October 23, 2009

Pakistan Dispatch: Bombs and see-saws

Newspapers reported today that the F8 incident reported with much ensuing panic yesterday was a hoax. However, it wasn't long before the small sense of relief was overshadowed by new episodes of death and destruction.

A mine exploded under a bus in Mohmand killing 15, mainly women and children, various news outlets reported. It seems this time the civilians might not actually have been the target since the road where the blast happened is used frequently by the miiitary. Although of course, you have to wonder if the people who put the mine there decided a few dead civilians was a risk worth taking.

A suspected car bomb in Peshawar wounded 13, nine of whom are in critical condition. While a suicide bomber attacked a military aircraft servicing facility 75 km from Islamabad killing seven.

The capital itself got a respite, but the streets were pretty quiet. Londonstani toured the various markets on his daily chores and found most of the shops to himself. The downside was that there were no cabs.

While the blow back is clear for everyone to see, no one really knows what is happening in the tribal areas themselves. Reporter friends have been up to Dera Ismail Khan and Peshawar to talk to those fleeing the conflict zones but their stories of having to flee after government forces suggested (in no uncertain terms) that it's time to leave did little to shed light on how the fighting is actually unfolding. Of course, the government and the militants claim to be heaping humiliation on each other in buckets, but its anyone's guess what's actually happening. 

The latest government numbers put Taliban deaths at 142 and their own losses at 20. The latest figures from aid agencies suggest 120,000 have been made homeless.

But while the military operation and the attacks away from the frontline are getting the headlines, it seems to Londonstani that the predictable see-saw of Pakistani politics is thinking of double backing on itself once more. There are whisperings amongst the English speaking super elite, the taxi drivers and the very low level government clerks that maybe it's time the army took over once more.

From Londonstani's point of view this is just wierd. It wasn't that long ago that everyone seemed to be on the streets shouting death to Musharraf. Now, I've heard a possible Pakistani future leader say, "You know if Musharraf hadn't made a couple of small mistakes towards the end, he would have been remembered as the man who saved the nation."

At the time of the most stringent anti Musharraf hysteria, Londonstani remembers sitting in a newsroom asking a visiting Pakistani analyst, "But who's gonna replace Musharraf? You think the same people who ran the country into the ground before him are suddenly going to start amending their ways?"

The analyst said he thought they had learnt their lesson. But it seemed much like bringing Afghan warlords back to Kabul. And, the fear is that the results could actually be much the same.

The complaints of the upper sections of society is that this present government is completely venal, corrupt and incompetent. "'What's new?" Someone with a sense of history might ask, but it seems that this government is setting new records at such a pace that the whole "only the army can run Pakistan" has come back into popular usage a year and a bit after they were last in power (it normally takes a few years). But of course, there is a conspiracy that this is actually what they have been planning all along anyway.

It would be pretty depressing if it wasn't for the fact that there does seem to be a growing sense among young upper and middle class Pakistanis that its time to step the plate. That the old paradigm is very, very broken and their only other option - going abroad - is not really all that appealing. After all, how many financial professionals with qualifications from their country's best institutes actually want to drive cabs?

Londonstani is going to be off on a world wind tour of Pakistan over the next few days.. so hopefully more on what people are thinking behind the scenes.