Taliban the big winners in Pakistan (By Ahmed Rashid in Telegraph.co.uk)

By imposing these draconian martial law-type measures, President Pervez Musharraf hopes to ensure his own political survival. But the move is more likely to lead to much greater political confrontation, protests and larger territorial gains by the extremist Pakistani Taliban.

General Musharraf’s primary aim was to cleanse the Supreme Court bench. That he has achieved — all its judges have been forced to resign and several, including the Chief Justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, are under arrest. The Supreme Court had become a major irritant for military rule, and was due to rule on a petition whether Gen Musharraf could remain president for another five years.

Thus the emergency’s first target is not the extremists terrorising northern Pakistan, but the democratic, secular elite. Dozens of judges, lawyers and human rights workers have been arrested while more have gone underground to avoid arrest. Journalists and the media are being targeted and harassed in an unprecedented manner….

The real battleground for Gen Musharraf should be the north of his country, where a resurgent Pakistani Taliban, helped by al-Qa’eda, are conquering more territory and imposing their version of a so-called Sharia [Islamic law] state. The army has lost hundreds of men and at least 400 soldiers are being held hostage by the extremists.

But Gen Musharraf’s first concern is his own survival rather than combating the extremists, while the army is deeply demoralised and unwilling to fight a never-ending war against its countrymen….

The future of stability of Afghanistan also hangs in the balance as does the safety of 40,000 British, US and Nato troops based there. The Afghan Taliban will now continue their offensive through the harsh winter months. They can only be encouraged by the mayhem in Pakistan from where they receive recruits, logistics and support.

The spread of anti-Westernism and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism has been fostered by a US policy that has sought only to keep Gen Musharraf in power. However, the dramatic lack of public support for Gen Musharraf will mean that his rule, and the emergency, is unsustainable for long, and could trigger even worse political chaos. The West has a vital stake in seeing stability in Pakistan, but so far its response has been too tepid to make a difference to the generals.

Taliban the big winners in Pakistan (By Ahmed Rashid in Telegraph.co.uk)

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