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musharraf's predicament

His hold over Pakistan is tenuous. He's survived assassination attempts; his government has had to make deals -- widely viewed as concessions -- with militants in the uncontrolled tribal areas; he faces a nationalist insurgency in the province of Baluchistan; and he's been accused of playing a "double game" by some U.S. and Afghan officials. What's his strategy and what kind of ally is he for the United States? Here are the views of some experts, drawn from their FRONTLINE interviews.

U.S. special envoy and ambassador on Afghanistan, 1989-1992

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Peter Tomsen

What kind of ally is Musharraf?

I think Musharraf is a good ally. ... But I think in this part of the world, we always have to remember that there are things that you see and you hear, but they don't conform to reality. When we hear from Musharraf that he's cooperating with us fully, I don't believe it. I believe that he's following a two-track policy.

A double game is what the Afghans and the Americans might say?

I think that's absolutely correct, that he's attempting to keep in place ... this extremist variant of Islam that has its expression in the Pakistani radical Muslim parties as well as the radical parts of the Afghan mujahideen, which were sustained and supported during the jihad against the Soviet Union and have been supported ever since then.

He keeps that together, on the one hand --

Yes. And on the other hand he's receiving $3 billion worth of American assistance. …

So what kind of ally is this?

Well, we have to remember that they've done a lot against Al Qaeda, that they've picked up hundreds of Al Qaeda in cooperation with the CIA.

All we do is pick up number three. We pick up number three, and then we pick up number three again and then again. What about number one [Osama bin Laden] and number two [Ayman al-Zawahiri]?

Yeah, I think that would be a major boon, and I think we could do it fairly quickly --

If we had Pakistan's help.

-- if Pakistan decided to help. My opinion is that so far, if they have not crossed that line, they'd rather not. As I mentioned, they want to keep this asset in place for a future time when the United States might leave the region, and then they can exploit the asset again to aggrandize the position in Afghanistan and Kashmir as well. It's a two-track policy.

Author, Ghost Wars

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Steve Coll

The difficulty that [Musharraf] faces is that he doesn't have a strategy in the frontier that looks plausible. ... His attempts to control Waziristan are undermined by the fact that he's fighting another war in a national province of Pakistan, Baluchistan, one that contains [extraordinarily] important natural resources and transportation corridors. He cannot afford to lose in Baluchistan. He belongs to a generation of officers that remembers the Pashtun nationalist wars in Baluchistan and along the frontier from the 1970s. They regard this region as fertile ground for Indian mischief-making and for outside interference with Pakistan's national integrity. But if you ask any Pakistani general what's more important, Baluchistan or the frontier, I think they would answer Baluchistan every time.

So he's simply trying to hold the country together that is threatening to spin apart?

And he would like a little more understanding from his allies in the United States about the complexity and variety of challenges to Pakistan's unity that he is trying to manage, and also about the limits of military force in the frontier -- certainly Pakistani military force -- to change the equation.

Limits of Pakistani force and limits on their loyalty to his policy.

Not only does he have to worry about the integrity of the nation and, for instance, Baluchistan's integration into the Pakistan economy, but he has to worry about the loyalty of his own military and his own officers.

Musharraf has established unity at the top of the Pakistan army, but he knows that that unity depends on continued support for policies that are at odds with the views of the great majority of Pakistanis. In other words, Musharraf has made an alliance with the United States that has benefited the army. He has convinced many of the officers around him that the policies he is following are good for the army, and by being good for the army, ultimately will be good for Pakistan. But it's a tenuous consensus.

And the rank and file are not with them.

And the rank and file are not with them.

And at least divided.

Certainly divided.

So is Musharraf a false ally?

... He's not a false ally; he's a weak ally. And he's weak because he has made commitments that he can't deliver on through the institutions that he commands. …

Is Musharraf going to be around five or 10 years down the road?

He thinks he is, evidently. Musharraf continues to believe that he is the indispensable man in Pakistan. ...

The problem with Musharraf's whole strategy -- and it's not just true on the western frontier; it's true nationally -- is that he is trying to weaken parties that any sensible leader would recognize are his natural allies, or at least his natural instruments. The more he weakens the Awami League, the more he weakens the PPP [Pakistan Peoples Party], the more he deprives civilian, moderate Muslim Punjabi politicians of the space to build alliances in Baluchistan and to try to seek power in provincial governments, the more he makes it difficult for his own army to control this ground.

