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Afghanistan | International

Pakistan: Under fire
by Al-Ahram Weekly (reposted)
Friday Sep 28th, 2007 8:06 AM
Friday, September 28, 2007 :The Pakistan army may be kingmaker in politics but its realm is shrinking, writes Graham Usher in Rawalpindi The soldiers outside army headquarters cocked their rifles in a gesture decipherable to anyone who has spent time in Afghanistan or Iraq. You obey of course, though the location was neither Baghdad nor Kabul.
It's Rawalpindi, garrison city to the Pakistan army and home to its commander-in-chief -- and Pakistan president -- General Pervez Musharraf. The soldiers at the picket had reason to be jumpy.

That morning two suicide bombers had blitzed the cantonment, leaving 30 officers dead. It was one in a series of brazen, Iraq-like hits that have struck the Pakistan army in recent weeks. On 13 September a bomber killed 20 of the army's crack Special Services Group (SSG) as they sat down to break their fast at an officers' mess in Tarbela in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province.

The SSG is the commando squad that conquered Islamabad's pro-Taliban Red Mosque in July. The quarry of the Rawalpindi bombers was the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the army's premier intelligence agency. In the past the ISI and SSG had been sponsors and handlers of radical Islamic militia like the Taliban fighting in Afghanistan and Indian Kashmir. But the militias have turned on their makers.

The change began after 9/11, when Musharraf swapped sides in the "war on terror". Since then the ISI's priority has been less jihad than regime survival. "The ISI's political cell is Pakistan's most powerful political party. It has resources and organization. It 'wins' elections," says Javid Hashimi, vice-president of Nawaz Sharif's opposition Pakistan Muslim League.

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