Pakistan's 'Gandhi' party takes on Taliban, Al Qaeda
The Awami National Party, which leads the ruling coalition in the crucial North West Frontier Province, espouses a nonviolent approach to tackling extremism.
By Mark Sappenfield | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
from the May 5, 2008 edition

New DELHI - In following the will of its people by attempting to find a negotiated solution to mounting extremism, the new Pakistani government is wading against American skepticism, the lessons of the recent past, and – some suggest – its own military establishment.

Early indications, however, point to the enormousness of the task facing Pakistan's new ruling coalition. The US is likely to increase pressure after a major State Department report last week concluded that Al Qaeda has rebuilt some of its pre-9/11 capabilities from havens in Pakistan's contested border region with Afghanistan.

Al Qaeda and Taliban militants have the upper hand in these Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), where the region's colonial-era rules limit the new government's authority.

The job of overcoming these obstacles has largely fallen to the overlooked member of Pakistan's new ruling coalition, the Awami National Party (ANP). As Pashtuns, the ANP can talk to the Taliban as ethnic brothers. Yet as disciples of the nonviolence espoused by its late founder, Abdul Ghaffar Khan – the so-called "Frontier Gandhi" and follower of the Mahatma – the ANP is uniquely qualified to attempt peacemaking.

Whether it succeeds could determine whether Pakistan finds the peaceful resolution that a majority of its people so desire or descends back into war.

"The responsibility for a deal lies with the ANP because of the ANP being Pashtun and because they have been very critical of the way the war on terror has been conducted," says Rasul Baksh Rais, a political scientist at the Lahore University of Management Sciences.

Facing opposition to cease-fires

The ANP is a minor partner in the national parliament, but it leads the ruling coalition in the strategically vital North West Frontier Province. Adjacent to the central battleground of FATA, the province is the front line against the Talibanization of Pakistan. Rising militancy in FATA has spilled into it with bombings against barbers who trim beards and owners of DVD shops – both Taliban taboos.

Already, the ANP-led government in the North West Frontier Province has had to withstand global criticism for its new, conciliatory tack – such as last week's release of Sufi Mohammed, a pro-Taliban hard-liner, from jail.

The US has warned against negotiations, saying they lead only to toothless cease-fires that have allowed militants time and space to tighten their grip on territory. Indeed, the State Department's annual terrorism report released last week suggested that suicide attacks in Pakistan more than doubled to 887 last year because terrorists were able to regroup during a 2006 cease-fire.

For this reason, a new potential cease-fire with militants in FATA, reported last week but apparently abandoned, raised deep concern in Washington.

"It's important that any agreement be effectively enforced and that it not interrupt any operations where we are going after terrorists in that area," said White House press secretary Dana Perino.

The White House was right to be worried, some experts agree. "The government is negotiating from a position of weakness," says Seth Jones, an analyst at RAND Corp., a security consultancy in Arlington, Va. "There should be no illusions – these [militant] groups are trying to strengthen their position."

Army 'capitulated' to militants

But others see another dynamic at work in the scrapped cease-fire, too.

"The military is out to save itself," says Ahmed Rashid, author of "Taliban," a book considered one of the most insightful looks into the group.

He suggests that the failed deal was not the fault of the new government, but of the Army, which wields great influence in FATA, because it is controlled federally. The deal was essentially a capitulation to militants, Mr. Rashid adds, because the Army wants to get out of an unpopular campaign.

The military denies this, saying it is not in any direct negotiations with the Taliban. "The government officials are negotiating with them through interlocutors," says Maj. Gen. Atthar Abbas, an Army spokesman.

Yet due to the peculiar rules governing FATA, the Army does have more of a voice there. In the North West Frontier Province, the only government negotiators are new lawmakers. In FATA, however, talks are being supervised by a governor appointed by President Musharraf, and the regional Army corps commander, in addition to federal lawmakers, says Rahim Dad Khan, a member of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), an ANP ally.

ANP pushes for more accountability

The ANP, for its part, wants to bring more accountability to negotiations by putting all the facts before the people. Past negotiations under the military-led government were never made public, says Sen. Zahid Khan of the ANP. So when agreements inevitably fell apart amid accusations and counteraccusations, no one knew who was right.

"We'll make all the developments in the talks public so as the masses can judge who is backing out of his words," he says. "The party going against the agreement would have to take the ire of the masses."

In this way, negotiations can serve a strategic purpose. Defense analyst Ikram Sehgal says there are many natural points of disagreement between Pashtun tribals and foreign terrorists, such as the tactic of suicide bombing.

"Terrorist ideology is completely anathema to tribal ideology," he says. "The whole idea is to drive a wedge between the tribals and the terrorists."

