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Pakistan in Difficult Position on Eve of Official US Visit


Pakistan's prime minister is in the United States and is scheduled to meet with President Bush next week. But in conjunction with the visit, a new audiotape of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden surfaced. The hunt for terrorist leaders has created political troubles for Pakistan's president Pervez Musharraf.

Osama bin Laden's new audiotape surfaced just after Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz's arrival in the United States.

Analysts say that in light of the tape the Bush Administration may ratchet up pressure on Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and his government to do even more to clear the Pakistani border areas of al-Qaida and Taliban fighters.

Larry Goodson of the U.S. Army War College, says Mr. Musharraf has been caught in a dilemma ever since the terrorist strikes on the United States on September 11th, 2001. President Musharraf's cooperation with American anti-terrorist efforts have spawned opposition at home, where there is sympathy among the population for both bin Laden and the Taliban, which ruled neighboring Afghanistan until 2001.

"If I'm President Musharraf, the way I'm playing this is I'm going, 'okay, I'm on the American team, although I don't much want to be," said Mr. Goodson. "But back on 9/12 [2001], they held a gun to my head and said, you're on our team, aren't you? Meanwhile, these other chaps like bin Laden are holding a gun to my other vital body parts. And so I'm sort of caught between these two guns.'"

On January 13, U.S. officials launched a missile on a village along the Pakistan-Afghan border. The missile strike was apparently aimed at bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, who was believed to be in the village. Zawahiri appears to have escaped. But several people, reportedly including both al-Qaida operatives and local civilians, were killed, sparking protest demonstrations across Pakistan. Pakistani officials have officially said they had no advance warning of the attack.

Appearing on VOA's "Press Conference USA," former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage called President Musharraf "the real deal" and praised his support to the U.S.-led anti-terrorist effort.

"Remember, he's got difficult situations on both his borders," said Mr. Armitage. "He's the one who's got to make the determination on the pace and the speed, et cetera, of reform and of assistance to the United States. But I can assure you that we'd be nowhere without his and his colleagues' assistance in the war on terror."

But former CIA officer Michael Scheuer says the Pakistani leader may have gone as far as he can go in helping the United States. The only alternative, Scheuer says, is for the United States to go after the al-Qaida leadership on its own.

"He has really done quite a lot for the United States, and we keep expecting him to do more," he said. "I guess the bottom line here is that if we're going to get bin Laden and Zawahiri, and I think that it is important to do so, then we're going to have to do it ourselves. And that involves, not only once, but probably repeatedly, violating Pakistani sovereignty to try to kill them inside of Pakistan."

However, unilateral U.S. action could ignite a political firestorm in Pakistan, perhaps even bringing down President Musharraf. Analysts say that whoever replaced him would in all likelihood not be as friendly to American anti-terrorist efforts.