There is no military solution. There is only a combination of military and political measures undertaken over a long period of time that will bring this ground under control for Pakistan. I would add that he is not going to control his western frontier until he also settles his eastern frontier. As long as he tempts India to make mischief in Baluchistan by making mischief himself in Kashmir, he deprives himself of the space in which he could achieve any kind of reasonable solution.

He knows this. The Indians know it, too. Every Indian soldier who dies in occupied Kashmir, there is somebody in New Delhi who is looking at a map of Baluchistan and looking for payback. Musharraf understands this. It's why he feels that this area is an urgent matter of national security even beyond the American agenda.

But he can't get there without political allies, and yet he is unwilling to share power in the way that would produce that flowering of other political forces besides the Islamists along the frontier.

U.S. deputy secretary of state, 2001-2005

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Richard Armitage

I think President Musharraf and his colleagues can be rightly frustrated. They've been fighting mightily in the tribal areas, or the so-called FATA, Federally Administered Tribal Areas. They've lost 600, 700 of their very fine soldiers, and they get no credit for them from their point of view. Instead, they are subjected to cries of indignation from Kabul and beyond that they're not doing enough to stop cross-border operations. So to some extent I think our friends in Pakistan feel that they're being made a scapegoat for the inability of the coalition and Afghan forces to complete the mission.

Well, what about that? Are they being made scapegoats, or are they not doing enough?

Well, I think if you lose 600 or 700 soldiers, it's very hard to say you're not doing enough. That's quite a sacrifice for a country like Pakistan. Could they do more? Sure. I think we could all do more. We could put more troops ... into Afghanistan ourselves. …

So you don't buy it when Karzai complains or when his chief of intelligence complains that this is really a double game on the part of Pakistan; that their heart's not really in it. They're friends of the Taliban.

Well, look, they had a 10-year policy of supporting the Taliban and the Pashtuns, and I think it's hard for any nation to turn away from 10 years of one policy immediately to go to the reverse. I am of the opinion that President Musharraf himself is absolutely sincere in his desire to root out Taliban, because, see, he realizes to some extent the fortunes of the 160 million people in Pakistan are tied to the fate of the 25 million people in Afghanistan.

You believe that he is sincere. You told congressional leaders back in October of 2003, "I personally believe that Musharraf is genuine when he assists us in the tribal areas, but I don't think that that affection for working with us extends up and down the rank and file of the Pakistani security community."

… I think that there are sympathies in some segments of the ISI for the Taliban and for the failed policy of 10 years.

But Musharraf is the man in charge. Why can't he clean up his own military and his own ISI?

I think to a large extent he has cleaned up the military. But let's remember that President Musharraf was a fellow who was bombed twice, nearly cost him his life. Some of the miscreants who committed those acts were from his own military. So he's in a precarious position himself. I don't think -- though he is in charge, and the buck does stop there -- that he could actually know the sympathies and the sentiments of every soldier and young officer in the ISI. I just don't think it's possible.

Well, there's a question out there as to whether or not we're dealing with a false ally who's playing a double game or we're dealing with a weak ally in Musharraf. And you would say he's weak?

Yeah, I have been from the beginning a big fan of President Musharraf, notwithstanding the extralegal way in which he assumed power. I think he's genuine in trying to improve the lives of the people of Pakistan. I've noted in the past [that] under democratic governments and under martial law, the people of Pakistan have been royally and liberally screwed. Regarding President Musharraf, there's never been a taint of corruption to him. It says much to his credit.

I think he will fail in his "enlightened moderation" program, however, unless we continue to support him and unless we and the coalition and most importantly of all the Afghan people win their battle in Afghanistan.

Pakistan's ambassador to the United Nations

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Munir Akram

I think he's a strong ally. And he's a good ally. And he's the only ally you have in that region who is capable of delivering on his promises. You have no other ally in that region.

And the promise is what?

The promise is a long-term campaign against terrorism and extremism. We will win it. It requires patience. It requires sacrifice on all sides. It requires cooperation. It requires no shifting of the blame from where it should fall. We are doing the best we can. It's got to be seen in a long-term perspective. It's in the interest of the U.S. to have moderation in Pakistan and in Afghanistan and in the whole region.

Pakistan is the key to success in that strategy. You press us more, you pressurize Pakistan, you destabilize Pakistan, it's going to be the most counterproductive thing that would happen. And perhaps that is the aim of some people, and some people who may be fielding policy. But this certainly would be the most counterproductive and silly thing to do, to press Pakistan more. To the point where either the cooperation breaks or you destabilize Pakistan.

What happens if United States pressure destabilizes Pakistan?

