Understanding Pakistan’s PCO (Prevent Court Order)

The PCO (Provisional Constitutional Order officially, but unofficially a Prevent Court Order) issued by the Pakistan government provides deteriorating internal security situation as one of the two reasons for the declaration of an emergency, the other one being resistance by the judiciary.

Pakistan has essentially four provinces, North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) , Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan. Other areas are federally controlled such as Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA), Islamabad Capital Territory, Pakistan Occupied Jammu and Kashmir and Northern Areas. Of these FATA and the NWFP are largely affected by fundamentalism and militancy and Balochistan is having a long running separatist insurgency which is a slow burning war. However the areas of Punjab, Sindh and Islamabad are largely peaceful with the main threat of suicide attacks.

So is the PCO exaggerating the internal security threat with a view to camouflage the main reason, a defiant judiciary? This question needs deliberate analysis.

There is a heavy mix of fundamentalism, tribalism, economic discrimination and under development in Pakistan's Western areas. The core problem is in FATA and principally in the North and Waziristan. Here the government had concluded a Cease Fire in the North Waziristan in September 2006 which has been withdrawn from 15 August 2007. While in the South it was agreed upon in 2005 and withdrawn on 18 August. The Cease fire was considered a deliberately nuanced strategy of political assuage, development, counter fundamentalism and militancy but in actual fact led to vacation of space and provided full freedom to operate to the Al Qaeda and the Taliban particularly in North Waziristan and other FATA areas.

In South Waziristan Mullah Nazir a Taliban leader of Wazir tribe had been successful in eliminating large number of Uzbek guerrillas of Islamic Mujahideen of Uzbekistan but has now been marginalized. Behtullah Mehsud who has taken control in the region has remained intransigent and had recently succeeded in kidnapping over 250 personnel of the army and the frontier corps of which over 200 still remain in custody. Mehsud through his emissaries, the tribal leaders has recently given a call for withdrawal of all troops from Southern Waziristan. In North Waziristan, leaders as Sadiq Noor, Abu Kasha, and Najimuddin Uzbek hold sway. The Al Qaeda has sizeable presence in both these areas with sanctuaries provided by tribal leaders. The Taliban's Afghanistan segment is also firmly entrenched in these areas.

Over the years the reach of these elements has extended to Balochistan up to and south of Quetta and also in the NWFP areas particularly in Swat, Malakand, Bajaur amongst others. The situation in Swat is particularly significant with the militant leader, Maulana Fazlullah controlling over 59 villages and about to declare a governor for Swat on 25 October, which led to additional troops being sent in the area. The Tahreek Nifaz-e-Shariat Mohammadi (TNSM) movement in Swat led by Fazlullah has a history extending to the 1990's when the government had supported the qazi system of jurisprudence, thereby negating state control over courts. Fazlullah is said to have 4500 fighters at his disposal and runs his own madrassa network across the province including Malakand. There is bloody fighting going on in Swat.

Thus in sum total North and South Waziristan, Khurram, Bajaur, Swat, Dir, Tank is in revolt. The Al Qaeda has made most of the situation of lack of government control in these areas and its fighters have established an effective base. Al Qaeda is actively supporting the militancy through funds and fighters. The synergy with operations in Eastern Afghanistan denotes a large swathe of territory which is effectively controlled by elements which are inimical to governments in both Kabul and Islamabad.

These militant elements are undertaking continuous attacks on convoys, military posts, ambushes and IEDs in North and South Waziristan, dominating the road network and movement in the area. Iraq style car bombings are expected to cause maximum impact, locals are being controlled through intimidation. The militants have also decided to extend the battle to major cities of Lahore and Karachi to extend their reach and attempt to undermine the army as well as civil society. However the key focus will remain anti fundamentalist forces such as Benazir Bhutto.

The Pakistan government's counter militancy operations comprises of many parts, one element of which is control of fundamentalist madrassa in the country. There are 17,000 madrassa of which 20 most radical have been identified and measures to moderate them being taken, though not much progress is evident on the ground. There has been additional deployment of troops in the FATA with present strength envisaged at 100,000 including Frontier Corps. A counter militancy (miscreant) grid has been established. Latest reports show increase deployment in Swat. Political negotiations between the parties, the MMA, government and Taliban through tribal leaders are envisaged. However apart from two major operations so far one in the Mir Ali area in North Waziristan and another one which is ongoing in Swat, others have primarily been defensive. While extensive casualties have been inflicted on the militants in Mir Ali and Swat, the Army has also suffered heavy casualties. Yet countering militancy is an immediate requirement which will have to be followed up by political modernization of FATA and Swat areas.

There have been a series of suicide attacks, mainly directed at the armed forces with an air force bus targeted for the first time on 1 November in Sargodha, Punjab. Apart from this Punjab and Sindh have been largely peaceful. However the calm would have been disrupted had the Supreme Court rendered President Musharraf ineligible for re-election. This would have seriously undermined authority of the President and the Army which supports him. The PCO was the only option available to suspend the Courts. It is a ploy used earlier, the interior security situation in the West was a ready excuse and now another round of emergency is imposed on Pakistan. Sadly the otherwise vibrant and garrulous people have nothing to cheer about in the months to come. 


More by :  Col. Rahul K. Bhonsle

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