Pakistan's election of a new president marks not only the country's
return to civilian rule, but also what the United
States hopes is a shift in the security relationship
between Islamabad and Washington.
The United States has two priorities in its dealings
with Pakistan -- promoting
democracy and combating terrorism, particularly in Pakistan's remote tribal
areas. Yet the two are sometimes in
conflict, says U.S. Army War College professor Larry Goodson.
"Nowhere in the world
is the need for the Bush doctrine of democracy promotion greater than in Pakistan. I mean, if there's one place where we ought
to be seeing through how to get these people oriented toward a functioning,
stable democracy it ought to be Pakistan," says Goodson. "But also, no place in
the world is more significant to be seen through the counterterrorism lens than
Pakistan. And those two things seem to run counter to
each other in terms of our policy construction."
That, analysts say, calls
for very delicate diplomatic and political maneuvering in Washington
U.S. intelligence analysts say Islamist extremist
groups -- particularly al-Qaida and the Taliban -- have regrouped and
strengthened in recent months in the tribal areas. They have new sanctuaries from which to
attack U.S. and NATO forces
across the border in Afghanistan. There has also been a sharp rise in suicide
bombings in Pakistan. The assassination of former Prime Minister
Benazir Bhutto last year is the most prominent example.
After being sworn in on September
9, President Asif Ali Zardari, Bhutto's widower, asserted that Pakistan is
solidly in the fight against terrorism.
"Yesterday's war may
not have had the people behind it. But
today's war does have the people of Pakistan [behind it]. In fact, it has the president of Pakistan,
who himself is a victim of terrorism," said Mr. Zardari.
Yet recent public opinion
polls show that a majority of Pakistanis favor negotiation over military action
against Islamic extremist groups. They
are also strongly opposed to cooperation between the United
States and Pakistan on counterterrorism.
The U.S. has been urging Pakistan to get tougher with
Islamic militants. At least 11 missile
strikes by American Predator drone aircraft on militant targets in Pakistan have
been reported by Pakistani authorities this year, compared to three in 2007. The
does not publicly confirm the strikes.
President Bush is
redeploying more troops to neighboring Afghanistan. And Pakistan
says U.S. ground forces
there crossed into Pakistan
earlier this month to attack a suspected al-Qaida hideout. The United States has not officially
confirmed this action, either.
Alan Kronstadt, a Pakistan analyst at the nonpartisan
Congressional Research Service here in Washington,
says the alleged raid has put Pakistan's
fragile new government in a risky position.
"From my perspective,
there is a danger of putting the civilian political leadership in Islamabad in
something of a vise, with continuing direct U.S. military incursions into
Pakistani territory," says Kronstadt. "This is a very sensitive thing and any
representative government in Islamabad
is going to come under pressure when that country's territorial integrity seems
to be under threat."
At a recent forum, Pakistan's ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, said Washington and Islamabad
have different views of what constitutes terrorism and the best way to counter
"Our concerns are the
same. America is concerned about global
terrorism. We are concerned about
terrorism," said Haqqani. "But, again, there are people in Pakistan who
argue, 'You know what? Our priority is
local terrorism and the American priority is global terrorism.' And, again, there is this debate going
Analyst Alan Kronstadt says Washington must be careful not to put undue pressure on Pakistan's
fragile new government.
"The United States ramps up pressure on Pakistan at the same time that U.S. military
commanders are given an incrementally freer hand to pursue the kinds of actions
they would like to take on or over Pakistani territory," says Kronstadt. "And
it's a matter of how far can it go, how much can this new civilian government
be seen to be allowing this before there's some sort of break."
The Chairman of the U.S.
Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, and Pakistan's military chief,
General Ashfaq Kayani, met aboard an American aircraft carrier in the Indian
Ocean late last month to discuss joint efforts.
The extent of counterterrorism cooperation between the two countries is
not publicly known.
Security Dilemma for U.S. Forces
Pakistan's response to the alleged U.S. cross-border raid was muted, as enunciated
"Unilateral action by
American forces does not help the war against terror because it only enrages
public opinion in the federally administered tribal areas. And in this particular incident, nothing was
gained by the action of the troops that undertook that action," says Haqqani. "That
said, Pakistan and the United States
have a resilient relationship and we will not let this incident come between
close ties and strong military intelligence and political cooperation between
our countries and governments."
Pakistani officials have
denied giving any green light to the United States to attack targets on
U.S. officials say that elements
military and the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate are sympathetic to
Islamic militants, and may even be aiding them.
Many of the local recruits of the paramilitary Frontier Corps, which
guards the border in the tribal areas, are also believed to be sympathetic to
That presents a security
dilemma for U.S.
forces. They want to enlist Pakistan's
cooperation in their efforts, but they are concerned that if they notify
Pakistani officials in advance of a raid, someone will leak that information to
This story was first broadcast on the English news program,VOA News Now. For other Focus reports click here.