Thursday, December 25, 2003

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An interesting month for Pervez Musharraf

Buried in a Newsweek story about the prospects of capturing bin Laden was the following nugget of information about Al Qaeda's strategy vis-à-vis Pakistan:

Qaeda terrorists may have tried to kill Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf with a bomb last week, missing his car by seconds. [bin Laden deputy Ayman] Al-Zawahiri, in the latest video aired by Al-Jazeera on Friday, warned of new attacks. Yet such operations—which require wide networks of operatives, one of whom might be interested in a $25 million reward—could provide intelligence-gathering opportunities to Western agents.

The real test of bin Laden's vulnerability may now come in Pakistan. If the attack on Musharraf proves to be Qaeda-linked—rather than an "inside" assassination attempt, perhaps by members of the Pakistani military—it could backfire against bin Laden by provoking the Pakistani president into decisive action. U.S. intelligence officials say their ability to capture bin Laden and his associates is largely dependent on intelligence assistance from Pakistan, an ally that once supported the Taliban and whose loyalties have sometimes been in doubt. "Most of Musharraf's actions against jihadis have been reluctantly taken under tremendous U.S. pressure, often preceding or just following a high-level American visit," says Husain Haqqani, a former Pakistani diplomat. One U.S. intel official, asked about a potential breakthrough against bin Laden, responds simply: "That's going to be a Pakistani thing."

It's far from certain if this analysis is correct. As previously noted, Musharraf's domestic political situation is not great. His latest deal with the Islamic opposition could either be interpreted as a sign of democratization, a concession to hard-line Islamists, or both.

However, the failed assassination attempt on Musharraf two weeks ago -- the same day Saddam was captured -- has not deterred the Pakistani leader's opponents:

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has narrowly survived a second assassination bid in less than two weeks when suicide car bombers attacked his motorcade, killing themselves and at least 12 others.

Officials said on Thursday the two cars used in the attack were driven out of two petrol stations just 200 metres (yards) from a bridge on a main road in the city of Rawalpindi where Musharraf escaped a bombing on December 14....

Authorities suspect Islamic militants, who Musharraf has targeted as part of his contribution to the U.S.-led war on terror, were behind the December 14 attack. Musharraf told Reuters a few days later it could have been the work of al Qaeda and he believed "destiny" had shielded him.

The list of Musharraf's enemies has lengthened since he took a front-line role in the U.S.-led war on terror after the September 11 attacks in 2001.

He has angered militants by dropping support for the former Taliban regime in Afghanistan, arresting hundreds of members of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network and cracking down on domestic groups, and by edging towards peace with rival India.

The attack come just over a week before a regional summit in Islamabad due to be attended by India's Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.

In September, Arabic television broadcast an audio tape purportedly from al Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahri urging Pakistanis to overthrow Musharraf for supporting the United States.

Gonna be an interesting 2004 for Pakistani politics!! [Every year is an interesting year for Pakistani politics!--ed. Point taken]

UPDATE: Ahmed Rashid has a disturbing analysis of Musharraf's domestic position in the Daily Telegraph.

posted by Dan on 12.25.03 at 10:48 AM


Hold on, I thought we were for overthrowing dictators and bringing democracy to the region!

posted by: Tom West on 12.25.03 at 10:48 AM [permalink]

Overthrowing dictators that have nuclear weapons so we can let the American-hating extremists take charge and threaten the world was never part of our plan. The international community (read: America) needs to do everything it can to make sure those nuclear weapons are secure: Musharraf can't survive too many more "interesting months" like this, and we can't afford the alternative.

posted by: Juan Lieber on 12.25.03 at 10:48 AM [permalink]

As far as I have been able to determine there is no contingency American government plan for a post-Musharraf Islamist controlled Pakistan.

The one thing that this war has taught me is that there is a world of difference between policy paper place holders and fully vetted policy with Presidential support. Pre-9/11 I read a number of policy papers that dealt with American foreign policy options in the aftermath of a mass casualty terrorist attack on US soil. They called for "Stand and Deliver" ultimatums to nations like Musharraf's Pakistan to turn over their WMD and terrorists. That didn't happen. Neither State nor CIA wanted to go there so we didn't. Neither had senior people in their organizations that were part of the policy paper creation process and they opposed using those policy papers from the outset.

Both State and CIA still don't want to go anywhere near the idea of an Islamist controlled Pakistani nuclear arsenal.

The Defense Department cannot by itself create a national policy on this without a multi-agency vetting process via the National Security Council.

Condi Rice should be shot gunning such a policy. It hasn't happened. We haven't heard jack on the subject. Given State and CIA's record of disobedience we would have if Bush supported Condi in creating a national security policy contingency plans to address that impending disaster.

This is why I am so pessimistic about the final outcome of the war. As bad as the Bush Administration has been on policy here, a Dean Administration would be far worse.

posted by: Trent Telenko on 12.25.03 at 10:48 AM [permalink]

We need to keep Musharraf in power as long as possible because he is the last
and the only hope that a nuclear-armed Pakistan doesnt fall in the hands of the extremists.
Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif(the ex two prime ministers) are a part of the extremist group and cannot be trusted.

posted by: Mohammed Khan on 12.25.03 at 10:48 AM [permalink]

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