News & Current Affairs

December 1, 2008

Pakistanis wary of Mumbai claims

Pakistanis wary of Mumbai claims

Pakistans rally in support of the army, following allegations from India over the Mumbai attacks

Some Pakistanis have rallied against claims of links to the Mumbai attackers

Indian media reports detailing Pakistani links to the audacious Mumbai attacks have been met with deep scepticism in Pakistan.

“Why do they always blame us?” said an airline worker in the port city of Karachi, from where some of the gunmen are alleged to have set off for Indian shores.

“Any time something happens in India, they say Pakistan is behind it, but they don’t come up with any proof.”

A boutique owner agreed. “Everybody’s out to get us,” he said as his customers expressed fear that Indian agents would retaliate by striking Karachi.

Such blanket dismissals fail to acknowledge Pakistan’s history of using Islamist militant groups to fight proxy wars against India in the disputed region of Kashmir.

One of these, Lashkar-i-Taiba, was blamed for the attack on India’s parliament in 2001 that brought the two countries to the brink of war.

However, it denied that, as well as any involvement in the Mumbai atrocities ,which lasted three days and left over 170 people dead and hundreds injured.

Indian ‘denial’

Whatever the case, Pakistanis say Indian accusations have become reflex actions that don’t take changing realities into account.

“It is interesting that Indian security agencies failed to detect such a massive operation during its planning stage, but wasted little time in fixing the blame on some Pakistani group,” wrote defence analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi in the local Daily Times newspaper.

“If they knew who was responsible, why could they not pre-empt it? India needs to face the reality of home-grown radicalism, and realize the futility of blaming Pakistan for its troubles.”

Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi

Foreign Minister Qureshi had hoped for a “warming” with India

Mr Rizvi expressed a widely held conviction here that India is in denial about its problems with indigenous Islamist groups that have surfaced in recent years – rooted, it’s believed, in state discrimination and communal violence against Muslims.

And, say Pakistanis, India has got it wrong before.

The fire-bombing of the Samjhauta Express train between New Delhi and Lahore in February 2007 was first blamed on Pakistan, but later linked to Hindu extremists supported by an Indian army colonel.

‘Brisk escalation’

At the official level, both the government and the military have also warned India against jumping to hasty conclusions, but otherwise their responses have differed.

Political leaders have gone out of their way to condemn the attacks and offer “unconditional support” in the investigation, promising to take action if any Pakistani link is established.

A conflict with India is the last thing they want after succeeding the military-led government of retired General Pervez Musharraf last year.

“I’m concerned because I could see forward movement, India warming up to Pakistan, constructive engagement,” said Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi at the weekend.

“Let us not fool ourselves, the situation is serious when people in India are calling this their 9/11,” adding that he hoped the “hiccup” in relations would be overcome soon.

Pakistan’s powerful security establishment, however, is more cynical.

Mumbai residents grieve near Nariman House, the scene of one of the battles with gunmen

As India grieves, Pakistan has offered “unconditional support”

Despite a peace process which began in 2004 it sees India as stalling on Kashmir, and it is convinced Delhi’s allegations are aimed at trying to discredit Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI).

“The Indians are taking the escalation level up at a very brisk pace,” a senior security official said on Saturday.

He too pledged co-operation but said if India began to mobilise troops, Pakistan would respond in kind, even if that meant pulling soldiers away from fighting Taleban and al-Qaeda militants on its border with Afghanistan.

The different attitudes towards India were publicly exposed when political leaders were forced to retract a promise to send the intelligence chief to Delhi.

While President Asif Zardari described this as a “miscommunication,” others blamed the government for failing to consult the military before making the unprecedented announcement.

Already the army’s been taken aback by overtures to India made by Mr Zardari.

Most recently the president offered no first-use of nuclear weapons, ignoring decades of established policy.

The apparently off-the-cuff remark in an interview with Indian media astonished Pakistanis as much as Indians.

It remains to be seen whether this rift will grow under mounting pressure from India and the US, which fears that souring relations between the two rivals will hinder its attempts to encourage regional co-operation against Islamist militancy in Afghanistan.

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September 3, 2008

Pakistan PM’s motorcade attacked

Pakistan PM’s motorcade attacked

Shots have been fired at the motorcade of Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, although it is not clear if he was in the convoy at the time.

Two bullets from an unidentified gunman hit the PM’s car as he was traveling from Islamabad airport into the city, his press secretary told.

But security officials say the car was on its way to collect Mr Gilani.

Mr Gilani’s government is grappling with a growing threat from militants in the country.

It is not clear who fired the shots but Islamist militants based in Pakistan’s border regions have threatened to kill various government ministers, and have carried out deadly suicide bombings against army and government targets.

The incident represents a major lapse in security. In December former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was killed at an election rally in Rawalpindi.

Shattered glass

“I can confirm the prime minister’s convoy was fired upon while returning from [Islamabad] airport,” his press secretary Zahid Bashir told.

Bullet marks

Two bullets struck the window of one of the front doors

“The prime minister was coming back from Lahore. The firing took place on the Islamabad highway. At this point, we believe the firing was from a small hill on the roadside.”

A statement issued by the prime minister’s office said: “Of the multiple sniper shots fired on the prime minister’s vehicle, two hit the window on the driver’s side.

“However, because of the robust and comprehensive security measures, the prime minister and all the members of his motorcade remained unharmed.”

