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Instability, Uncertainty, Fuel Pakistan, Afghan Attacks

Suicide bombings have risen sharply in Pakistan and Afghanistan in the past year, even in the capital cities. Embassies, hotels, military convoys, and markets have been among the targets of attacks. As VOA Correspondent Gary Thomas reports, lackluster governance and political uncertainty in both Pakistan and Afghanistan are seen as furthering the violence.

Analysts say the job of the militants has been made easier by political uncertainty in Islamabad and Kabul, and that the attacks have in turn heightened the mistrust between Pakistan and Afghanistan. It is a vicious cycle, they say, that the militants exploit.

Former deputy assistant secretary of state for South Asia Teresita Schaffer says Pakistan's priority is to curb internal militant attacks such as those that have recently occurred in Islamabad, Karachi, and elsewhere. But the primary U.S. and Afghan concern is eradication of the safe havens inside Pakistan from which militants launch cross-border attacks on NATO and Afghan forces in Afghanistan.

"The problem that the U.S. has been most preoccupied with in South Asia has been essentially border control, shutting down the sanctuaries that the Afghan insurgents enjoy inside Pakistan," she noted. "The problem that has been the top priority for the Pakistan government - and I think was the top priority for the Musharraf government before the present one - was the internal insurgency inside Pakistan."

An analyst with the private intelligence firm Stratfor, Kamran Bokhari, says the government appears not to have settled on whether it wants confrontation or conciliation with the militants, and that such indecision is fueling the internal insurgency.

"The behavior of the Pakistani government, aimlessly and randomly oscillating between negotiations and military operations, and encouraging certain factions over others, is basically creating a situation where you are saying to any and everybody who has a gun and is a militant outfit that, 'You know, all you need to do to get us on our knees is to kill enough people. Go ahead and engage in suicide bombings,'" he explained.

Analysts say the Pakistan government, which was elected in February to replace the Musharraf military government, is preoccupied with internal jockeying for political power. U.S. General Dan McNeill, who just finished his tour as NATO commander in Afghanistan last month, recently said that in his personal view, people are wondering just who is running the government in Islamabad.

"There is a certain amount of dysfunction that exists in Islamabad right now, and it is probably a challenge even for the Pakistanis to figure out exactly who is in charge of the government," he note.

RAND Corporation senior analyst Seth Jones says that militant activity in Afghanistan is intertwined with rampant corruption there, particularly with the highly lucrative drug trade.

"Government officials, drug traffickers, they need to be prosecuted, removed from office," he said. " There have been increasing trends in public-opinion polls among local Afghans that they are increasingly concerned abut rising corruption in the government at all levels - at the provincial level, at the district level, as well as at the national levels."

The atmosphere is further poisoned by long-simmering suspicion between the two countries. Pakistan is concerned about growing ties between its archrival, India, and Afghanistan. Islamabad has seen a friendly government in Kabul as a bulwark against India. Analysts have long said that Pakistan's intelligence agency (ISI) helped create the Taliban for just that purpose, but dropped them after 2001.

Stratfor's Kamran Bokhari likens the Taliban to the fictional Frankenstein's monster, an entity that has escaped the control of its creator and come back to haunt it.

"The instability in Afghanistan and the Pakistani attempts to try to control that country for their own geopolitical purposes vis-à-vis India has brought the chickens home to roost, so to speak," he said. "So the instability in Pakistan is a result of cultivating non-state actor proxies that have now decided, 'you know, we do not just need to be proxies, we can be more, much more.'"

Last month, Afghanistan accused the ISI of involvement in an assassination attempt on President Karzai earlier this year. Pakistan denied the charge. On Tuesday, presidential spokesman Humayun Hamidzada blamed the latest bombing in Kabul outside the Indian Embassy on an unnamed foreign intelligence agency. Pakistan denies involvement.