A number of recent events have returned unwanted attention to Pakistan and raised questions about President Pervez Musharraf’s reliability as an ally in the U.S.-led “war on terror.” A rise in cross-border attacks by a resurgent Taliban against U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan has prompted accusations that Pakistani security forces are doing little to root out insurgents (USA Today). Musharraf recently flew to Kabul to take up the matter with President Hamid Karzai (Dawn), whose relations with Pakistan are strained over security issues. So far this year, there have been forty-seven attacks by Taliban fighters, the most recent of which was a suicide bombing on September 10 that killed an Afghan provincial governor (NYT).
Separately, a Pakistani military strike killed nationalist Baluch leader Nawab Akbar Bugti, setting off a wave of protest and violence. Some experts wonder if the assault was a mistake, while at least one suggests the conspiratorial presence of a “foreign hand” (Daily News & Analysis India).
Against this backdrop, Pakistan’s embattled leader has proven unable—or unwilling, some say—to locate Osama bin Laden, rumored to be occupying a cave on Pakistani soil. A truce signed between Islamist militants in northern Waziristan—where some believe the elusive leader of al-Qaeda is hiding—and the government to end cross-border attacks and strikes against military installations has left some U.S. officials worried. They are concerned the accord might be used to grant safe haven to terrorists like bin Laden, provided they, as one Pakistani general put it, behave as “peaceful citizen[s]” (BBC).
All of which has U.S.policymakers asking: Is Washington making a mistake by backing Musharraf? Yes, argues Selig S. Harrison of the Center for International Policy. “Musharraf has been an opportunist from the start who has continued to help the Taliban and who has gone after al-Qaeda cells in Pakistan only to the extent necessary to fend off U.S. and British pressure,” he writes in the Los Angeles Times. Seth G. Jones of the RAND Corporation tells the New York Times there is ample evidence that the Pakistani intelligence provides the Taliban with financing, training, and other resources; Musharraf denies these accusations and vows to arrest bin Laden if he is found (AP). Several U.S. officials, as this new Backgrounder examines, say Musharraf may be better than the alternatives, particularly given the deep well of anti-Americanism in Pakistan and the increasing power of Islamist opposition parties.
Yet Frederic Grare of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, writing in this policy brief, says the threat posed by Islamists is a “myth invented by the Pakistani military.” The army, not Islamist extremists, is “the main source of insecurity on the subcontinent,” he argues. Further, the militarization of Pakistan, he writes in this Carnegie Paper, will have negative consequences for the country’s presidential elections next fall. This Backgrounder examines Pakistan’s tenuous security situation.