I think you know the scenarios, and those scenarios have been sketched out very well.

Religious parties taking control of a nuclear state.

Whatever. You know there are so many scenarios. …

Senior fellow, Center on International Cooperation, NYU

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Barnett Rubin

Can the United States trust Musharraf when he says he's cleaned up the ISI and that we're all rowing in the same direction?

Well, it's not a matter of trust. Unfortunately, in international politics, I guess that President Reagan was correct in his statement that he used to use with Gorbachev: "Trust, but verify." I'm afraid that we have gone too far on trust and not far enough on verification.

But I don't blame Pakistan necessarily for pursuing its national interests. I blame the United States for not seriously trying to understand what that national interest is. What's going on between Pakistan and Afghanistan is not the war on terror. There are very serious, longstanding problems in that region, and if we want to pursue our interests, which have to do with assuring that that area will not be a basis for international terrorism against us, we also have to understand the very real concern, sometimes exaggerated concerns, of the people who live there and help them to address those. …

Do you buy the idea that Musharraf is now -- you've heard the phrase many times, I'm sure -- playing a double game with the United States, keeping the pot on the boil, keeping the money to fight terrorism coming, but not fighting too hard to eradicate the problem?

Look, putting it in that way analyzes Pakistan solely in terms of what we want them to do. Of course Musharraf is playing a double game. He wouldn't be doing his job if he wasn't. It's not the job of a head of state to be honest and frank and treat everybody as if they're his best friends. It's his job to protect the national security of his state.

Now, Pakistan has always played this kind of double game. That's part of the clever way they protect their national security. They act as allies of the United States to the extent that they can in order to get the weapons that they need to fight their own battles; to deter India; to, in a sense, destabilize the border area with Afghanistan so that the trouble goes in the other direction and not toward them. ...

ismail kahn

Journalist, Dawn and The New York Times

Ismail Khan

[What have his actions in the tribal areas cost Musharraf?]

Well, it is serious because you have more than one division of Pakistan army there deployed. You have South Waziristan completely lost to the militants, not as hanging in balance. And you have problems stirring up in Bajaur.

And development projects are stopping all across the board.

Exactly. Development projects have come to a halt because of the security situation. And casualties are high, you know [in the] security forces. They can't really move. There are IED attacks and there are rocket attacks at nighttime. And then with all this, you have pressure from across the border, from Americans: "You're not doing enough." So I sometimes really feel sorry for Musharraf.

… But what's in it for Musharraf? Is there a threat to Musharraf in having some foreign militants operating out of these tribal areas?

Well, I'm sure there is. There have been three attacks, you know, assassination attempts--

Yeah, but those are, presumably, because he's put pressure on them.


But if he left them alone, would he have a problem?

Well, there is an understanding, you know, that you can do what you want, but then you will have to wash your hands of the tribal region. I don't think the government would want to do that at any cost.

Rahimullah Yusefzai

Journalist, BBC

Rahimullah Yusufzai

The Americans say that Musharraf is not doing enough.

I have a different perspective. I think he is doing more than enough looking at the conditions in which he's working. You know, he has risked his life. And the army has earned a lot of criticism.

You know, it's not a popular thing to do in Pakistan because of the anti-U.S. feelings. Why are these tribal people resisting these military operations? Why are they hosting the foreign militants? Why do the graves of these Al Qaeda members become shrines? Because they are popular. …

By deploying these troops in Waziristan and trying to defend these military operations, and also claiming to have killed these foreign militants, you know, in a way I think that's something which could not have been done by anybody else. I still think that Musharraf has done a lot. You know, maybe he can do something more. But maybe I think he has raised a limit of what he can do. I don't think that he can do much more than that.

So you're saying militarily, he can't do much more without risking more of an uprising.

I think that is going to be a risk because you know, he is in danger all the time. You know, he's living dangerously I must say. So, his person has become controversial. …

What does he get in return for doing these favors for the Americans?

Again, general perception in Pakistan is that he is being supported to do whatever he wants to do with his kind of democracy. That he is able to suppress the opposition parties. That he can get away with anything. …

The feeling we get [is] that the U.S. is more interested in this one person because … he's indispensable. And the perception or the complaint is that look, Americans don't care about the Pakistani people.

Or democracy.

Or democracy or human rights. This man was being shunned. You know, they thought he's a dictator. He has captured power in any legal coup. He has removed a democratically elected prime minister. So that was then. And then after 9/11 he became the darling of the U.S., of the West.

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posted oct. 3, 2006

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