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Home > News > PTI

Why Musharraf can't get tough with Al Qaeda

Sridhar Krishnaswami in Washington | March 02, 2007 11:21 IST

A top Pentagon official has said that Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf faces several political problems within the country, including from the lower levels of the bureaucracy, in getting tougher with the Al Qaeda and Taliban.

At a special briefing on Afghanistan before the Senate Armed Services Committee senior Defence Department officials said, "Musharraf has got a situation at home where there is a certain amount of sympathy in some places for, if not Al Qaeda, then certainly for the people who are more inclined to Islam."

"He faces challenges in a variety of different areas. He's got some deep, historic reasons for concern about Afghanistan and Pakistan as part of the strategic culture there," Under Secretary of Defence for Policy Eric Edelman told Indiana Senator Evan Bayh.

"So I think there are bureaucratic issues he has to take on as well as political ones. By bureaucratic issues are the ISI and the military supportive of being more aggressive in these tribal regions," asked Bayh.

The defence department officials were, however, hesitant to get into details of their assessment of the situation on the ground in Pakistan, especially along the Afghan border.

"I think it depends -- and I wouldn't want to go too far in an unclassified session. But a little bit depends on what level you're talking about. And, you know, at lower levels, I think, it's harder for any bureaucracy to be controlled," Edelman replied.

"I think they tend to see the threats in a slightly different way than we do, and don't see the tight connection, which we do between the two," Edelman said.

Asked how tenuous Musharraf's political hold will be if he begins to make some tough choices, the senior Pentagon official said it would be difficult for him to make that call.

"I think President Musharraf has been very persistently going after Al Qaeda. I wouldn't want to leave the hearing with the impression that he has not. I think he himself has had two or three, or maybe more, attempts on his life by Al Qaeda, which indicates the degree to which they feel he is their enemy as well as they are our enemy," he said.

"They've taken a lot of casualties going after Al Qaeda in the fight. I think over 100 Pakistani troops have been killed in the last year or so, going after Al Qaeda," he added.

A senior Pentagon military official at the hearing maintained that while the Pakistani government has lived up to its side of the bargain in the treaty with the tribal elders of Northern Waziristan, it has not been the other way around.

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