Television pictures showed the shattered glass of the driver’s door.

Officials say another car in the convoy was also hit by several bullets. There are no reports of injuries.

However, there was confusion when the interior ministry gave a different account of the incident, saying that Mr Gilani was not in the car at the time of the attack.

The government information minister, Sherry Rehman, supported that account: “The convoy was going to receive the prime minister,” she told state TV. “Those who had designs, have failed.”

Mr Gilani had been in Lahore to canvass support for Asif Zardari, Ms Bhutto’s widower, ahead of presidential elections on Saturday.

Ms Bhutto had been favorite to win Pakistan’s general elections and become prime minister for a third time before she was killed on 27 December. The elections were subsequently postponed until February.

Her Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) emerged as the winners and formed a coalition with the PML-N party of another former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif. Mr Gilani, himself a senior PPP member, became prime minister

The coalition broke up amid political acrimony late last month.

Confident

One of the biggest challenges facing Mr Gilani’s government comes from Islamist militants who control large areas along the border with Afghanistan.

Prime Minister Gilani

Mr Gilani became prime minister after February’s elections

The army has been engaged in a major operation in recent weeks in the district of Bajaur which is estimated to have displaced up to 300,000 local people.

This week the government said the Bajaur operation would be suspended during the holy month of Ramadan.

Last year militants grew increasingly confident and carried out a series of attacks in Islamabad and Rawalpindi, the country’s main garrison town.

And last month a double suicide attack at a munitions factory in the town of Wah in Punjab province left nearly 70 people dead.

The loose alliance of militants that calls itself the Pakistan Taleban claimed responsibility for the Wah incident, the heaviest attack on a military installation by a militant group in the country’s history.

Mr Gilani’s PPP and Mr Sharif’s PML-N have spent much of their time since February arguing over issues such as the power of the presidency and the reinstatement of judges sacked by former President Pervez Musharraf.

During that time the economy has taken a further battering, with the Pakistani rupee falling to an all-time low, while food and fuel prices have risen sharply.

August 19, 2008

Musharraf foes set to hold talks

Musharraf foes set to hold talks

Coalition leaders Asif Ali Zardari (left) and Nawaz Sharif shake hands on 18 August at news of President Musharraf's resignation

The ruling parties must now fill the gap left by Pervez Musharraf

Leaders of Pakistan’s ruling coalition are to meet in Islamabad to discuss who will succeed their long-time opponent, former President Pervez Musharraf.

Mr Musharraf stepped down on Monday after nine years in power to avoid a move by the government to impeach him.

The coalition, led by the parties of the late Benazir Bhutto and ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, held a first, inconclusive round of talks on Monday.

Mr Musharraf was replaced automatically by caretaker President Muhammad Sumroo.

Mr Sumroo, speaker of the Senate and a political ally of Mr Musharraf, will lead the country until a new election is held by parliament.

It is unclear whether Mr Musharraf, who took power in a bloodless coup in 1999, will face prosecution now that he is out of power.

Mutual distrust

On Monday, Mr Sharif, who leads the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), met Asif Ali Zardari, leader of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) of Benazir Bhutto, and other coalition figures.

President Musharraf live on TV, 18th August

Mr Musharraf denied being an enemy of democracy

Sources say their talks focused on the nomination of the next president and the restoration of judges deposed by Mr Musharraf.

The PPP and PML-N distrust each other and have already said different things about Mr Musharraf’s future.

Mr Zardari’s party said it believed he might have immunity from prosecution.

But Mr Sharif’s party argues he should stand trial for, among other things, abrogating the constitution.

The parties are also likely to differ on whether to reinstate the judges and are thought to have differences of emphasis on how to tackle a violent Islamist insurgency on the Afghan border, our correspondent says.

There is relief in Pakistan that Mr Musharraf is gone but mounting impatience with the political parties that won February’s elections.

‘Going, Going, Gone!’

Pakistan’s newspapers on Tuesday celebrated the exit of former president.

Musharraf should be blamed for his own fall
Stan Rodrigues, Newark, US

The headline of The Daily Times was “Going, Going, Gone!”, next to a photo of Mr Musharraf, while The News led with “Mush Quits With His Tail Between His Legs”.

The country’s media also speculated about what he might do next, reporting that he wants to stay in Pakistan, but may soon travel abroad, with Saudi Arabia, the US, the UK and Turkey mentioned as possible destinations.

Mr Musharraf left his official residence in Islamabad for the last time after announcing his resignation in a televised address.

He inspected a last military guard of honour before leaving the palace in a black limousine.

Mehr, Lahore, Pakistan

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I would rather have been ruled by a democratic dictator than despotic democrats

After nine years in power, Pervez Musharraf had finally run out of options, the BBC’s Chris Morris reports from Islamabad.

Well known in the West for his support for the US after the 11 September 2001 attacks, he had grown increasingly unpopular at home.

With the government on the verge of impeaching him, the former soldier’s instinct was to fight on, our correspondent says, but in his lengthy address he said he was stepping down for the good of the nation.

It is a landmark moment in Pakistan, our correspondent adds: the former military ruler forced from office by civilian politicians and the army standing by and allowing it to happen.

Mrs Bhutto’s son and heir, Bilawal, said he hoped the country could move forward after Mr Musharraf’s departure.

“I see that the biggest hurdle in the way of democracy has been removed,” he said.

Mrs Bhutto was assassinated in Rawalpindi in December last year.

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