Reuters : Pakistani security policy set to follow Musharraf

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Pakistani security policy set to follow Musharraf

Analysis | by Zeeshan Haider | August 19, 2008

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - The United States has lost a strong ally with the resignation of President Pervez Musharraf but Pakistan's civilian government is unlikely to make any major change to his security policy, analysts said on Tuesday.

The former army chief, who had earned the nickname "Busharraf" for his ties with the U.S. president, stepped down on Monday after becoming increasingly unpopular, partly because of his close alliance with the United States.

Musharraf single-handedly steered Pakistan's security policy after he signed up to the U.S.-led war on terrorism following the September 11 attacks. He survived at least two al Qaeda-inspired assassination attempts.

But Musharraf was never able to shake off nagging suspicion Pakistan was not doing all it could to tackle militants, in particular to stop Taliban raids into Afghanistan from remote havens in semi-autonomous ethnic Pashtun areas on the border.

Questions have now been raised about the new government and, if it is weak and beset by political feuding, whether it will be able at least to maintain Musharraf's policy, even though the United States often called upon him to do more.

"With the resignation of President Pervez Musharraf ... the future of the U.S.-Pakistan partnership against terrorism may now be in doubt," U.S. Congressman Duncan Hunter, senior Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, said in a statement.

"The new Pakistani government may or may not prove to be as reliable an ally ... as President Musharraf has been," he said.

But analysts said while the new government might introduce some cosmetic changes in its policy to win public support for a war many Pakistanis oppose, it was unlikely to bring about any drastic shifts.

"I don't think there would be any significant change in the policy because if the past 5 months are anything to go by, I haven't seen any change," said Rustam Shah Mohmand, a former Pakistani ambassador to Afghanistan.

"It's the same old policy pursued by Musharraf."

The United States will keep up the pressure no matter who wins the U.S. election in November. Both U.S. presidential candidates, John McCain and Barack Obama, stressed on Monday the need for Pakistan to focus on security now that the question of Musharraf's presidency had been dealt with.


A former security chief in the Pashtun tribal areas, Mehmood Shah, said the militants were not giving up their violent campaign, leaving the government no choice but to press on with Musharraf's policies.

"I think the government doesn't have any alternative," Shah said.

After taking power in March, the government tried to use negotiations instead of force to end violence across the country which over the past year has killed hundreds of people, including former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

The negotiations brought a lull in violence but also raised concern among allies and in Afghanistan that the talks would only give militants breathing space to regroup and organize cross-border attacks on Western forces in Afghanistan.

But the peace efforts have all but collapsed and fighting has again flared in several areas.

Nearly 500 people, most of them militants, have been killed in fighting in the Bajaur region on the border over the past few weeks, the government said.

In what the Taliban claimed was a revenge attack for the Bajaur fighting, 13 air force personnel were killed in a bomb attack on their bus in the city of Peshawar last week.

Analysts said while authorities would try to engage militants in talks, they would keep on alternating negotiations with military action as was done under Musharraf.

Speaking to the National Assembly last week, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani said his government was ready to negotiate with militants who laid down arms, and military action would be taken as a last option.

In a comment aimed at the many Pakistanis who see the campaign against militants as a U.S. war, he stressed the importance of the fight: "The war against terrorism and extremism is our own war."

In June, the government gave full authority to General Ashfaq Kayani, who replaced Musharraf as army chief in November, to decide on military action, and directed all security forces to work under him.

While the military will play the dominant role in the campaign, it is the government that will bear the brunt of public anger if the killing continues.

But unlike Musharraf, who as army chief and president could weather a certain amount of public anger, the civilian government will have to face skeptical voters.

"It's politically very difficult for the government to market this policy but it has to do it. It has to convince the people that these militants are destroying the country," said Talat Masood, a retired general turned political analyst.

(Editing by Robert birsel and Jerry Norton)

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