The recent resignation of Pakistan's President, Pervez
Musharraf, has raised many questions about the country's future
policies. And for some observers, the August 21 double suicide bombing
near Islamabad is a tragic reminder that, in security terms, the
country's new leaders have little time to settle into their jobs.
For Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman, there was little doubt
about the meaning of the bombings. "You know, we've said for some time that the new government needs to
understand the magnitude of the threat that they face," says Whitman. "And we're going
to continue to try to work very closely with Pakistan because it affects
our operations, obviously, along the border and into Afghanistan."
Pakistan's Ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, says his
country's new leaders already understand the need to address the
"The major political parties that will now run Pakistan, with a
relatively freer hand than ever before, they have a consensus on
fighting terrorism for Pakistan's sake," says Haqqani. "I think that a methodical
military strategy, developed by the civilians and fully backed by the
military, will come into force."
Terror and Politics
Haqqani recently told an audience at the Center for Strategic and
International Studies here in Washington that Pakistan's civilian
leaders will have more credibility than former President Musharraf had
with local and tribal leaders when they explain the threat the militants
pose and seek cooperation in fighting them.
The ambassador says Musharraf -- a general who came to power in a coup
in 1999 -- used the fight against terrorism to legitimize his
government. But Haqqani says Pakistan's newly elected leaders will not
need to do that.
"The local leadership in various parts of the tribal areas as well as
the Northwest Frontier Province and Baluchistan will be far more
cooperative in targeted actions," says Haqqani. "And there will be a better
understanding of what needs to be done, who needs to be fought, who
needs to be talked to and who needs to be brought on board. And I think
that that is what we will see as time goes by."
The ambassador says Pakistan's new, democratic government may not be as
efficient as Musharraf's one-man rule. But he says it will be better
for the country in the long term.
Some analysts are not as optimistic as Ambassador Haqqani.
"To this point, I must say what they have been able to show us is rather
Marvin Weinbaum, a former South Asian intelligence analyst for the U.S.
State Department and now a scholar-in-residence at Washington's Middle
"There doesn't seem to be the kind of forceful leadership, competent
leadership, that really Pakistan so desperately needs at this point," says Weinbaum.
"They've not been able to demonstrate that they can now go and deal with
some of the other problems, the major problems, that Pakistan faces with
its economy as well as how it's going to deal with counter-terrorism."
The Extremist Threat
Weinbaum says the focus on forcing Musharraf out of office, and now the
need to find a successor and settle other political disputes, are
potentially dangerous distractions from the country's most pressing
"This creates space for the extremists," he says. "If the government can get past
these issues, then I think that there's a chance here that they will be
able to develop that consensus that, together with the military, they
must address specifically the problems that the extremists present."
Another Pakistan watcher has a similar view. Retired American Admiral
William Fallon was commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East and
Central Asia until this past March.
"The civilian coalition leaders have been seemingly more focused on
moving Musharraf aside than they have been on the other pressing issues
in the country," says Fallon." So it'll be interesting to watch how this unfolds in
the coming months to see if the government has the stomach to continue
to address what I think is the most pressing internal security problem
within the country, and that is these militants."
As head of U.S. Central Command for a year, Fallon had extensive
dealings with former President Musharraf.
"There were some critical things that he made available, made possible,
certainly from my standpoint as the commander of our forces in the
region. So we hope that that continues with the new government,"
The retired admiral says the Pakistani effort has included fighting
militants and facilitating the transport and supply of U.S. forces in
New Military Leadership
Admiral Fallon says he likes what he has seen so far from the new head
of Pakistan's Army, General Ashfaq Kiyani, who Musharraf picked for that
role last November.
"He's played a very critical role and, I think, a helpful role in this
situation so far in that he's kept the military out of it. He let the
government do its thing," says Fallon. "And in recent weeks, I know they've been doing
some increased work up in the Northwest Territories against the militants."
Admiral Fallon says he is not concerned about the safety of Pakistan's
nuclear arsenal. He says Pakistani military officials have a good
system of controls and take their mission seriously. But he says it
"remains to be seen" whether the country's new civilian leaders will be
able to accomplish all that Ambassador Haqqani says they will --
addressing urgent economic and political concerns while fighting
entrenched terrorist groups.