Yet Rashid and others say that to ultimately succeed, the government must have a policy beyond just talks – or bullets, for that matter. The government of North West Frontier Province has drawn a $4 billion development plan designed to spread the authority of the government through new counsels and government positions. But it must address the root causes of the tribal belt's problems – the economic backwardness and political isolation that have made the area a haven for militants, analysts add.

"They have to offer some strategic vision," says Rashid. "[The terrorists] want sharia. What are you offering?"

Mr. Nawaz Sharif had planned a "Bangladeshi solution for Pakistan." Under the proposed plan, Mr. Chaudhry was supposed to have declared the election of Mr. Musharraf null and void, and then declared the NRO unconstitutional, and Mr. Chaudhry also would have upheld the graduation rule. By eliminating the NRO, and upholding the graduation rule Mr. Zardari would have been ineligible for any office. With Mr. Musharraf and Mr. Zardari out of the way, Mr. Chaudhry would have taken over the country as president. The Prime Minister would be Mr. Sharif. Mr. Zardari knows about this plan, does not want to restore the judges which would rock the boat, eliminate him from the corridors of power, NAWAZ SHARIF is a businessman and ''luhar'' who knows strike while the iron is hot. ZARDARI ain't stupid either. The PPP, the MQM, the ANP, the JUI-F are opposed to the reinstatement of deposed judges, each having its own set of interests. Nawaz has refused to unlock his horns with Musharraf and yearns for his ouster.

Nawaz is of the same breed, the same corrupt politicians era and he is not different from others. “Mr Sharif Businessman turned politician the former Prime Minister of Pakistan, was ousted in a military coup in 1999 and was forced to forfeit $9million dollars and some of his assets including his $5m Mansion is Raiwind near Lahore. Before becoming PM he was a major share holder along with his brother and cousins of Ittefaq Group, having assets well in excess of £50m in the 90’s. However he got richer when he took commissions from foreign companies for construction in Pakistan. He build the first motor way and many new roads and took heavy kickbacks. He then also stole $100m from the Iqra funds, he started a new scheme “Ghar Apna” in which he again looted around $40m, the “Mulk swaaro” scheme involving public & govt. money collections to help pay Pakistan’s debts also was pocketed.” There are reports that Nawaz took millions from OSAMA BIN LADEN to fight election against Benaz ir in 90’s. Iftikhar Choudhery worked with Mush many years happily and doing all ordinary things like supporting his son for better placement, enjoying his remunerations as much as possible, keeping the CM luxury Mercedes Benz with him etc. His lower staff got corrupt seeing his character and looted millions by making false receipt of fuels on his car’s number. When he asked for it, he said he don’t know what the lower staff is doing .It were the judges who given law asylum to Mush for his illegal occupncy of president's post. They were also judges who signed the death warrant of Z.A. Bhutto.

I am sure that Mr .Nawaz remembers when supreme court was attacked during his Govt. Was not that shameful? He is in love with Judges now but lets not forget that most of these justices have in past taken oath under the first PCO, where was there diligence then? if they could have done it once they can do it twice and even more times. I am not supporting Zardari either, he should be more fair and honest in dealing with other political elements and should not bow his head to a former general and other hidden powers. I never been Nawaz fan but I think in greater national interests PPP and Nawaz should stay together,although I have reservations about Nawaz and as I mentioned in one of my previous letters that Nawaz cant be trusted. In civilized countries politicians decide their problems through referendum and I think there should be something like this to solve this problem and Govt should focus on other important issues. I kept an optimistic view on the new found political allianc es giving them a fair chance to prove their mettle, but as times passes one has to gawk at smooching circus on display, its hideously embarrassing to say the least. The PPP is the most popular party across the land. PML-N is only in Punjab. I would suggest to Asif Zardari to let this minor partner in the coalition know that PPP is a democratic and liberterian party and must respect its constituents. Either PML-N learns to play by the rule or just get out of the way. PML-N leadership will understand it, after all they are children of four generals (Gilanee, Zia, Beg, and Gul), they understand when get a kick in the right place. Nawaz Govt was dismissed by Gen.Mush, otherwise Nawaz would love him too just like Choudry brothers. Lets not forget that when Nawaz was prime minister, he not only crushed supreme court but also media and Rehmat Shah Afridi of FP is an example of Nawaz cruelties. PPP leadership should have more close working relationship with ANP of Pukhtoonistan as ANP is l iberal political party and even BENAZIR BHUTTO was advised by her father Z A BHUTTO to trust Pukhtoons. Nawaz claims that his party will not become part of any conspiracy to destabilise the democratic process but it seems like he will continue blackmailing , so he cant be trusted. I think there are other important issues politicians should discuss, the country is burdened by electricity shortages and rising inflation, running at 17%,suicides,so called Talibans, poverty etc.