Monday, January 14, 2008




At a time when Pakistan is reeling under a wave of terrorist attacks in its Pashtun tribal belt and outside, it has started facing growing public anger due to an acute shortage of essential commodities such as wheat and wheat flour, oil and gas. Irregular power and water supply has also added to the difficulties faced by the common people.

2. President Pervez Musharraf, who has been facing a determined campaign against him from lawyers, journalists, human rights activists and other sections of the elite since March last year, has till now been able to deal with them mainly because the common masses did not come out in the streets in support of the agitating elite and against him. This did not happen even after the assassination of Mrs.Benazir Bhutto, former Prime Minister, at Rawalpindi on December 27,2007. There were public demonstrations in Sindh with attacks on public and private property, but he was able to control them with the help of the Sindh Government dominated by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) of Mr.Altaf Hussain, who is living in exile in the UK. The Mohajirs of the MQM do not have much love for Benazir or her Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and put down the demonstrations firmly. Moreover, the PPP itself, which has strong pockets of support in the Seraiki areas of Southern Punjab, got alarmed when the demonstrations in Sindh took an anti-Punjabi turn, which would have cost it votes in Punjab. It strongly discouraged the demonstrations from continuing. Its appeal to the Sindhis to show their anger at the time of voting and not in the streets cooled the situation.

3. The anger over the growing shortages and scarcities of essential articles could bring the people out into the streets in large numbers not only against the Musharraf Government, but also against the elite itself, which has till now shown little concern over the economic hardships of the weaker sections of the society. The Government asserts that there is no shortage of wheat and flour in the country and feels that a psychologfical atmosphere of shortages has been created by anti-social elements such as smugglers and profiteers. It has deployed the police and the para-military forces in large numbers in flour mills and wheat and flour godowns in order to prevent the anti-social activities of these elements.

4. At a time when the security forces were already overstretched in countering jihadi terrorism and in ensuring law and order for the elections due on February 18,2008, the diversion of forces for ensuring the availability of essential articles for the common people could redound to the benefit of the terrorists by relaxing pressure on them.

5. At a time of acute shortages and scarcities, the sight of long convoys of vehicles of private contractors carrying rations meant for the NATO forces in Afghanistan from the Karachi port through the tribal belt is acting like a red rag to the bull. There have been attacks on these convoys in the tribal belt and looting of their contents. Initially, the attacks were on convoys carrying oil. Now, convoys carrying food rations are being attacked by Al Qaeda and pro-Taliban elements. They have been looting the rations and selling them at low prices to the poor people. This increases their popularity with the people and has become an additional source of funding for their terrorist operations.

6. After some such attacks on convoys and the looting of the rations meant for NATO forces by pro-Al Qaeda and pro-Taliban elements in the Mohmand Agency in the first week of January,2008, Gen.Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani, the Chief of the Army Staff, ordered the use of helicopter gunships and artillery against local tribal elements indulging in the looting. This has led to a wave of anger against him and the Army in the Mohmand Agency, which has till now remained free of the wave of suicide terrorism sweeping across Pakistan. There have been demonstrations against the Army action not only by the tribals of the Agency, who were till now not supporting the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan headed by Baitullah Mehsud of South Waziristan, but also by migrants from the Agency living in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP).

7. Seven Pakistani members of a para-military unit and 23 tribals were killed in a clash between protesting tribals and the para-military force unit in the Agency on January 14,2008. (14-1-08)

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: )