Sunday, November 18, 2007

US Starts Tilting Away From Musharraf - Finally!

US tilts away from Musharraf to save ally--analysts
Agence France-Presse; AFP

WASHINGTON -- The United States is now tilting toward Pakistan's army elite and moderate forces at the expense of President Pervez Musharraf in a high-stakes move to save a key war-on-terror ally, analysts say.

The analysts have sensed a US policy shift in the last few days that appears to have only been reinforced with the visit to Islamabad by the State Department's number two, John Negroponte.

Diplomats in Islamabad said Negroponte, deputy to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, warned Musharraf Saturday that Washington will review its military aid to Pakistan unless he lifts the emergency rule imposed November 3.

"If this happened, this is a pleasant surprise for me. The United States had supported Musharraf rather than the army as an institution," said Hassan Abbas, an analyst with the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

General Musharraf, who seized power in a 1999 military coup, turned his nuclear-armed Muslim country into a frontline US ally in the fight against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Rice had talked of a review of the 10 billion dollars in aid since 2001, but hinted that the military portion, or the lion's share, might remain intact when she said Washington sought to avoid undercutting the war on terror.

"Negroponte must have said this after a lot of analysis substantiating that Musharraf's days are over and that the way Musharraf is trying to hang onto power, this will potentially create a rift within the army," Abbas said.

The army, run by a professional pro-Western elite, is key to the US-led war on terrorism which has seen setbacks in Pakistan, as Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants make inroads in northwestern areas bordering Afghanistan.

A threat to cut off military aid, Abbas said, would further focus minds among a military elite that relies on the United States for training officers and supplying it with heavy weaponry such as fighter aircraft.

Military circles in Pakistan have already told Abbas there is "increasing unrest" within the army elite who feel Musharraf has sullied not only their popular image but distracted them from their security tasks.

Security analyst Andrew Koch also said there were signs that the military had enough of politics.

Wendy Chamberlin, the US ambassador in Pakistan from 2001 to 2002 who is now president of the Middle East Institute in Washington, told Agence France-Presse Thursday that there are signs that Bush administration is cooling toward Musharraf.

She recalled that Negroponte, speaking to Congress in the days after the political crisis erupted, quoted President George W. Bush as calling Musharraf "indispensable" but said that US officials have now "backed off of that."

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates then told a news conference in Washington that Musharraf's "ability to continue to be a partner in the war on terror very much depends on how events unfold over the next few weeks in Pakistan."

Daniel Markey, a former State Department official now with the Council on Foreign Relations, said the US government must retain good ties with the army, but not necessarily Musharraf.

"We shouldn't kid ourselves that we can work with Pakistan without working with their army and that doesn't mean we have to back a dictator," he said.

Abbas said Musharraf's deputy in the army, the US-trained General Ashfaq Kiyani whom Negroponte met, could succeed him as head of the army and steer Pakistan out of its crisis.

"All eyes are on Kiyani," Abbas said.

Under Kiyani, the Pakistani army would remain influential but retreat behind the political scene, lift martial law and back general elections in which Bhutto or another political leader could become prime minister, he suggested.

Abbas said the stage is also set for Mohammedmian Soomro, whom Musharraf appointed Pakistan's caretaker prime minister, to become president because, under the constitution, the chairman of the senate assumes a vacant presidency.

The stakes are high because Musharraf may find a way to cling to power by fanning Islamist sentiment, Abbas warned. "When he'll realize his dark days are coming, then he will start giving anti-American statements."

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