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2010: Pakistan under siege

A series of terrorist attacks, natural disasters, economic mismanagement, and a lethal combination of greed and corruption — in the words of some — have taken the country back by two steps this year. Imtiaz Ahmad reports.

world Updated: Dec 27, 2010 00:38 IST
Imtiaz Ahmad
Imtiaz Ahmad
Hindustan Times

When a burqa-clad woman charged into a crowd at a World Food Program distribution centre in Pakistan's Bajur district on Saturday, killing nearly 50 people and injuring 100, she symptomised the violence and turmoil that gripped the country for most of 2010.

A series of terrorist attacks, natural disasters, economic mismanagement, and a lethal combination of greed and corruption — in the words of some — have taken the country back by two steps this year.

"The year has had many challenges for us but we have managed to overcome most of them," claimed Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani. Many do not agree with this assessment.

Devastating floods left thousands displaced and one fifth of the country under water. Now that the waters are receding and those displaced by the floods are returning to their homes, Pakistan is counting the costs of this natural disaster. This time round, the world had not been as generous as it was in helping the government after the 2005 earthquake. Donor countries want Pakistan's elite to pay as well.

Wikileaks expose

Leaked cables showed General Kayani's political ambitions

General Kayani had mulled deposing Asif Ali Zardari. Zardari had even made preparations in case of his own assassination.
Kayani is quoted as telling the US ambassador in March 2009 that he might "reluctantly" pressure Zardari to resign.
Kayani disliked Zardari, but he distrusted Nawaz Sharif more.
He was prepared to replace Zardari with Awami National Party's Asfandyar Khan as President.

"It's absolutely unacceptable for those with means in Pakistan not to be doing their fair share to help their own people while taxpayers in Europe, the United States and other contributing countries are all chipping in," US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said.

Instead, the government picked up most of the burden and as a consequence slashed its development spending and is now looking for ways to raise funds. Finance minister Hafeez Shaikh warned that those would have "very long reaching consequences for the country".

Political allies have warned the government not to tax the already over-taxed masses and instead turn its attention to the hundreds of wealthy landlord families who dominate the parliament.

Corruption continues to alternate with terrorism as the core issue for the government. The recent expose by whistle blower website Wikileaks (see box) has put the army on the back foot. Pakistan army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani's political ambitions have been laid bare.

Security analyst Aisha Siddiqa argues that WikiLeaks "has made public what we all along knew in private".

The parliament managed to bring some good news through the passage of the 18th Amendment bill, which limited the powers of the president, empowered the prime minister and also gave more powers to the province.

Terrorism continued to plague the country for most of the year.

The Taliban — the hardline Islamist group that ruled in Afghanistan a decade ago — was under attack from over 200 drone strikes. In reply, the Taliban and its allied groups launched a series of attacks on civilian and military targets.

Nearly 1,300 people were killed and 2,500 injured in 52 suicide attacks since January, making 2010 the bloodiest year since 2001 in terms of the number of people killed.

The year started with a suicide attack on a volleyball field in Lakki Marwat, which killed 90. The Taliban also launched a series of attacks against military targets, including a brazen attack within a mosque in Rawalpindi area to kill the son of the corps commander who was overseeing operations in Waziristan.

Then there were attacks on shrines — the worst attacks being on the Data Darbar in Lahore, which killed 40 and the Abdullah Shah Ghazi shrine in Karachi where 20 died. There was also an attack on a mosque of the Ahmadiyya community, which killed another 80 innocent people.

India-Pakistan relations continued to alternate between hot and cold.

The Pakistan government, caught between its desire to improve relations and threatening postures from its own military high command, tried on two occasions to move ahead, only to be snubbed by its generals.

External affairs minister SM Krishna's visit to Islamabad brought terrorism as the other core issue between the two countries with India urging Pakistan to do more.

And yet feet continued to be dragged on the terror attacks in Mumbai and Jamaat-ud-Daawa chief Hafiz Saeed, the 26/11 mastermind, remained unfettered, spewing poison amongst the populace and urging for "blood or water" in response to fears that India may cut off Pakistan's water supplies.

There were steps back in sport as well. Pakistan suffered several defeats on the cricket field and scandals off it. The economy, for its part, remained fragile owing to ballooning energy costs and losses from the floods. In many respects, the country emerged poorer by the end of the year.

First Published: Dec 27, 2010 00:12 IST