(by Eli Lake, NYSun.com) WASHINGTON – As a political crisis boils in Pakistan, American analysts both inside and outside the government are expressing new doubts that President Musharraf will be able to hold onto power through the summer.
Over the past month, the military regime in Islamabad has faced a rising threat of violent jihadis in its capital, as well as the struggle between the president and the suspended chief justice of the country, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. The twin challenges have led some analysts in the American intelligence community to begin questioning whether Pakistan’s military, traditionally General Musharraf’s most reliable ally, will support the current regime for much longer.
A Musharraf exit could deal a stinging blow to America in the war on terrorism. President Bush has lavished the Pakistani leader with arms sales and low-interest loans while keeping mum on his spotty human rights record. The logic has been that the former general, who himself came to power in a 1999 military coup, had dismantled his pre-September 11, 2001, policy of supporting the Taliban and would be the best possible option for American interests in Pakistan.
But the strongman’s grip on power appears to be loosening, with a number of analysts citing as evidence last month’s showdown inside Islamabad’s Red Mosque, also known as Lal Masjid. On May 22, thousands of Pakistani police amassed on the outskirts of the mosque after a pro-Taliban group took four police officers hostage inside.
The hostage crisis was eventually resolved, but only after General Musharraf tried and failed to launch a military strike on the building.
It is now an open question within the intelligence community whether the order the president gave to storm the mosque was disobeyed or never given. The Pakistani press quoted air force officers last month as saying they refused to carry out an order to bomb the building.
One American intelligence analyst, who requested anonymity, summed up the standoff at the Red Mosque by saying: “Imagine if President Clinton had sent a negotiator to Waco to negotiate a deal with David Koresh and then let them keep all of their weapons.” (Koresh was the leader of the Branch Davidians, a religious sect that was involved in a fatal standoff with the FBI in 1993 in Waco, Texas.)
A former Pakistan analyst for the State Department’s policy planning staff, Daniel Markey, said yesterday that it “was very hard to know” whether officers would follow every order the military receives.
But Mr. Markey, who left government in January and recently returned from Pakistan, also said it was too soon to say General Musharraf’s political demise is a certainty.
“There is the potential rosy Pakistan next spring, with some sort of negotiated relationship where the military feel reasonably comfortable with a new civilian government,” he said.
“But that is if we get that far. For the chief justice issue crisis, the political debate, the street protests that have been associated with that, people are raising questions about Musharraf’s stability in a way that I have not quite heard before.”
Spencer Ackerman, writing on the Web site TPM Muckraker, yesterday quoted a former deputy head of CIA operations, Rob Richer, as saying General Musharraf knows his days in power are numbered.
“He believes his successor has got to be someone who supports the military but it won’t necessarily be someone in uniform,” Mr. Richer said. “There’s no obvious candidate. At this point, he’s looking for the right person, a right-winger, someone who understands the army.”
It is difficult to know General Musharraf’s fate, a former Pakistan analyst for the State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Marvin Weinbaum, said. “He may be able to get through the next few months, get to October. That is the earliest date for elections,” he said. “But he is so damaged, his credibility will be questioned.”
For other analysts, a looming problem for Pakistan is General Musharraf’s recent dealings with pro-Taliban groups that have links to Al Qaeda.
As The New York Sun reported last fall, the Pakistani military ceded the provinces of north and south Waziristan to local chieftains last summer.
Now, the CIA believes that those provinces and other border areas are hosting the senior leadership of Al Qaeda.
And more of those kinds of arrangements are in the offing in another Pakistani border province, Bajur, after the recent decision to pardon a warlord, Faqir Mohammed, who is thought have harbored Al Qaeda’s no. 2, Ayman al-Zawahri.
Today, American intelligence officials see one possible successor to General Musharraf in the current vice chief of staff of the army, General Ehsan Saleem Hayat, according to two American intelligence officials.
Another possibility is the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff of the Pakistani military, Ehsun ul-Haq, a former chief of Pakistan’s intelligence service.
Yesterday, Mr. Ackerman reported that Mr. Haq met last month with Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte.
Reprinted here with permission from The New York Sun. Visit the website at NYSun.com.
1. a) Name the capital of Pakistan.
b) List the countries that border Pakistan.
c) Who is the President of Pakistan?
2. For what reasons do analysts believe President Musharraf might lose power by the end of the summer? (answer found in para. 2, 4-6, 9-11)
3. How would Musharraf’s exit affect the U.S.?
4. Why has the U.S. given President Musharraf so much support (including arms sales and low-interest loans)?
5. In what ways has al Qaeda recently been linked to Pakistan?
6. What men have been named as possible successors should President Musharraf lose power?
7. Do you think that the U.S. should continue to work with President Musharraf, despite his dealings with pro-Taliban groups that have links to al-Qaeda? Explain your answer.
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