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Suicide blasts, Zardari’s future dominated Pakistan

December 30, 2009

Unending suicide attacks that have claimed close to 1,000 lives and anti-Taliban military operations dominated Pakistan in 2009, a year that raised question marks over the future of President Asif Ali Zardari.

In the last three months of the year alone, some 600 people, mostly civilians, died in a series of blasts that rocked a vast region, from the restive North West Frontier Province (NWFP) to the country’s commercial capital Karachi.

In the most horrendous of these bombings, 177 people, including a large number of women and children, were killed Oct 28 in a suicide attack at a crowded market in Peshawar, the NWFP capital.

No major Pakistani city was immune to the terrorist rampage.

In the last quarter of the year, some 260 people were slaughtered in Peshawar, around 90 in the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi, 75 in Dera Ismail Khan in NWFP and 72 in Lahore. The year ended with a ghastly bombing of a Muharram procession in Karachi that left at least 25 dead.

Analysts say there is a pattern to the heightened violence in the closing months of the year. It is seen to be linked to the military’s anti-Taliban operations in the South Waziristan region along the Afghanistan border.

The operations began in the NWFP in April. Within six months, the military had managed to push the militants into their strongholds in South Waziristan. With the armed forces turning to this region in October, the suicide attacks were seen as a last desperate bid to stave off the military assault. The government estimates that close to 2,500 guerrillas have been killed in the two operations.

Even as Pakistan struggled to cope with the wave of killings, President Zardari ended 2009 facing the very real possibility of being jailed in the new year on corruption charges following the repeal of an amnesty against graft.

Should that happen, it would greatly strengthen Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and also see the return of Pakistan’s main opposition party to the ruling federal coalition.

Zardari, who has been engaged in a bitter power struggle with the prime minister, found the ground swept away from under his feet when the Supreme Court Dec 16 invalidated the 2007 National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO). The ordinance had granted immunity from corruption charges to his slain wife and former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and he himself besides hundreds of politicians and bureaucrats, enabling many to return home from exile.

The NRO, issued by former president Pervez Musharraf, had scrapped all corruption cases against politicians and bureaucrats filed between January 1986 and October 1999 on the grounds that they may have been politically

motivated. The court has now ruled that the cases would be restored.

Gilani is also committed to repealing the controversial 17th amendment of the constitution that Musharraf had pushed through in 2002 transferring key executive powers from the prime minister’s office to the presidency.

Once that happens, it would pave the way for the return of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif to the ruling coalition, giving it a two-thirds majority in the 340-seat National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, along with its smaller partners, the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) and the Awami National Party (ANP).

The troubles in the NWFP apart, Pakistan had to contended with terrorism in other parts of the country, notably in Lahore.

In March, the Sri Lankan cricket team was attacked as it headed for the Gaddafi Stadium for a Test match. Six players were injured while six Pakistani policemen and two civilians were killed in the audacious attack.

The same month, heavily-armed Taliban fighters laid siege to the Manawan police training academy on the outskirts of Lahore and close to the border with India. By the time it all ended, four attackers and 27 trainees lay dead.

Even the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency was not spared. An attack on its facility in Peshawar in November killed 13 people and a similar attack in the Punjab town of Multan claimed 12 lives.

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