Analysis: Pakistan Politics In Wake Of Attacks

As the Pakistani military prepares for a ground offensive on the Afghan border, it's coping with a string of recent attacks inside the country. Rashed Rahman — former editor of the Post newspaper in Lahore — talks with Steve Inskeep about what these recent attacks mean for the country's political situation.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good Morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

Militants in Pakistan are reminding the world just how busy they are. Yesterday, a suicide bomber struck a Pakistani military convoy as it passed through a market. The bomb killed 41 people. That attack came just after a hostage taking at Pakistani military headquarters. Army troops soon rescued the hostages, but not before some were killed. All this came as the Pakistani military prepared for an offensive against militant groups.

And we're going to talk about all this with Rashed Rahman. He's a journalist and analyst in Lahore. Welcome back to the program, sir.

Mr. RASHED RAHMAN (Journalist and Analyst): Thank you very much.

INSKEEP: It sounds like rather than waiting for that military offensive, the militants struck first.

Mr. RAHMAN: Yeah, there are two views on that. One view is that they're trying to distract the military. And the other view is that, you know, this is probably the worst time to start an offensive in South Waziristan because of the onset of winter. So that view holds that perhaps they're trying to provoke the offensive right now on their terms that will be much more favorable to them weather-wise.

INSKEEP: In other words, almost daring the Pakistani military to come after them where they think they're strongest.

Mr. RAHMAN: I think the word I want is provoking.

INSKEEP: Provoking. And they certainly have been provocative. Of course, yesterday's bombing in Peshawar, sad to say, that's near the tribal areas that have been difficult to control. It's an area where there have been bombings before. But the attack on military headquarters in Rawalpindi, that's pretty striking.

Mr. RAHMAN: Well, that was the most audacious attack so far. They've been striking relatively soft targets until now. General headquarters of the military was considered a very, very difficult target to reach, let alone cause, you know, harm or injury.

INSKEEP: What has all of this action done to the public opinion of the Pakistani military and public confidence in the Pakistani military?

Mr. RAHMAN: That image, I'm sure, has been dented to some extent by the fact that their very nerve center can be hit in this manner. So, on the whole, it doesn't portray the image of a very alert military, if you know what I'm trying to say.

INSKEEP: And what does it do to the image of the civilian government that is, at least in principle, in law, in charge of the military and in charge of the campaign against the militants?

Mr. RAHMAN: Well, you know, in theory, that is all absolutely correct, but we know that in this case, in a sense, the tail always wags the dog. It's the military which is handling this, of course, with support and help from the civilian government. The actual operational detail, the strategy, the tactics and so on are largely left to the military itself.

INSKEEP: Well, as the Pakistani military prepares for this offensive in Waziristan, near the border with Afghanistan, how helpful, if at all, has the United States been in all of this?

Mr. RAHMAN: Well, you know, the United States, no matter how well-intentioned it may be, has a very bad image here in Pakistan. There's a lot of baggage from history. As you may have read and heard, the controversy on the Kerry-Lugar bill is an indicator of how deep feelings run here.

INSKEEP: I just want to make sure that this is understood for an American audience. You referred to the Kerry-Lugar bill. That was a measure providing billions of dollars in aid over several years to Pakistan, and the idea was to support Pakistan's civilian democratic institutions and provide a longer term commitment to Pakistan. It was intended, I believe, as a gesture of friendship, but you're saying it has been received as precisely the opposite.

Mr. RAHMAN: Well, absolutely right. I mean, the intention of the Kerry-Lugar Bill was to provide money which is not available otherwise to Pakistan. The problem with the bill was some of the other aspects, conditionalities(ph) that were attached - if I can sum it up, basically, reversing the trend of military dominance and trying to reverse civil-military relations to bring civilian dominance into play.

All this has rankled badly with the security establishment and the military. And in my view, at least, there has been an orchestrated through the media and via the opposition in parliament to paint the Kerry-Luger bill not in helpful or friendly colors, but as one more example of American bullying, interference and encroachment on our sovereignty.

INSKEEP: Rashed Rahman is a journalist and political analyst in Lahore, Pakistan. Thanks very much.

Mr. RAHMAN: Thank you.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: