A Moment of Truth for Pakistan
Syed Saleem Shahzad writes in the Asia Times:
Six days into the offensive against the radical Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in Islamabad, Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf was on Monday desperately searching for a way to contain the damage from the bloody confrontation.
Unrest over the clashes between armed students (and possibly foreign militants) inside the mosque and government forces has spread to Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and the semi-autonomous tribal areas on the border with Afghanistan. An army division (10,000-20,000 soldiers) has been sent to Swat Valley in NWFP to confront the allies of Lal Masjid as well as pro-Taliban Tehrik-i-Nifaz-Shariat-i-Mohammedi (TNSM) militants. There are also preparations for a massive army operation in the North Waziristan tribal area.
More than 20,000 tribesmen, including masked militants carrying rifles, protested in the northwest region of Bajaur. Four security personnel were also reported abducted in Bajaur as hostages to force the government into allowing those still inside Lal Masjid a free passage out. This is one of the options Musharraf and his inner circle are considering.