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Archive for March 5th, 2008

On Wednesday, Pakistani police detained 11 alleged Islamist militants, “including eight in connection with a suicide attack on a navy college that marked the latest in a wave of deadly bombings in Pakistan since the elections,” the Associated Press reported. Yesterday, two suicide bombers attacked the Pakistan Navy War College in Lahore, killing six and wounding 23. Pakistan’s Daily Times reported, “According to intelligence sources, a closed-circuit camera focused on NWC’s gate recorded the first suicide bombing in its entirety. They said the explosion caused the camera’s lens to break, due to which the second and third blasts were not recorded.” Capital City Police Officer Malik Muhammad Iqbal said the bombers targeted NWC’s back entrance, adding that the first bomber rushed in the back entrance and blew himself up as the gate was being opened for two officials. According to Dawn newspaper, the second bomber, riding a motorcycle, then entered the college premises and detonated his explosives in the parking lot. Dawn added, “The second blast was so powerful that three cars, two coaches, an ambulance and two buses caught fire.” The AP reported today that eight of those arrested in connection with the bomb blast were members of “outlawed” Sunni militant organizations, but provided few other details.
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Tuesday’s blast occurred as President Musharraf met with the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen to discuss the regional security situation and possible counterterrorism strategies. News outlets have recently reported that the U.S. is planning to send two dozen personnel to Pakistan this year to train elements of the Pakistani military in counterinsurgency warfare and intelligence gathering techniques. A U.S. embassy spokesperson said Mullen also had two meetings with Chief of Army Staff General Kayani.
An article in today’s NY Times discussed the continuing opposition to Musharraf, reporting, “Energized by their victory two weeks ago, members of the incoming Parliament are questioning with new vigor Mr. Musharraf’s continuation in office.” The news agency added, “The president may not be comfortable with what he sees coming. Even though the Pakistan People’s Party and its partners have said Mr. Musharraf’s removal is not their first concern, opposition to him remains the underlying theme of politics here.” Senator Raja Zafar ul-Haq, the chairman of the PML-N, told the Times, “That is why the country is not settled… There are indications the presidency is trying to create hitches between those forming the government.” So far, the election results for all but 10 National Assembly seats have been confirmed, and the PPP will officially lead the new government. Makhdoom Amin Fahim, the Vice-Chairman of the party and the PPP’s longest serving member of parliament, will most probably be appointed the country’s Prime Minister. The coalition agreement between the PPP, the PML-N, and the ANP is being established. The parties are currently working towards their pledge of restoring the judiciary, and have formed a legal committee to work out the details.
However, despite this progress, the presence of Musharraf in the government still presents a major obstacle for the parties in power. According to the Times, “Mr. Musharraf, much weakened since removing his uniform and since his political party sustained a resounding defeat at the polls, nevertheless retains one powerful weapon. Under controversial constitutional amendments, he has the power to dissolve Parliament and dismiss the government. He also has the right to appoint and remove the top officials of the armed forces.” Although a vote to impeach the president remains unlikely, it is said that Musharraf may resign if the chief justice is reinstated, “because that would reopen the question of his eligibility to be president and the legality of his suspension of the Constitution in November.” The same would occur if lawmakers vote to remove his powers to dissolve the Parliament – rather than accept a diminished role, Musharraf would step down. The question is – when? How long will this period of purgatory for the President last? [Image from Daily Times]

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booi2.jpgCHUP! had the opportunity to interview Ijaz ul-Haq, a prominent Pakistani politician who is a member of PML-Q and the former Federal Minister for Religious Affairs. He is also the son of General Zia ul-Haq, the former president and military leader of Pakistan from 1977 to 1988. Ijaz ul-Haq, who was elected in the 2002 parliamentary elections for the fourth time, recently lost the 2008 scheduled elections on February 18th. Although CHUP! is a neutral website and does not advocate any specific political party or stance, we thought Mr. ul-Haq’s views on the situation in Pakistan would be both significant and insightful. This is the site’s attempt to interview notable politicians who have made an impact on the political landscape in the country.

What sort of challenges or misconceptions have you had to address as Zia ul Haq’s son?

 

To be honest, I have faced a lot of challenges and misconceptions. The public had a lot of expectations from me being the son of General Zia, who was the architect of the Russian defeat in Afghanistan and the source of bringing an end to the Cold War. During this period, it not only liberated Afghanistan but was instrumental in the break-up of the Soviet Union as well. However, although I was democratically elected by getting the most number of votes in the entire Pakistani elections, I was put in jail four times during Benazir’s government. It has also been difficult to explain that I am a democrat and not a supporter of military rule. There have been some other misconceptions which have increased recently with the rise of suicide bombings and other issues today.

 

The Lal Masjid crisis seemed to be one of the major turning points in the last year for the Pakistani government. Looking back, do you think the situation was handled properly? What would you have done differently?

 

The Lal Masjid incident was a very serious issue. I believe that both sides mishandled the situation and the government took too much time before taking matters in their own hands. This delay let the situation build up to such an extent that at one time there were more than 2,500 militants in the madrassa who were fully armed and who had converted the mosque and madrassa into a fortress. Mind you, this was a madrassa for women and having 2,500 armed men inside the mosque and the madrassa compound was in no way Islamic. The delay in taking charge of the situation after the takeover of the children’s library, the hostage-taking of the Chinese citizens, and the abduction of Aunty Shamim led to the point where both sides were unable to compromise and come to an agreement of any sort. Instead of taking such extreme measures, the government should have laid a siege around the compound and try to flush them out slowly. Being in the heart of the capital, it became the center of attention for the media, who initially criticized and abused the government for not taking action but later put the entire blame on the government. The clerics of Lal Masjid were supported by some militant and terrorist groups and I have a feeling that they were also supported and backed up by some internal and external agencies. The people’s perceptions were extremely against the government and they labeled it a killer of the innocent and anti-Islamic. The Lal Masjid issue was definitely one of the factors that led to PML Q’s defeat.

 

Do you think a coalition government, made up of PML-N and PPP will be successful? Based on your experience in the recent government, what are some obstacles that this government faces? Do you think the current government should negotiate with the Pakistani Taliban, as news sources have suggested?

 

It is going to be very tough for the PPP and PML-N coalition to work. Nobody has managed to get the clear mandate or simple majority to form a government. Both parties have different agendas and Nawaz will definitely support the PPP for now to oust Musharraf and restore the judges. He will also support the constitutional amendments as long as he is able to remove the 58 2B and the National Security Council and then will probably pull his support. The PPP is playing its last innings as a national party as there is no leadership on the national level. Nawaz, on the other hand, is looking forward to run for the elections in a year or so to come back with a 2/3 majority. He will definitely be using the Punjab Government to build his support as well. On negotiating with the militants, the only solution is through dialogue, which includes the stick and carrot policy.

 

What were the reasons behind your loss in the recent elections – do you think this was because so much of the country was polarized against the Musharraf regime and this subsequently hurt the PML-Q? What were your opinions on the elections overall? Do you agree with assessments that they were conducted freely and fairly?

 

The elections were free and fair, however, the elections were held under the judiciary, which was against the government therefore working against the interest of all the government’s candidates. The other obstacles were the crises of gas, electricity, and flour during the peak of the elections. Of course, Wana, Waziristan, and Swat were the other negatives as well, which led to our defeat. The emotions towards being Anti-American and Anti-Musharraf were very high within the country.

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