Pakistani Taliban suppress campaigns with attacks on secular parties

Following is an article published in Foreign Policy Magazine by Jennifer Rowland that new Pakistan team though is worthy of a replug.

Taliban play politics

In Pakistan’s northwest, the secular Awami National Party is coming under sustained fire from the Taliban, with deadly attacks and threats forcing ANP candidates to stage small, tense meetings rather than the large-scale rallies that usually define Pakistani politics (NYT, AP). Even in the southern port city of Karachi, some 40 ANP activists have been killed over the past six months, effectively stifling the party’s campaign there. Asad Munir, a retired Army brigadier who worked for Pakistan’s intelligence agency, says, “The most effective campaign is being run by he Taliban. They are holding the state of Pakistan hostage, and doing their activities as they want.” Bonus read: Daud Khattak, “Pakistani Taliban’s deadly game of politics” (AfPak).

An antiterrorism court in Islamabad on Saturday ordered former president Pervez Musharraf held for another two weeks until May 4, when he will face charges over his detention of the country’s top judges while he was in power in 2007 (NYT, NYT, Post, Reuters, AFP). Pakistani officials said Musharraf would be placed under house arrest at his fortified compound outside the capital, declaring it a “sub-jail,” and no visitors will be allowed. The country’s caretaker government said Monday that it will not file treason charges against the former president, but will leave the decision to do so up to the government elected in national election on May 11 (AP, ET).

Prime Minister hopeful Imran Khan told thousands of supporters at a rally in Dera Ismail Khan on Sunday that he would order a pullout of Pakistani troops from North Waziristan and, “The money that is spent on the war in the tribal areas will be spent on the welfare of the people” (ET). Pakistan “will not be a slave to anyone,” he told the cheering crowd. Pakistan’s Ahmadis say they will not participate in the upcoming elections because they are still forced to identify themselves as non-Muslims on their ballots (ET). The campaign of radical Sunni Muslim cleric Maulana Ahmed Ludhianvi is making Pakistan’s Shi’a Muslims uneasy; they accuse Ludhianvi of rhetoric that has fueled sectarian attacks on Shi’as for decades, and fear that if he wins a seat in parliament he will be able to incite even more of these deadly attacks (Reuters). Ludhianvi’s main opponent in the district of Jhang, in the heart of Punjab Province, has been banned from the race.

The 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Iran last week also almost entirely demolished the small Pakistani town of Mashkel near the Iranian border, and aid has been slow to reach the isolated victims (AP, BBC). Four Pakistani soldiers were killed and six injured in a roadside bombing in North Waziristan on Sunday (The News, ET/AFP). Militants in Balochistan launched grenade attacks on the homes of an Election Commission of Pakistan official (injuring his teenaged daughter), and the president of the Baloch National Party on Sunday (ET). And gunmen killed two workers of the Awami National Party in the Pishin district of Balochistan.

Worrying stats

Taliban attacks have increased 47% in the first quarter of 2013 from their level during the same period last year, from1,581 to 2,331, according to the well-respected, independent monitoring group, the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office (NYT). The U.S. military and the Afghan Ministry of Defense have so far refused to release their statistics on attacks this year, but the sharp increase in attacks has been widely documented in the media and by groups like the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office, raising concerns that the Taliban is launching a concerted attempt to test the Afghan security forces as they take the lead on security from NATO troops in the country.

Insurgents killed six police officers at a checkpoint in the eastern province of Ghazni on Sunday, while a suicide bomber killed three civilians at a market in neighboring Paktika Province (AP). And Taliban militants cut off hands and feet of two men they accused of helping escort NATO convoys. Members of the Taliban in eastern Logar Province said they had captured all eight Turks and one Russian who were on board a NATO-contracted helicopter that was forced to make an emergency landing in bad weather late on Sunday (Reuters, Pajhwok).

NATO military officials say that Taliban militants were able to blow up a half-dozen U.S. Marine fighter jets and kill two Marines in an attack on Camp Bastion in Helmand Province last fall because the base commanders had scaled back patrols of the perimeter and left watchtowers unmanned (Post).

The pot industry in Pakistan

Politicians are not the only ones suffering at hands of the Taliban in Pakistan’s northwest. The country’s hashish producers in the fertile Tirah Valley report that the Taliban have largely taken control of the area, and with it they have obtained control of the marijuana crops and the lucrative hashish trade (Post).

— Jennifer Rowland

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