Pervez Musharraf, who has just concluded a political alliance with moderates and reformers in Pakistan led by Benazir Bhutto, has opted for war in Waziristan. Now convinced after the Red Mosque incident that the radical Islamists want to "Talibanize" Pakistan, he has started to move his army into Waziristan -- and the radicals are screaming for a civil war:
President Pervez Musharraf sees it as the centre of a campaign to “Talibanise” Pakistan. Spurred on by Washington, he has abandoned a truce with Waziristan’s Islamist guerrillas and ordered his army to root them out.
There are believed to be about 8,000 gunmen – a mix of foreign Al-Qaeda volunteers, Afghan Taliban, Pakistani Islamists and local Waziris whose families have for centuries fought off any attempt to impose outside rule on this area. In modern times, even map-makers have been shot to hide the region’s mysteries from the outside world.
Last week soldiers sealed all the roads into Miran Shah, the provincial capital, occupied the hills around it and fired the first artillery salvo in what Musharraf’s many critics have called a war on his own people.
On Friday morning the army moved into parts of Miran Shah itself after militants blew up government buildings overnight. Most of the 60,000 townspeople are feared trapped, but hundreds of families have fled their mud homes in villages nearby and headed east for the sanctuary of Bannu, a town in the neighbouring North West Frontier province.
The news will delight US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, which have suffered the brunt of the consequences of Musharraf's truce with Waziri tribal leaders. The lack of pressure from the Pakistani military has allowed the Taliban and al-Qaeda to reorganize and gain strength in their hideouts on the Pakistani frontier. Until the US took command in Afghanistan, the Taliban had pushed across the border and took control of villages almost with impunity.
The Islamists have called for a general uprising against Musharraf in Pakistan as a result. However, after their performances at the Red Mosque, they may have lost what little draw they had with the Pakistani populace. The radicals have sympathy with only about 10% of Pakistanis under normal circumstances, but their attempts to Talibanize the community surrounding the Red Mosque through hostaging and terror opened eyes, and not just in the military.
The military, though, has had enough and sees a fight as their only option. The Times of London quoted their sources in the army as saying, "There is no other option. It’s bad, but we have to fight.” Taliban leaders warn about the wrath of Allah coming down on Musharraf, but it's more likely they're worried about the wrath of the US. If Pakistan starts conducting full-blown military operations in Waziristan, the US will have an opportunity to conduct their own operations from the other end of the area, perhaps clandestinely enough to confuse the radicals about who is coming from where. The resultant chaos will force the Islamists out in the open to flee -- and at that point it will be easy enough to severely reduce them.
With his political flank secured, Musharraf has an option for total war in Waziristan. Let's hope he makes better decisions this time around.