Tuesday, February 24, 2004

70,000 Pakistani soldiers search border 

From the Chicago Tribune, more detail on Pakistan's military operation against Al - Qaeda. This article hints at the reasons behind Musharraf's new willingness to get serious, but doesn't tell the whole story:

The U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. David Barno, last week hailed the Pakistani army's "dramatically improved" level of cooperation with the 11,000 U.S. troops battling Al Qaeda and its Taliban allies in Afghanistan....

Speaking to reporters in Washington, Barno said the goal is to use a "hammer and anvil" approach to "crush Al Qaeda elements between the Pakistani and coalition forces."
Pakistan's cooperation is crucial because U.S. forces in Afghanistan don't have the right to cross into Pakistan, where Al Qaeda fighters and their Taliban allies have been able to take advantage of the autonomous status of the tribal region to evade capture and to launch attacks in Afghanistan....

Speaking to religious leaders last week, Musharraf said Pakistan has to cooperate with U.S. forces if it is to avoid becoming a target of the terror war. There is a risk, he said, that the U.S. "would start bombing" Pakistan if the country continues to be perceived as one that harbors terrorists.

As I wrote on a comments page over at The Command Post, Musharraf must walk a very thin tightrope to survive, so one must never believe everything one reads about the actions or intentions of the government there.

We know a couple of things that lead to more questions. First, Musharraf served up Abdul Khan as the sole actor in the nuclear proliferation case, and then pardoned him. On its face, the claim that Khan acted alone was nonsense, and the pardon was atrocious. Yet the U.S. didn’t even squeak. Why?

Second, the U.S. has gotten much closer to India since September 11. As of last week, the U.S. and Indian air forces were conducting joint exercises in Indian air space. Why?

We know that Musharraf cannot anger the Pakistani "street" too much, or the Islamicists will get the numbers they need to throw him out of office. That is why he had been dragging his feet on hunting down Bin Laden. We also know that Musharraf can’t anger the U.S. too much, or we will become intolerably pro-India. I propose that we are letting him off the hook by “believing” the Khan explanation and not protesting the Khan pardon, and in return he is finally getting serious about hunting down Al-Qaeda. But he has to do it in a way that will not enrage the Pakistani street too much, or the Islamicists will get the leverage to push him out of power. He also knows that if he fails to bring in Bin Laden, we will do it on our own with special forces from Afghanistan whether he permits us or not. He will scream and yell, but he will avoid direct confrontation because he can't afford to push the U.S. too far into the waiting arms of India (no pun intended).

So my belief is that Musharraf will now, finally, seriously engage Al-Qaeda and pursue Bin Laden, all the while saying what he needs to say (he promised not to turn over "local tribesmen" to the Americans, as if we cared about local tribesmen) to keep his domestic opposition at bay. That’s the only path that prevents both the U.S. from demanding crippling sanctions over the nuclear secrets scandal and the Islamicists from seizing power at home.


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