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Pakistan: Symptoms of Growing Instability

First published at Rabble.ca:

Today, masked gunmen executed an attack in Pakistan’s second largest city, Lahore. Reports indicate that fourteen heavily armed gunmen were involved, attacking a bus convoy carrying Sri Lanka’s cricket team to the local stadium for the day’s game. The attackers are said to have descended on the scene from four different locations, and were armed with at least one rocket launcher, several grenades, and AK47s. Reports are a little confused about the length of the firefight, lasting anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes.

The driver of one of the buses was killed and some team members were injured.

This attack follows weeks after a cease fire was called between the central government and the Taliban insurgents in the country’s north west region after the government had OKed legislation formalizing the religious foundation of Sharia law in that region as a prerequisite to peace.

Today’s attack is outside the region in which the Pakistani military was fighting militants, and is sign of a disturbing trend toward commando attacks within the heart of Pakistan’s economic and administrative centres.

In a country in which cricket is the top sport, this attack was designed to show just how unstable is the country and that militants are strong. It worked on these fronts. Pakistan’s role in international cricket is dead for some time now, and the world is made deadly aware of the spreading chaos and loss of government authority in that country.

In a report published today, Tariq Ali, states that greater instability and violence will be a result of the U.S. troop surge in Afghanistan as insurgents unify in opposition to it. The surge cannot possibly provide enough personnel to protect all regions of Afghanistan let alone protect the borders between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

If the cease fire holds between Pakistan and insurgents in its north west, then these fighters can focus greater effort into attacks within Afghanistan. This year’s fighting has not yet really started. Fighting in Afghanistan drops to a relative trickle in winter months as mountain passages become congested with snow and many roads difficult or impossible to cross.

Pakistan’s government has lost face, the population grown more contemptuous of it, and militants more hostile after a recent revelation by Senator Dianne Feinstein that U.S. drone attacks carried out in Pakistan are being directed from and launched from bases within Pakistan. This means that the local government and military are in collusion with U.S. decision-makers. Drone attacks have been highly unpopular within Pakistan, seen by the people as a breach of their sovereignty, intrusion of war into their neighbourhoods, and cause of civilian deaths. The revelation also reinforces many Pakistani people’s beliefs that the civilian government is a stooge of the U.S., adding to its unpopularity and growing inability to command the respect required to govern.

The government’s unpopularity has further been increased by President Zardari’s refusal to live up to a campaign promise, to reintroduce an independent judiciary that was disempowered under the late stages of Musharraf’s rule. President Zardari has dismissed the Punjab province’s government and is now in direct control of the country’s most populous province. Tariq Ali writes that this move took place after the province’s “chief minister apparently refused to accept a bribe in the shape of a lucrative business deal in return for abandoning the fight to restore the chief justice fired by the military leader over a year ago.”

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