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US Pressure Deepens Divide Between Pakistan's Military and Civilian Leadership

Analysts and U.S. officials say American pressure on Pakistan over counterterrorism policy has strained the relationship between that country's government and its military. As VOA Correspondent Gary Thomas reports, the two camps differ over how much approval and assistance Pakistan should give to stepped-up U.S. anti-terrorist operations.

The honeymoon between Pakistan's powerful military establishment and the newly elected civilian government appears to be short-lived. Analysts say an increase in U.S. unmanned drone attacks and covert operations against suspected terrorist sanctuaries have inflamed public opinion in Pakistan and driven a wedge between the generals and the politicians.

Larry Goodson, a professor at the U.S. Army War College, says that crack could widen as Pakistan faces more lethal pressure internally from militant attacks and political pressure externally from the United States.

"It really does reflect a split, and maybe a split that could widen and deepen and become a real fissure within Pakistani policymaking and strategy," he said.

Many people in Pakistan criticized the former military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, for being too close to the United States. Analysts say there is deep suspicion in the army that the new president, Asif Ali Zardari - Pakistan's first civilian leader in nearly nine years - is embarked on the same path.

Larry Goodson says the deepening suspicion, along with a growing internal terrorist threat, could hasten a return to military rule in Pakistan, which has vacillated between military and civilian governance since independence from Britain in 1947.

"The pendulum is swinging more quickly now between military and civilian rule," he said. "I think the military has so much at stake that I don't think that they can afford these sort of long bouts of being off center stage while the civilian politicians sort of screw everything up and go through their rather inept wrangling with each other. So I think, based on that, that the honeymoon, such as it was, was very limited and is already over."

President Zardari, the husband of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, has pledged to cooperate with the United States in eradicating terrorist sanctuaries in the tribal areas. But such cooperation is politically unpopular in Pakistan. Mr. Zardari has also tried to initiate peace talks with militant groups in the tribal areas - a move that has been sharply criticized in the United States.

But the recent bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad that killed more than 50 people also sparked revulsion in Pakistan. Islamic militants sympathetic to the Taliban and al-Qaida have been blamed for the attack.

Official sources say Mr. Zardari met secretly with CIA chief Michael Hayden to discuss terrorism and U.S.-Pakistani cooperation during the Pakistani leader's recent visit to the United States.

A controversial component of the issue is the true role of the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, which is often labeled the "secret government" of Pakistan. The ISI was responsible in large part for creating the Taliban in the 1990s in order to influence events in neighboring Afghanistan. There is wide perception in U.S. policy and intelligence circles that there is still deep ISI support, if not at the top level in at least some elements, for the Islamic militants in the tribal areas.

Shuja Nawaz, an analyst of Pakistani army affairs, says ISI officers who created the Taliban are retired and gone from headquarters, but that Taliban sympathizers are probably still on the payroll as contractors in the field.

"They may still have relationships with the Afghan mujahedin and with the Taliban, and that's really where the problem may arise, where you may have people who have either strong ambivalence or certainly divided loyalties," Nawaz said.

Army chief General Ashfaq Kayani has promised to keep the army out of politics. But Shuja Nawaz points out that that pledge has been made and broken before in Pakistan.

"That's what he said, and that's what a number of army chiefs have said before him," said Nawaz. "Sometimes things happen and then they change their minds. So I wouldn't take that to the bank."

On Tuesday, General Kayani named General Ahmed Shujaa Pasha as the new ISI chief. In his former post as Director of Military Operations, General Pasha oversaw army operations in the tribal areas. Privately, U.S. officials say they are skeptical about whether the appointment will translate into tougher action against the militants.