November 27, 2007

Musharraf's Farewell To The Troops

For those playing the will-he-or-won't-he game with Pervez Musharraf, the first position seems to be the winner. The newly-elected president of Pakistan has made his farewell inspection of the troops, in apparent preparation for his resignation as Army chief of staff tomorrow. He gave no indication whether the emergency order would end at the same time as his military commission:

Pervez Musharraf visited troops Tuesday to bid them farewell, a day before he planned to stand down as military chief to become a civilian head of state in a move aimed at easing the country's political crisis.

A guard of honor composed of service personnel from the army, navy and air force greeted him as he arrived at armed forces headquarters in Rawalpindi, a garrison city near the capital Islamabad.

Musharraf, who wore his general's uniform, did not make any comments to journalists who were being taken on a military-conducted visit to cover the ceremonies.

Aides to Musharraf announced he would retire on Wednesday as chief of Pakistan's army, whose generals have ruled the country for most of its life since independence from British rule in 1947.

Before the issuance of the emergency order, this would have been a unifying step. It lost much of its significance in the PCO and the roundup that followed, with thousands of political opponents getting thrown into prison while the radical Islamists took over more and more territory. Now Musharraf has two exiled former Prime Ministers vying for power, both of whom had at one time had almost no following thanks to corruption in their governments. Musharraf has made them popular all over again, and now instead of unity Musharraf has split the non-radicals in a dangerous fashion.

Now that Musharraf has released the dissenters in mainstream politics from his prisons and military courts, some attention has come this week to the radicals. The offensive in Swat has progressed to the point where they finally took Maulana Fazlullah off of the air:

Hundreds of Pakistani ground troops have been fighting pro-Taleban insurgents in Swat, backed up by artillery and helicopter gunships.

Military officials say they are making progress. The highest peak in the Kabal district has now been retaken and other recent gains have been consolidated. An FM radio station run by the local leader of the insurgency, Maulana Fazlullah, has gone off air.

The army has reported more than 200 deaths since the beginning of last week, most of them suspected militants. But there has been no independent confirmation of those figures.

It's a start, but as the BBC notes, holding that ground may be more difficult than winning it back. The numbers in this offensive sound less than impressive, too. "Hundreds" of troops fighting in the string of villages that Fazlullah and the Taliban have claimed seems like a low number, especially in mountain fighting where the army expects to hold significant territory.

Musharraf promised a "massive" offensive, starting in Swat. This looks more like a prelude to another peace agreement with the Pakistan Taliban, as Bill Roggio wrote yesterday.


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