As President Pervez Musharraf toured Europe last week, retired military officers capitalised on his absence by calling for him to step down to restore democracy and curb Islamists.
A statement from the Ex-Servicemen’s Society, which has more than 100 members, said his resignation was ‘‘in the supreme national interest’’.
Also taking advantage of his absence was the Pakistani Taliban, which stormed a government Frontier Corps fort in the federally-administered tribal areas on January 15.
Here militants have established a self-styled Islamic emirates, in territory beyond Islamabad’s control.
It follows the Pakistan military government’s accusation that a 34-year-old warlord named Baitullah Mehsud ordered Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, a claim disputed by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), but backed by the CIA.
Militant involvement in Bhutto’s death is probable. Pakistani Islamists saw Bhutto as little more than another US-backed fifth column, and a clear obstacle to their own goals – which include re-establishing Taliban rule in Afghanistan and fomenting a security and governance vacuum in Pakistan.
Mehsud is thought to be behind most of the almost one thousand suicide terror deaths in Pakistan in 2007, and a UN report blamed him for 80 per cent of the terrorist attacks in Afghanistan last year.
Afghan security officials have fingered Pakistani Taliban for the bombing of a five-star hotel in Kabul earlier this month which killed five foreigners – the first of the 140 suicide attacks there since 2006 to target capital-based expats.
In mid-2006, NATO took the Afghan counter-insurgency baton from the US, but since then has had intermittent success in curbing the Taliban, which has a rear base across the border in Pakistan.
There, Islamabad’s application of the War on Terror partnership has resulted, apparently, in most of the $10 billion-worth of bilateral American military aid since the 9-11 attacks being spent on conventional weapons suited to repelling attacks from Pakistan’s old enemy India, rather than on dealing with the militants.
Overt US military deployment within Pakistan is unlikely before Pakistan’s February parliamentary elections, if at all.
If Musharraf steps down – as he said he would if an opposition coalition wins a majority on February 18 – it is more likely that the army, rather than elections, will be the prime mover.
Simon Roughneen reported from Pakistan in 2005/6, and also worked in Kashmir with the relief agency GoalShow