Sunday, February 22, 2004

What is going on in Pakistan? 

Yesterday, we saw press reports that Bin Laden had been spotted in northwest Pakistan, that he was being tracked, and that the U.S. military was prepared to go in and get him on a snatch and grab. Today the Times of India reported that Pakistan has launched a major offensive against Al-Qaeda along with a lot of bluster about going it alone, without U.S. help:

"This action is part of Pakistan 's commitment with the international coalition," [the Pakistani Information Minister] said, adding the operations would be conducted by Pakistan forces alone and not by any foreign forces. "We will not enter into other's territory and will not allow others to violate our boundaries," Rashid said, when asked if US forces would take part in the operation....

The Minister said so far around 50 persons have surrendered but declined to give their details or nationalities. He also denied that the action was aimed at apprehending Osama bin Laden or his deputy Aimn al-Zawahri. "This action is not against any one but it is against terrorism," the Minister said.

He said no pictures of Aimnal-Zawahri have been taken through satellite and this is just propaganda by the West. He said American forces have not landed in Pakistan to take part in the operations and the Pakistani forces are capable to deal with any suspect. Asked if these people would be handed over to any other country, Sheikh Rashid said that President Musharraf had already given a policy statement that those who are surrendered would not be handed over to any country.

After more than two years of pussy-footing around, it looks as though the Pakistanis are going after Al-Qaeda for real, whether or not they admit to U.S. help. What has changed?

My guess is that the United States is now bringing massive pressure to bear on Pakistan. We seemed to give Musharraf a pass on the nuclear secrets scandal (does anybody believe that Khan could have done what he did without Musharraf's knowledge?), but in reality we are putting the hammer down on him. I note, for example, that we are conducting joint exercises with the Indian air force, over Indian air space. How long ago did we schedule these exercises? Are they routine, or are they meant to clarify for Musharraf the scary consequences of losing American support?

Watch Pakistan.


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