07 November, 2006

Did the US bomb the Bajaur madrassa?

The Asian media is expressing scepticism that Pakistan was, in fact, responsible for the missile attack on the madrassa at Bajaur. In the Pakistani Daily Times, Rasul Bahsh Rais, a Lahore academic, argues that the US fired the missile and Musharraf's government is willing to claim responsibility because:

Politically it would be less damaging to take the blame than to acknowledge that it has left the area undefended, and that it cannot do anything against NATO and American forces.
Rais identifies two reasons why the Americans might have launched the attack: firstly,a belief that Pakistan is surrendering its border regions (with Afghanistan) to the terrorists; and, secondly , distrust about Pakistan's long term territorial ambitions in the Pashtun-dominated regions along their western border. According to Rais,
The missile strike was just a reminder that the coalition forces would use such force in hot pursuit of the Taliban and against groups and individuals in the tribal belt who are suspected of giving sanctuary to the Taliban or sending any support to them across the border.
Much the same argument is made by Alok Bansal in the Indian based Rediff.com. In Bansal's view, after the surrender to the Talbian in Waziristan,the US lost patience with Pakistan and asked "General Musharraf to stop making new deals with the Taliban within Pakistan. That probably explains the timing of the attack -- on the eve of another peace deal". The other deal being an agreement, similar to the Waziristan Accord, but covering Bajaur. Like Rais, Bansal argues that Pakistan claimed responsibility for the madrassa attack because admitting US military action on its sovereign territory "would infuriate the public and more importantly weaken Musharraf's position within his own constituency, the Army." He continues,
Whatever be the truth, one thing is certain, that the Pakistani policy of buying peace by letting the militant have a free run within the region that was tried out in North Waziristan in September is as good as dead.
Neither article offers any proof that it was, in fact, a US attack. Nor do they consider possible reasons for Pakistani responsibility. It may well be that Pakistan, or at least elements within the armed forces, felt too much ground had been given to the terrorists and decided a line had to be drawn. Equally, in the Byzantine labyrinths of Pakistani internal politics, there may be a host of other reasons. For the moment we simply do not know. A more important question is the extent to which the widespread perception that is was a US attack, created by articles like these, will weaken Musharraf's hold on the levers of power.

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