2008.08.19: August 19, 2008: Headlines: COS - Pakistan: Figures: COS - Morocco: Journalism: Bloomberg News: James Rupert writes: `Busharraf' Fall May Boost Pakistani Support for War on Taliban

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James Rupert writes: `Busharraf' Fall May Boost Pakistani Support for War on Taliban

James Rupert writes: `Busharraf' Fall May Boost Pakistani Support for War on Taliban

As president of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf portrayed himself as America's staunchest ally in battling Islamic extremists. And that's why his resignation yesterday may actually strengthen the government's fight against Taliban insurgents. Musharraf ordered offensives against al-Qaeda and Taliban guerrillas that failed to wipe them out, killing civilians and destroying villages in the process. He was so closely identified with the U.S. response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that Pakistani columnists, bloggers and students dubbed him "Busharraf. With the president gone, the coalition government can pursue militants free from any association with the U.S. and an unpopular leader, increasing public willingness to help government forces gather intelligence. His "actions were seen as dictated by America, said Mahmood Shah, a retired brigadier general and former security chief for the Afghanistan border zone, a stronghold for the Taliban. Now, the fight against the Taliban -- which controlled Afghanistan until the U.S. ousted them for harboring the terrorists behind the 9/11 attacks -- "will have more credibility and get more public support. Journalist James Rupert, head of Newsday's international bureau in Islamabad, Pakistan began his career abroad as a Peace Corps volunteer, teaching mechanics and welding in Morocco.

James Rupert writes: `Busharraf' Fall May Boost Pakistani Support for War on Taliban

Busharraf' Fall May Boost Pakistani Support for War on Taliban

By James Rupert

Aug. 19 (Bloomberg) -- As president of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf portrayed himself as America's staunchest ally in battling Islamic extremists. And that's why his resignation yesterday may actually strengthen the government's fight against Taliban insurgents.

Musharraf ordered offensives against al-Qaeda and Taliban guerrillas that failed to wipe them out, killing civilians and destroying villages in the process. He was so closely identified with the U.S. response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that Pakistani columnists, bloggers and students dubbed him "Busharraf.

With the president gone, the coalition government can pursue militants free from any association with the U.S. and an unpopular leader, increasing public willingness to help government forces gather intelligence.

His "actions were seen as dictated by America, said Mahmood Shah, a retired brigadier general and former security chief for the Afghanistan border zone, a stronghold for the Taliban. Now, the fight against the Taliban -- which controlled Afghanistan until the U.S. ousted them for harboring the terrorists behind the 9/11 attacks -- "will have more credibility and get more public support.

Musharraf, 65, resigned rather than face impeachment charges, after a six-month standoff with legislators that had ground the country to a standstill. The president was replaced by Mohammedmian Soomro, chairman of the Senate and a Musharraf loyalist, pending a parliamentary vote to choose a new head of state within 30 days.

No Stigma

The coalition government elected in February has proved fractious and tentative about how to oppose the Taliban, though it doesn't carry the political stigma in Pakistan of being a U.S. puppet, Shah said.

A poll released in June by a Washington-based research group, Terror-Free Tomorrow, found 58 percent of Pakistanis favored negotiating with Pakistan's Taliban movement, while 19 percent favored military action. It said 73 percent believed the U.S.-led "war on terror is really aimed at weakening the Islamic world or ensuring "American domination of Pakistan.

Pakistan's new leaders aren't guaranteed greater success against the Taliban and their allies, who dominate much of a 270- mile-long swath of northwestern Pakistan near the Afghan border. For one, the government is led by historic rivals: the Pakistan Peoples Party of the assassinated former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, and the Pakistan Muslim League of Nawaz Sharif, whom Musharraf ousted as prime minister in a military coup in 1999.

Divided Coalition

After taking office in April, the coalition called for negotiations, rather than force, to persuade guerrillas to lay down arms. The coalition remains divided and unable to govern effectively, said Christine Fair, an analyst at the Rand Corp. outside Washington. Sharif pulled his party out of the cabinet in May, leaving the country, amid the worst inflation in 30 years, without a permanent finance minister.

Islamic militant violence killed more than 2,000 Pakistanis last year, suicide bombings increased by 800 percent and many attacks targeted Pakistan's police, military and intelligence facilities.

The coalition government "will have the same problem as Musharraf had, which is convincing the army to go out and round up these guys, said Stephen Cohen, a historian of Pakistan and its army at Washington's Brookings Institution.

The military may make the hard choice to get tougher on the Taliban because it "is increasingly concerned about disorder in Pakistan itself, Cohen said.

Swat Attacks

In late July, the army resumed attacks on militants in the Swat Valley, 90 miles (145 kilometers) northwest of the capital, Islamabad. This month, troops have fought Taliban in Bajaur, a tribal district on the Afghan border, forcing tens of thousands of residents to flee their homes, Pakistani newspapers reported.

Musharraf's counter-insurgency fight also may have been weakened because he failed to halt support for the Taliban from sympathizers in Pakistan's military community, including its main intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, Cohen said.

On July 26, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani issued an order placing the agency under the control of the civilian government, rather than the army. Late that night, under what the newspaper Dawn said was "immense pressure from defense circles, the government announced the order had been reversed.

When Gilani visited Washington last month, he assured U.S. officials that he was committed to waging a war against Islamic extremists.

Obama, McCain

U.S. presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama both said in statements yesterday that Musharraf's departure will strengthen the government and, potentially, the fight against extremists.

"Pakistan is a critical theater in countering the threat of al Qaeda and violent Islamic extremism, and I look forward to the government increasing its future cooperation, Arizona Republican Senator McCain said in a statement. Senator Obama, an Illinois Democrat, said he had long advocated that the U.S. move from a "Musharraf policy to a "Pakistan policy.

The government will face continued public condemnation of military attacks on the Taliban, notably by leaders of the ethnic Pashtun tribes that inhabit the Taliban dominated border region. The Taliban draw their recruits overwhelmingly from those tribes.

"Politicians from the tribal areas are really scared of the Taliban and so they will talk in their favor, Shah said. "But when I talk to them privately, they tell me, `We have our houses back there and we can't speak up against the Taliban'.

To contact the reporter on this story: James Rupert in Islamabad at jrupert3@bloomberg.net.




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Headlines: August, 2008; RPCV James Rupert (Morocco); Peace Corps Pakistan; Directory of Pakistan RPCVs; Messages and Announcements for Pakistan RPCVs; Figures; Peace Corps Morocco; Directory of Morocco RPCVs; Messages and Announcements for Morocco RPCVs; Journalism





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Story Source: Bloomberg News

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