Pakistan Chief Tackles Crime Wave Nawaz Sharif's Focus on Law Enforcement Distracts from Earlier Plan to Revamp the Economy

Article excerpt

SPREADING lawlessness is rattling the government of Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Only a few weeks ago, Mr. Sharif, an industrialist better known for his political contacts than finesse, seemed to step into his own after a bumpy six-month initiation to power. He survived turmoil over his support for the US-dominated coalition during the Gulf war.

The threat from the military eased with the announced retirement of Army Chief Mirza Aslam Beg. Despite a US aid cutoff, Sharif impressed foreign investors and donors with ambitious plans to restructure Pakistan's floundering economy.

But now Sharif grapples with a wave of crime and terrorism which has killed hundreds of people through bomb blasts, train crashes, kidnappings, and murders.

In a controversial move, Sharif pushed through a constitutional amendment in July to handle cases in high-crime areas. The new law suspends supreme court jurisdiction and establishes special "terrorist courts" in terrorism-affected areas.

But to placate critics, the amendment stopped short of giving police emergency arrest and detention powers.

Several gruesome massacres have shaken Punjab, for years a refuge in Pakistan's long history of violence. Troubled Sindh province has plunged deeper into ethnic and political turmoil and threatens to undermine Sharif as it did his predecessor, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

A dispute over whether the military should be able to arrest, try, and convict offenders eventually led to Mrs. Bhutto's dismissal in early August.

"Nawaz is most vulnerable on Sindh," says a Western diplomat. "This is the area of most concern for the military."

"This law--and- order situation has to be brought under control," says a minister in Sharif's government, "especially in Punjab, which is the heart of Pakistan."

Unnerved by the disarray, Sharif has cried conspiracy by Indian and Afghan intelligence services, and in late June he called for tighter border security. Earlier in the summer, he canceled a trip to Japan during which he had hoped to win crucial investment and economic aid.

The government has tightened law enforcement, including ordering the arrest of all members of Al-Zulfikar, a militant organization linked to the family of Benazir Bhutto and her party, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP). Bhutto denies her party is involved with the group.

The crackdown comes as the situation in Sindh has become acute, Pakistani analysts say. Since the murder in mid-June of a judge trying Bhutto's husband and several top leaders of her party, the Sindh provincial government has blamed the PPP for the violence and arrested hundreds of its supporters. …


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