Thursday, July 19, 2007

You and what army?

Bush to make the military take on Pakistan's problems:

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — An ambush of a military convoy that killed 17 troops near the Afghan border Wednesday pushed the death toll in a series of attacks to at least 101 Pakistanis in the past five days — and brought President Pervez Musharraf, according to a local newspaper headline, to a "Moment of Truth."

The Bush administration, after publicly demanding that Musharraf rein in militants linked to al Qaida, on Wednesday threatened to launch attacks into Pakistani territory if it sees fit.

"We certainly do not rule out options, and we retain the option especially of striking actionable targets," said White House spokesman Tony Snow. "But it is clearly of the utmost importance to go in there and deal with the problem in the tribal areas."

Facing domestic political pressure for staying in power while in uniform — he is also the nation's top general — Musharraf has relied heavily on the Bush administration as a source of political support. But with Washington now demanding that Musharraf use force in tribal areas, he is struggling to appear decisive while avoiding a civilian bloodbath or more military carnage.

Musharraf recently moved thousands of Pakistani troops to volatile tribal strongholds like North Waziristan, where a Taliban council said earlier this week it was abandoning a peace deal with the government. It was in that area that a large group of gunmen opened fire on troops Wednesday, killing 17 soldiers and wounding 13, according to military officials.


A large Pakistani military operation in the tribal regions, coupled with American officials' calls for action, could lead many Pakistanis to believe that Musharraf is acting as a U.S. surrogate, said analysts and officials in Islamabad. That in turn, they said, would make it easier for radical Islamists to legitimize terrorist attacks as strikes against a Western conspiracy to control an Islamic state.

"The U.S. lawmakers are absolutely oblivious of the ground realities," said Gul, the retired general. But, Gul said, Musharraf's political base has been badly shaken recently — by the controversial suspension of the Supreme Court's chief justice, and then the mosque raid — and he might bend to American pressure to launch large-scale military strikes in the border region.

"He is so weak internally that he needs the American support," Gul said.

It's one of the few things about which many officials in both the government and in opposition parties agree.

"The more the United States approves of such actions, the more problems we have with the public," said one senior Pakistani government official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of U.S.-Pakistan relations. "It needs to be purely our own internal matter."

Nice to see Bush using his delicately nuanced diplomacy....

Update: 33 people dead from car bombs in Pakistan. Chinese workers are being targeted as well.

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