There won’t be any prizes for guessing why US Vice-President Dick Cheney had dropped in on Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in Islamabad the other day. The visit was kept unannounced due to safety concerns because of the recent incidents of suicide bombings in Pakistani territory. Mr Cheney reportedly delivered an express message from President George W. Bush to General Musharraf, urging him to take tougher action against militants on his side of the border, where US commanders believe radical fighters are being sheltered and trained. The unusually tough message from Mr Bush warned Mr Musharraf that US Congress would cut aid if he did not do more to fight extremists. This suggests that Washington is finding it difficult to influence events in Pakistan.
It is no secret that Mr Musharraf has turned a Nelson’s eye towards Taliban leaders and cadres operating from Pakistani territory ever since US-led forces landed in Afghanistan more than five years ago. On their part, US generals probably never took this seriously, as long as Islamabad cooperated in fighting against al-Qaeda. But that collaboration has been declining of late. In fact, Mr Musharraf makes no bones about trying to persuade the Hamid Karzai government to sign a peace deal with the resurgent Taliban elements along the lines of the agreements he has reached with the tribal leaders of Waziristan. So it is hardly surprising if Washington now finds the credentials of its front-line ally in the war against terrorism a tad dubious.
But that may not be the only reason for the Bush administration to offer the general another debt write-off and F-16 aircraft if he falls in line. For Washington could also be keen on enlisting him as a key ally against Iran. Tehran accuses Islamabad of smuggling radical Sunni groups into the country. New Delhi should watch these developments closely as their fallout on the subcontinent could be disturbing, going beyond Mr Musharraf’s waning enthusiasm for a gas pipeline from Iran to India through Pakistan.