According to security strategist B Raman, who closely monitors terrorism, the jihadis comprise 25 per cent of Pakistan's population while civil society comprises 75 per cent. The significant fact he did not mention was that the 25 per cent are concentrated in NWFP and Baluchistan. The remainder dominates the rest of Pakistan. The divide therefore is both cultural and geographic.
Portents indicate that the Taliban in Pakistan's tribal belt and in neighboring Afghanistan will retaliate massively against Musharraf. According to AFP, immediately after the Lal Mosque assault began, 20,000 Pakistani tribesmen in Khar, bordering Afghanistan, vowed vengeance against him. "We are ready for jihad!" they chanted. Some were armed with rocket launchers. Al Qaeda has already urged jihad against Musharraf.
During last weekend 70 persons were killed in retaliatory bomb blasts by protestors. Musharraf has ordered a full army division into Swat Valley in NWFP to confront the Taliban. Preparations for a massive army operation are also afoot in North Waziristan. Reportedly both the Pakistan army and Taliban are expecting clashes so big and widespread that it may be a matter of time before NATO troops stationed in Afghanistan extend operations into Pakistan.
What are the aims of Al Qaeda? Peter Zeihan, writing for Stratfor Intelligence, believes: 'Al Qaeda is a small core group. All signs indicate this group is no longer functional and cannot be replicated. Whether or not Osama bin Laden is still alive, Al Qaeda as it once was is dead. The organization's apex leadership consists of little more than Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and a double handful of trusted relationships.... These people cannot do anything very complex.'
One begs to differ. This view underestimates the strength of a fanatic's resolve. One is more inclined to heed the report of the perceptive Asia Times Online correspondent, Syed Saleem Shahzad. He reported: 'For the al-Qaeda leadership sitting in the tribal areas, the situation is fast evolving into the promised battle of Khorasan. This includes parts of Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan from where the Prophet Mohammed promised the 'end of time' battle would start.'
Shahzad reported that the battle had already begun in Batkhaila, NWFP, where pro-Taliban militants clashed with the army and seized all highways in the area, including the Silk Road leading to China. Perhaps the last warning by the Lal Mosque deputy chief cleric Abdul Rashid Ghazi, that 'people would avenge his death', foretold Al Qaeda plans for Khorasan.
China's complex role holds possibly the key to future trends. America's endorsement of Musharraf's assault on the Mosque was expected. The assault was overdue. But why and how did China support it? Events leading up to it are intriguing. Mosque activists rounded up and kidnapped several Chinese women working allegedly in a brothel. Beijing reacted sharply and warned the Pakistan government. The Lal Mosque clerics made a placatory statement praising China but at the same time expressed resolve to stamp out non-Islamic activity. Beijing's sharp reaction in defence of the alleged brothel inmates suggests the possibility that they were undercover agents. Subsequently, three Chinese workers were killed in Peshawar. Beijing's anger and pressure mounted. Musharraf was compelled to act.
The murder of the Chinese workers was not accidental. Why did the jihaadis target them? Relations between Beijing and Taliban had always been cordial. China's army officers trained the anti-Soviet Mujahideen in the late 1970s. The links survived. On 9/11/2001 Beijing signed a MoU with the Taliban government to set up Afghanistan's communication network in exchange for Al Qaeda's supporting peace in Xingjian. Osama honored his pledge and cooperated with Beijing in Xingjian. Now Taliban is targeting the Chinese. Why?
One possible explanation is that China has got caught in the Sunni-Shiite crossfire. Currently, China is known to have supplied arms to jihaadis via Iranian conduits. Those can only be for use by Shiites. This would be totally unacceptable to Al Qaeda and Taliban in both Iraq and Afghanistan. It may be noted that while Abu Musab al-Zarqawi who leads Al Qaeda in Iraq may function autonomously his leadership has been personally endorsed by Osama bin Laden. Zarqawi has threatened an Iraq-Iran war unless Iran stops arming Iraqi Shiites. In this death-struggle China had to choose between Sunnis and Shiites. Apparently that choice was made. That is why Beijing-Taliban relations took a nosedive. That is why Xingjian troubles are now likely to mount.
If NATO forces do indeed get sucked into full-scale operations inside Pakistan, how will China react? What will be at stake are two conflicting ideologies determining two alternative political arrangements in the region. The Al Qaeda in pursuit of Khorasan will seek a launching pad for global war to spread its version of Islam. Khorasan obviously is intended to incorporate parts of Pakistan, Iran and Tajikistan into present day Afghanistan. NATO powers would attempt strengthening of stable democracy and status quo in the region. In the event, how would hostilities end?
Much would depend on whether the West had learnt lessons from its misadventure in Iraq. Before military action is launched a sound post-war strategy based upon an understanding of ground realities will be required. Despite Talibanization the powerful tribal identity and pride of the Pushtuns could not have disappeared. Similarly the quest for self-rule and assertion of Baluch identity remains strong in Quetta. If the West and Musharraf want to wield the big stick they must also offer the carrot: genuine autonomy and self-rule in a new political arrangement.
As the former colonial power Britain has deep understanding of the entire South Asian region. Unlike the Bush-Blair team Prime Minister Gordon Brown must ensure that strategy for South Asia is determined by the Brown-Bush team. Two-gun Texan aggression sorely needs British restraint. The unfolding events inside Pakistan contain deep implications for India. Whatever happens, it is unlikely that Pakistan will ever get back to what it has been and is. Concerted effort is required to ensure that change takes place in the right direction.
This scribe is tempted to recall the conclusion of a book authored by him in 1989:
'Afghan and NWFP Pushtu tribes might be expected to make common cause and revive the call for Pushtunistan.... Baluchistan will not lag behind.'
Only democracy can satisfy aspirations for self-rule in all regions without altering national borders. A South Asian community on the lines of EU would deliver precisely that.