By Paul Reynolds
World Affairs correspondent BBC News website
President Musharraf: under pressure on 'safe haven'
A forthcoming visit by the new British Foreign Secretary David Miliband to Pakistan comes at yet another delicate moment in relations between the West and President Pervez Musharraf.
Concern has been expressed, particularly in Washington, about President Musharraf's ability to control the remote tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan, in which, according to US officials, Osama Bin Laden is probably located and al-Qaeda is rebuilding its organisation in a "safe haven".
President Musharraf counters that he is acting against terrorism throughout Pakistan, doing so most recently when he ordered troops to storm the Red Mosque occupied by Islamic militants in Islamabad.
The current point at issue is the future of the agreement he reached with tribal leaders in North Waziristan last year under which the areas would be policed largely by the tribes themselves.
A US National Intelligence Estimate on the threat to the US homeland from al-Qaeda issued last week concluded that this policy had not worked: "We assess the group has
protected or regenerated key elements of its Homeland attack capability, including: a
safe haven in the Pakistan Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), operational
lieutenants, and its top leadership."
A US official threatened that the United States might launch a hot pursuit of Osama Bin Laden within Pakistan if he was found, a statement that has alarmed Pakistani officials, who say that they should be in the lead in such an eventuality.
The US, supported by Britain, is putting pressure on President Musharraf to tighten his grip in the tribal areas. It is not only al-Qaeda that is the concern. The Taleban crosses the border to attack Nato troops supporting the Afghan government.
In his most recent radio address last Saturday, President Bush
implicitly criticised the Pakistani strongman: "Unfortunately, tribal leaders were unwilling and unable to go after al-Qaeda or the Taleban," President Bush said of last year's agreement.
But he also praised Gen Musharraf for accepting that something more needed to be done, signalling that Washington was standing by the man it has needed so much in its war against al-Qaeda.
"President Musharraf recognises the agreement has not been successful or well-enforced and is taking active steps to correct it," President Bush added.
Other political figures in Washington have been blunter.
Democratic Congressman Jim Cooper from Tennessee asked of the tribal areas: "Is this a Motel 6 for terrorists?"
According to Daniel Markey, a former Department of State official and now with the Council on Foreign Relations, such comments reflect an American frustration with Pakistan that runs the risk of inducing policy changes.
In an article in Foreign Affairs magazine, he argued against this approach, saying that the US should continue to support President Musharraf and the Pakistan military, and avoid rebukes and talk of sanctions, such as a delay on the sale of F-16 fighters or the ending of financial assistance after the current package ends in 2009.
At the same time, he said, Pakistan should be pressed on democratic improvements. "Washington should shift gears in its approach to Pakistan, but it should not reverse course," he concluded.
The Great Survivor
Gen President Pervez Musharraf has been down this path before, in the difficult balancing act he has carried out between keeping the US happy without provoking too strong a reaction from his opponents at home. He is, so far, the great survivor of South Asian politics.
And at the moment, he has to deal not only with American concerns but also with domestic troubles. These include the strong reaction by Islamic extremists to the Red Mosque attack and his own political future.
A former British High Commissioner (ambassador) in Pakistan, Sir Hilary Synnott, now with the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, said: "Pakistan desperately needs to have the shackles of the army loosened, though the army is likely to have to play a significant role for the foreseeable future.
"The most productive approach for Pakistan's friends is to encourage a process towards democracy and good governance rather than promoting a crackdown.
"Pakistan has managed many crises before by muddling through, before lurching onto the next one. As for the North Waziristan agreement, the relationships Musharraf had there were not working either and Pakistan was losing more soldiers than Nato.
"But no amount of Pakistani co-operation is likely to be sufficient for coalition military leaders. The tension there will continue."
Dr Gareth Price, head of the Asia programme at Chatham House in London, added: "It is hard to see huge changes in the tribal areas. Pakistan asks what more it can realistically do."
However, talk about a takeover in Pakistan by Islamic extremists is reckoned by Pakistan watchers to be exaggerated. "It's hogwash," was how Seth Jones, an analyst at the Rand Corporation was quoted as saying recently in the Christian Science Monitor.
An article in Time magazine said of Gen Musharraf: "No leader in Asia, perhaps in the world, has survived the number and magnitude of political crises that he has endured in recent months. But the question today is whether he has dared too much. Musharraf now faces the gravest challenge of his life."
The article was dated 19 July 2002.