America's Pakistan Dilemma: CS Monitor

America's Pakistan dilemma
The US struggles to increase pressure on terrorists and avert Musharraf's downfall.
By Howard LaFranchi | The Christian Science Monitor : July 23, 2007

WASHINGTON - In debating what to do about Pakistan – after a grim National Intelligence Estimate last week found Al Qaeda to be re-energized from its bases there and planning new attacks against the US – the Bush administration is caught between a familiar rock and a hard place.

Continue to defer to the regime of President Pervez Musharraf, which has done little in six years to root out the havens Islamist extremists have established along the northern border with Afghanistan, and Osama bin Laden's organization is likely to continue strengthening and building the next generation of leadership.

But press President Musharraf too hard for swift action against the Islamist strongholds – especially as he faces the toughest political pressures of his eight-year rule – and the key American ally could fall. From the White House's perspective, that would create a nightmare for the US-led war on terror.

"For the moment, we're stuck," says Bruce Riedel, a former national security adviser on counterterrorism and South Asian issues. "We have a policy that looks increasingly bankrupt, but I don't see the administration prepared as yet to move away from it or the military dictator" who stands at its core.

US officials insist that no actions have been ruled out to address the threat posed by Al Qaeda in Pakistan. They acknowledge, however, that the US is still banking on cooperation from Musharraf, and is not about to undertake any unilateral action without the general's consent.

"There are no options off the table in actionable intelligence terrorism targets," White House homeland security adviser Frances Townsend said last week. But she added, "We will continue to work with the Pakistani government to address the threat that comes from the tribal areas" and to "press them to take action to ensure that no part of Pakistan remains a safe haven for terrorists."

Pakistan reacted categorically to US talk of no options being ruled out. "Whatever counterterrorism action is to be taken inside Pakistan, it will be taken by our own security forces," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said Friday. "This has been and remains the basis of our cooperation with the US."

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