PAKISTAN: Military action against Islamists may be inevitable

Stock Photo: Busy Pakistani Market

Stock Photo: thearg/john jackson

Pakistani state TV has reported a series of bomb blasts near the offices of government security agencies in the town of Sukkur have killed four people and wounded thirty others. Interior Ministry spokesman Omar Hamid Khan said the Inter-Services Itelligence agency’s regional offices were the primarly target. With the impending withdrawl of NATO/ISAF forces from Afghanistan, the United States is calling on Pakistan to clamp down on Islamic militants as unmanned drone strikes continue and the last NATO oil convoys make their  way from Pakistan to Afghanistan. Pakistani militants have a long history of targeting NATO oil tankers bound for Afganistan, with another two fuel tankers being destroyed by Islamist gunmen in late June.

According to analysts and government insiders, Pakistan’s newly elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, after promising to engage Islamists in productive dialogue during his camplaign, may now be forced to bend to the will of Pakistan’s powerful military, and US foreign policy interests. Pakistan’s military views the Pakistani Taliban as an insurgent force, and while it may sympathize with the Afghan Taliban of whom many in the military view as freedom fighters, they are under intense pressure from the US to stop attacks originating and supported from Pakistan’s side of the border. Sharif, who was prime minister twice previously, was ousted in 1999 by a military lead coup.

Recent bombings in Lahore and Karachi have rocked the newly minted administration, killing President Asif Ali Zardari’s security chief, among others.

A report leaked to al-Jazeera earlier this month as part of a commission investigating the US special forces mission into Pakistan which killed Osama bin Laden has also proved a major embarrassment to both Pakistan’s military and government. While on one hand it accused the US of committing a ‘criminal act of murder’, the 336-page document also contained statements from many in the military who consider the elected government completely inept in dealing with security threats, and described an ‘understanding’ the military had concerning the use of American drone aircraft to attack Pakistani based Islamist militants.

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Sheik Muktar Robow is shown, center, flanked by aids and gunmen in Mogadishu, December 14th, 2008. al-Shabab has since lost control of the city.

Sheik Muktar Robow is shown, center, flanked by aids and gunmen in Mogadishu, December 14th, 2008. al-Shabab has since lost control of the city. PHOTO: REUTERS/Feisal Omar (SOMALIA)

Fierce infighting is reported among rival factions within Somalia’s Al-Shabab militants. The BBC reported six Somali militants and two foreign jihadists were among those killed near the militant stronghold of Brava. The fighting is likely linked to a power struggle between forces loyal to the group’s leader, Ahmed Abdi Godane, and ex-spokesman Muktar Ali Robow. Robow is said to be more moderate and could be pushing to open talks with the government as international attention focuses on rebuilding the country. The country’s parliamentary election of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud in September of 2012, who’s government was officially recognized by the IMF after 22 years in April, and an international conference in London on the subject of ending the conflict in Somalia, are all likely to be boiling points for the extremists.

Earlier this week the al-Qaeda linked organization killed fifteen people in an attack against of the UN offices in Mogadishu.

According to Somali news sources, fighting resumed earlier this month around the southern port city of Kismayo, which was liberated from the control of the Islamists in heavy fighting by African Union soldiers and the local Ras Kamboni militia last December. However, fighting there is said to be linked to rival militias, some loyal to the central government in Mogadishu, the others supporting former Somali Defence Minister Ras Kamboni who has declared himself ‘president’ of ‘Jubbaland’. The UN Security Council called on the factions to refrain from armed conflict with each other, and to instead focus on defeating the Al-Shabab militants who fled the region only after fierce fighting.

Al-Shabab splintered from the Supreme Council of Islamic Courts in 2006 after that organization lost a series of battles against Somali transitional government forces, backed by Ethiopian troops. Al-Shabab and other Islamist factions are fighting to hold the country side surrounding Mogadishu as Government forces backed by 18,000 African Union soldiers, Ethiopian troops, and pro-government militia struggle to retake their country from the extremists.

Somalia Divided

Al-Shabab and other Islamist militants have been losing territory to African Union troops and local militias loyal to the central government in Mogadishu since they formed after the dissolution of the Supreme Council of Islamic Courts (Islamic Courts Union). MAP: BBC

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