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Post-Musharraf, US decides

The US jettisoned an “indispensable ally,” President Musharraf, because Pakistan was more indispensable. Now it has to overcome the resentment of the civilian leaders and enlist their support in the war against terror, writes V Krishna.

world Updated: Aug 20, 2008 23:45 IST
V Krishna

The United States jettisoned an “indispensable ally,” President Pervez Musharraf, because Pakistan was more indispensable. That was the easy part. Now it has to overcome the resentment and suspicions of the civilian leaders and enlist their support, as well as that of the military, in the war against terror.

The US has long been perceived as preferring a military man at the helm to civilian leaders. And “ever since the start of the George W. Bush administration, we’ve had a Musharraf policy rather than a Pakistan policy,” Joseph Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said two months ago.

Musharraf clearly did not — may be could not — deliver what was expected of him. Al Qaeda strengthened its foothold in the tribal areas of Pakistan and used it for deadly cross-border attacks into Afghanistan — as well as attacks in Pakistan and elsewhere.

This failure clearly wasn’t for lack of US assistance. The United States has given Pakistan $5.6 billion to combat terrorism since 2001. But as a US Government Accountability Office report said, quite a bit of that money was diverted for other purposes.

“The outlook for US-Pakistan relations depends really on how the government decides to deal with its internal insurgency and the Afghan border, and on how soon it can shift its focus from having the coalition survive to actually governing,” said Teresita C. Schaffer of the Washington think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s visit gave him and the US administration an opportunity to get to know each other. Now they need to build on that foundation.”

For the Pakistani leaders, Schaffer said, the most important aspect is the internal insurgency. “For the United States, the most important issue is control of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. They need to deal with both.”

Everything points to a key role for Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the army chief of staff, Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao, a former Pakistani minister, told The New York Times.

As for Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, Schaffer said they are under army control — as they always have been. “So they are as safe (or unsafe) as they were before Musharraf stepped down.”