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No More Double Games in Pakistan

New America Media, Commentary, Hamid Mir Posted: Jun 22, 2009

ISLAMABAD -- Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari is spending most of his time trying to win the support of international leaders in his war against terrorism. His summit with EU President Vaclav Klaus of the Czech Republic and his visit to NATOs headquarters in Brussels on Thursday were a major effort to convince the international community that Pakistan is serious about defeating terrorism. Those leaders may have affirmed their support publicly, but many of them are still cautious.

Zardari is losing support quickly not only from his own people but also from members of parliament. A federal minister walked out of the National Assembly on Friday over the long power breakdowns in Karachi. Two other federal ministers belonging to another ally party, the JUI-F, are openly opposing Pakistans military offensive in the Swat Valley in South Wazirastan, which the majority of the Pakistani public supported. The offensive displaced about 3.5 million people. Its been five weeks since that attack was launched, and even though the operation has not been completed, President Zardari has ordered another operation against Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud in South Wazirastan. While the majority of the people would support any action against the Taliban leader, the Zardari government does not have a strategic plan to defeat the Taliban in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.

The Zardari administration did not communicate with Pakistans parliament before launching military operations in Swat and South Wazirastan. The main opposition party in the National Assembly, Nawaz Sharifs PML-N, initially supported the Swat Valley offensive, but it now seems to have serious reservations about the armys strategy.

Claims in the media by Taliban leader Qari Zainuddin Mehsud have created many questions and panic in the diplomatic circles of Islamabad. In recent interviews with Pakistani media on Thursday, Qari Zainuddin Mehsud and his deputy, Haji Turkistan, alleged that rival Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud was an American and Indian agent working against Islam. Qari Zainuddin Mehsud also accused his rival of killing Benazir Bhutto, and said the real Jihad is going on in Afghanistan, not in Pakistan.

Qari Zainuddin Mehsud claimed in an interview with the media that he had developed differences with Baitullah Mehsud after the death of Taliban commander Abdullah Mehsud. According to some sources close to Qari Zainuddin Mehsud, the Pakistani establishment wanted to kill Abdullah Mehsud after he was involved in the kidnapping of two Chinese engineers in 2005. The Pakistani security forces hired the services of Baitullah Mehsud in 2005 against the one-legged militant Abdullah Mehsud, who had spent 23 months in Guantanamo Bay.

Abdullah was finally killed on July 24, 2007. His close aides allege that Baitullah Mehsud helped security forces hunt down the one-legged Abdullah Mehsud. The Pakistan army claimed that Abdullah was killed after a long gun battle.

After the death of the Taliban commander, Qari Zainuddin Mehsud announced himself as Abdullahs successor. During that tense period, Baitullah Mehsud killed Qari Zainuddin Mehsuds father. Qari Zainuddin decided to avenge his murder.

Qari Zainuddin killed Baitullah Mehsuds younger brother on Oct. 27, 2008. In retaliation, Baitullah managed to kill a close aide of Qari Zainuddin, Muhammad Yousaf, two days later. More than 95 people have been killed on both sides in the last year.

Qari Zainuddin Mehsud has become an ally of the Pakistani security forces against Baitullah Mehsud. As a result, most powerful tribal elders are reluctant to cooperate with him. They want to know why, if former Taliban commander Abdullah Mehsud was killed by Pakistani security forces, the new leader is now cooperating with them.

The tribal elders see no difference between Baitullah and Zainuddin. They believe both are criminals. They fear that the Pakistani security forces are just playing the leaders against each other, and ultimately both of them will be killed. They also fear that if Baitullah is killed, he will be replaced by the more dangerous Qari Hussain, who is the head of his suicide squads. Many tribal elders of the Mehsud area have been contacted by the political administration of South Wazirastan to seek support for Qari Zainuddin. One tribal elder cleverly told an official of the administration, "Don't fool us. President Zardari is assuring cooperation with NATO and you are asking us to cooperate with someone who is openly fighting NATO in Afghanistan."

Some political allies of President Zardari are again suggesting holding direct talks with the Taliban, but Zardari wont listen.

Zardari should not ignore his parliament. If Baitullah Mehsud is really a double agent, Zardari should take him on with the help of parliament, not with the help of another double agent. He needs the approval and support of his own parliament to fight the Taliban. Pakistan can defeat terrorism through a bold and transparent military strategy that relies on the support of a broad-based political front. Double games will not work anymore.

Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir is best known as the only journalist to have interviewed Osama bin Laden, twice before and once after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

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