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Pakistan's Security Crisis and Political Limitations

The ultimate act of terrorism has just been concluded in Rawalpindi, the twin city of Islamabad and the headquarters of Pakistani Army. Eight terrorists -- dressed in army gear and using stolen army vehicles -- attacked the military HQ of Pakistan from three sides and a few of them succeeded in reaching the interior and took 42 army and civilian personnel as hostages. The first attack took place at a military check post where four terrorists detonated hand grenades and fired indiscriminately. They killed six army officials including two ranking officers along with a bystander. All of them were killed in subsequent retaliation from the army contingents.

Another group of terrorists made use of the mayhem and succeeded in entering the top security building of the HQ and taking dozens of hostages. They remained holed up in the building for 19 hours and Pakistani military effectively failed to combat these terrorists even though they were using the nerve center of Pakistani army and there was no dearth of anti-terrorist squads and snipers. A delayed action resulted in the loss of lives of three hostages and two army commandos. Three of the terrorists were killed while the last one was arrested (he is critically wounded with low chances of recovery).

Pakistani media is lauding the brave efforts of Pakistani military in combating terrorists but independent observers have criticized the lame efforts of Pakistani military in confronting terrorists. They have a valid point as the attack represents a total collapse of intelligence and anti-terrorism activities of Pakistani military. Some elements of Pakistani military are still supporting the Taliban and they were crucial in blocking a military offensive in South Waziristan (the hotbed of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda).

Pakistani Taliban have utilized this lack of political and military will to their benefit and are launching one bloody attack after another. In October alone, more than 70 people have lost their lives in suicide bombings and assaults on military installations. Although Pakistani military and political establishment is finally deciding to tackle the Taliban threat head-on (especially after the attack on military HQ), many political parties are still opposed to an army offensive.

Pakistani people, on the other hand, have grown weary of the ever-changing policies of government and political maneuvering by opposition parties. They are the direct sufferers of suicide bombings and extremism and want a stern action against the Taliban. The growing number of brazen attacks have rallied behind public support against a final push against the extremists and the military and political leadership should not miss this chance. If American and NATO forces also start a major offensive in the adjoining border areas of South Waziristan, Taliban and Al-Qaeda would be badly crushed, if not totally defeated.

But are all of these stakeholders on board or even listening to each other with an open mind? The answer would be in negative as Pakistani military recently rejected the $7.5 billion Kerry-Lugar bill that would have allowed for a yearly aid of $1.5 billion. They were apparently unhappy at the 'strings' attached with the aid and want a hassle-free delivery of dollars. Americans do not want to give a blank check as they have already seen the embezzlement of over $11 billions given during the Musharraf regime. While Pakistanis and Americans are embroiled in financial accountability and lack of political will, Taliban and Al-Qaeda will be using this time to penetrate (under the guidance of Mullah Omar) in the Afghan hinterlands and capturing more areas. There is a tough and bloody fight ahead and any further delay is nothing short of committing suicide.