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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Why Pakistan's military is gun shy By Syed Saleem Shahzad

According to reports, Islamabad has assured Indian leaders and international leaders such as British Prime Minister Gordon Brown that it is ready to take all steps demanded by the world community to avoid a war.

All the same, actions speak louder than words and the prevailing opinion in Western capitals and in New Delhi is that Pakistan will not undertake any real crackdown on militants.

This view is reinforced by the contradictory statements of Pakistani officials. On December 7, Pakistani authorities issued a statement that Azhar, the founder of the Jaish-e-Mohammad, had been placed under house arrested at his Bahawalpur residence in Punjab. But on December 17, first the Pakistan envoy to New Delhi and then Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi stunned everybody by saying that Azhar was at large and not in Pakistan.

In this situation, the only peaceful place in Pakistan is Punjab, the largest province and the seat of government. But this peace can only be ensured through central Punjabi jihadi leaders like Hafiz Muhammad Saeed of the LET and southern Punjabi jihadi leader Azhar. Azhar has influence in the jihadi networks in Punjab and he convinced jihadis, after a wave of suicide attacks in Lahore, Rawalpindi and Islamabad, to go to Afghanistan and spare Punjab.

The highly demoralized Pakistan army has failed in the tribal areas and in the Swat Valley it has had to solicit peace accords. Opening up a new front in Punjab, which includes the port city of Karachi - the financial lifeline of the country - would be a disaster.

This explains the military's resistance to the government push to go full out against militancy, a move that would also compromise NATO's lifeline to Afghanistan.


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