Peshawar may fall to militants

Islamabad, June 25 (IANS) Even as Pakistan negotiates peace deals with militants operating along the border with Afghanistan, there is a very real danger of these elements taking over the North West Frontier Province capital of Peshawar, a media report said Wednesday.

With militants 'knocking at the gates' of Peshawar, 'even the more circumspect government and police officials now grudgingly concede that (it) could fall in a few months', Dawn newspaper said.

'Peshawar is in a state of siege and if Peshawar falls, the rest of the districts in the NWFP would fall like ninepins,' it quoted a government official as saying.

It's not that Peshawar lacks security forces. It is home to the headquarters of the Pakistan Army's 11th Corps, the paramilitary Frontier Corps, the Frontier Constabulary and the police.

Even so, 'the might of the militant groups operating around Peshawar from one to the other end is all too visible and alarming to ignore', Dawn noted.

Police stations in rural Peshawar have long given up patrolling at night after a patrol was blown up by a rocket-propelled grenade. The charred bodies of the victims were retrieved and buried without even allowing their families to see their faces for one last time.

So grim is the situation that a committee that includes NWFP Governor Owais Ahmed Ghani, Chief Minister Ameer Haider Khan Hoti, and 11 Corps commander Lt. Gen. Masood Aslam met May 31 to discuss the possible options for defending Peshawar but failed to come to any conclusions.

Rehman A. Malik, the prime minister's adviser on interior, was in Peshawar June 19 to discuss the situation but this too did not yield any results.

'The military, the paramilitary, the constabulary and the police are unable or unwilling to muster enough force to defend the city,' Dawn noted.

'In some ways, this apparent apathy for Peshawar reflects the federal government's lack of urgency to handle the situation in tribal regions and cope with the possible fallout of the peace agreements it is pursuing with tribal militants,' it added.

President Pervez Musharraf, whose dramatic volte face on the Taliban and alliance with the US global war on terror post- the 9/11 terror attacks had 'largely contributed to the mess in the tribal regions, has now taken a back seat', the newspaper said.

The only person constitutionally mandated to look after the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) that form a part of the NWFP, the president has since the Feb. 18 general elections 'more or less lost all interest in the borderlands', the newspaper maintained.

'The prevailing situation resembles that of a bus-load of drivers, with no one really at the steering wheel and the bus lurching from one side to the other.

'What can be more ironical that those who are supposed to be in the driver's seat are pretending to be passengers?' the newspaper wondered.

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