close to the new army commander.

Karzai, he added, is simply digging himself "a bigger grave."

Raheel Sharif seems anxious to move ahead on this negotiating track as swiftly as possible. He says it is still feasible to thwart any attempt by the Afghan Taliban insurgency to seize power after the United States completes the evacuation of its troops at the end of this year, leaving behind a residual force of 10,000 to strengthen and train the Afghan army.

For Raheel Sharif "mutual trust between the U.S. and the Pakistani army under his command is the need of the hour," as a ranking military official said privately this week.

The bottom line, as Raheel Sharif's immediate entourage sees it "is the urgent need for a strategic understanding with (Secretary of State) John Kerry and (Defense Secretary) Chuck Hagel, to keep Afghanistan out of Taliban control and Pakistan free of its own homegrown Taliban."

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Topics: Nawaz Sharif
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