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Bloody swath

By Arnaud de Borchgrave, UPI Editor at Large   |   July 3, 2014 at 9:29 AM   |   Comments

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From Pakistan on the Arabian Sea to landlocked Afghanistan to Iraq at the heart of the Middle East, to Syria and Gaza on the Mediterranean, the Muslim world is ablaze, fanned by the flames of religious extremism.

Arguably the most dangerous is Pakistan, keeper of Islam's only nuclear arsenal. And the country's powerful military -- that has ruled Pakistan for half its existence as an independent state -- is deeply concerned about its Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif (known by all as Nawaz as Sharif is as common as Smith).

Nawaz, known as the Great Appeaser, has been trying to bring about a coalition with Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), still bloodier than its Afghan counterpart, with almost 53,000 civilians killed (thus far).

Nawaz is yet to criticize TTP. Army commanders have long believed that the Prime Minister secretly sympathized with TTP. And when Taliban executed 23 captured Pakistani soldiers, Pakistan's generals decided to ignore Nawaz and conduct a no-holds-barred campaign against TTP.

This de facto army takeover enjoys widespread support among the people, as well as a wide array of political forces and much of the media.

Two of Pakistan's top generals were in Washington recently to reassure their U.S. counterparts on the army's determination to bring TTP to heel.

For many of Pakistan's moderate forces, Nawaz is an extremist in democrat's clothing who can destroy any civilian standing in his way. When the former head of Pakistan's Taliban, Betullah Mehsud -- killed in 2009 in a U.S. drone attack -- took credit for the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz kept suspiciously silent.

Almost 90 TV channels are operating since controls were lifted but Pakistan doesn't score better than 151st out of 196 countries. "Hidden persuaders" -- government advertising -- keep reprobates on the straight and narrow.

Every TV channel is blaming Nawaz for attempting to sabotage the military operation now underway in North Waziristan against TTP by focusing attention on domestic crises.

The military campaign is expected to last another month and is continuing through the holy month of Ramadan. The army is going through the region house by house, including underground shelters.

Regional expert Ammar Turabi reports that, "People keep asking when they will be rescued from what some are calling a 'Dynastic Democracy'? Pakistanis, by and large, see no real independence from 67 years dynastic rule, half under military government half under civilian autocrats posing as democrats, and more helpful to Pakistan's enemies than to its people."
Now, adds Turabi, "Most Pakistanis are in the mood again to welcome the army back to rescue their country from the injustices of yet another false democracy."

Bonding between the U.S. and the Pakistani military is reemerging stronger than before. Pakistani generals are convinced that the U.S. departure from Afghanistan at year's end will strengthen the Washington-Islamabad link.

Others are not as sanguine. Americans, as will doubtless be confirmed in the next election cycle, are fed up as they have seldom been, with foreign aid commitments.

The latest Iraq crisis is the like the proverbial Uncle Remus' tar baby. President Obama, as much as he would like to avoid a return engagement in Iraq, is slowly being dragged back as the alternative is the terrifying nightmare of the world's 2nd largest oil producer falling into the hands of Islamist extremists.

Meanwhile, a full-scale war is underway again in Pakistan and will continue, says Pakistani Army commander Raheel Sharif, "till terror is destroyed completely."

Gen. Sharif calls it "Zarb-e-Azb," or a "Great Jihad" against Taliban "militants and insurgents that will continue with full force until Pakistan becomes 'land of the pure,' just like its true meaning."

Perhaps more importantly, more than 500,000 'internally displaced people (IDPs)' are being registered by the army thus far. The number of refugees coming from FATA, especially from North Waziristan, is increasing daily.

War is now once again spreading in all directions. The army, with the help of U.N. agencies, are administering polio and other vaccinations.

The Pakistan Army is becoming once again the de facto government. Prime Minister Nawaz is no longer a factor between the army and Taliban.

This time, the army is determined to crush Taliban completely. "Eradication and extermination wherever we find them," is how a general described the campaign "not for attribution."

Nawaz can no longer give Taliban the benefit of the doubt, as he used to do. The army has seldom enjoyed, as is now the case, the seemingly total support of the civilian population.

But before the army takes over the reins of the civilian government again, they want to see an exhausted Nawaz "reduced to impotence", as one high-ranking army source said privately.

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