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Pakistan’s Balancing Act

Prepared by: Eben Kaplan
Updated: October 10, 2006


Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said during a recent New York visit that his is one of the most difficult jobs in the world. Facing external pressure to be a major partner in the “war on terror” and internal pressure to resist Western influence, Musharraf must consistently pull off a delicate balancing act amid a tenuous security situation. But recent accusations suggest the scales have tipped too far to one side. Last month, the BBC published excerpts of a leaked report from a British military think tank alleging that Pakistan has been indirectly “supporting terrorism and extremism—whether in London on 7/7, or in Afghanistan, or Iraq.” Days later the police chief in Mumbai, India, claimed to have proof (Dawn) that Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI, planned the July 11 attacks on that city’s commuter rail system. In late September, Afghan President Hamid Karzai complained at a CFR meeting that he had provided Islamabad with the location of fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Omar’s hideout near Quetta, Pakistan, yet Musharraf took no action. A new Backgrounder examines the charges that the ISI is supporting terrorists.

Musharraf has spent the last several weeks fending off his critics. In a video interview with the BBC, he stressed the essential role his country plays. “Remember my words,” he said, “If the ISI is not with you and Pakistan is not with you, you will lose in Afghanistan.” But when questioned a few days later about Pakistani support for the Taliban on U.S. television, Musharraf acknowledged that some retired members of his intelligence services could be aiding the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.

On Saturday, Musharraf took an encouraging step, arresting nearly fifty suspected Taliban fighters (Hindu) on the outskirts of Quetta. Some experts are skeptical of Pakistan’s commitment to pursuing the Taliban, suggesting the arrests are simply a bid for a reprieve from criticism. NATO leaders have loudly condemned Pakistan (EurasiaNet)for what they see as clear ISI support of the Taliban, while pressing Western leaders to call Musharraf’s bluff. General David Richards, NATO’s commander in Afghanistan, traveled to Pakistan on Tuesday (BBC) to discuss the country’s role in fighting terrorism.

Allegations of duplicity have not played well in the Pakistani press. An editorial in The News, a Pakistani newspaper, cites “the significant number of casualties suffered by Pakistani forces and civilians, not to mention the damaging political fallout of supporting the war on terror,” as evidence that Musharraf is not “faking it.” One thing that is undeniable is that the Taliban has bounced back (Frontline), and poses a serious threat to the future security of Afghanistan. Speaking with’s Bernard Gwertzman, Afghanistan expert Barnett R. Rubin says Pakistan’s support for the insurgency has pushed Afghanistan to “a potential tipping point.” A Backgrounder looks at what NATO is doing along the troublesome Afghan-Pakistani border.

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