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US ready for hot pursuit into Pakistan

(The Times of India) WASHINGTON: Pakistan is suddenly in the cross hairs of the Bush administration.

Senior administration officials are now talking of possible hot pursuit and military action inside Pakistan if the country’s military regime does not act swiftly against terrorist enclaves.

There has been a perceptible change in mood in Washington about Islamabad, hitherto described as a front-line ally, following a National Intelligence Estimate that pointed to Pakistan being the epicentre of world terrorism and possibly spawning another deadly attack against the United States.

The report has forced the administration to change its soft line on Pakistan. Dropping all pretense of protecting Islamabad by identifying the Pakistan-Afghanistan border as a terrorist safe haven, US officials are now directly blaming the country’s military ruler Pervez Musharraf for giving Al-Qaida space and time to rebuild capacity and reorganize.

The most significant assertion about possible US attacks on targets inside Pakistan came from Bush’s Homeland Security Adviser Frances Townsend.

Asked why US should not be sending troops inside Pakistan in pursuit of terrorists, she said, “There’s no question the president has made perfectly clear if we had actionable targets anywhere in the world, putting aside whether it was Pakistan or any place else, we would pursue those targets.”

In separate interviews across TV networks, she said the US would like Pakistan itself to take action, “But make no mistake – the president has been clear – job number one is protecting the American people. And we will do what’s necessary, taking no options off the table to do that.”

The change in Washington’s Pakistan policy, reported in these columns last week, was so pronounced that Richard Boucher, the U.S official overseeing South Asia, convened a special briefing on the subject, just before he joined talks on the U.S-India nuclear deal.

Normally seen in Indian circles as being sympathetic to Islamabad, Boucher said “some military action is necessary and will probably have to be taken” in the troubled areas of Pakistan. He did not say by whom, although he spoke at length about the need to support Pakistani efforts.

Such public statements follow reports that the administration is planning covert, direct action inside Pakistan if it does not act and continues to give space to terrorist. One analyst, conservative commentator William Kristol, known to reflect the current administration’s thinking, had predicted US strikes inside Pakistan to disrupt terrorist sanctuaries.

“I think, frankly, we won’t even tell Musharraf. We’ll do what we have to do in western Pakistan and Musharraf can say, ‘Hey! They didn’t tell me,”‘ he said in a TV talking heads show.

Reports of a change in U.S policy have rattled Pakistani officials. Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S Mohammed Ali Durrani defiantly told a US network, “They are not welcome. We can do the job ourselves.”

But Pakistan has little choice in the matter. Its economy and military is sustained by large infusions
of western, mainly American, aid.

Besides, US special forces and covert teams are already said to be conducting operations inside Pakistan. US drones have also been striking inside Pakistan.

But the action has mostly been limited and discreet, allowing Musharraf a degree of deniability to save his
face before the domestic constituency.

Facing harsh criticism now from its own intelligence agencies, Congress, and the strategic community for taking its eye off Osama bin Laden to wage war in Iraq, the administration has upped the ante.

Although Bush still yammers on about the Iraq-Al-Qaida connections, officials have begun to sing a different tune, saying Pakistan is the real epicentre of Al-Qaida and its terrorism. The change has not gone unnoticed in Washington’s strategic community.

“Normally I’d be quite cynical about such a government pronouncement, seeing it as a giant subject-changer… But in this case…the United States… could also be on the verge of a sea change — shifting its counterterrorism attention from Iraq to Pakistan and Afghanistan, where it sees the greater threat to America,” Homeland Security analyst William Arkin wrote in his Washington Post blog.

There has been other withering commentary about the Bush administration’s coddling of Islamabad, many under the headline “It’s Pakistan, stupid.” An editorial chorus from almost the entire American media has urged the administration to promote democracy in Pakistan and dump its long-favoured military.

But the administration has held back from pushing for a total regime change. While pressing for greater military action against terrorist havens, officials have indicated the Bush administration still backs Musharraf — as long as he cracks down on terrorist safe havens.

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July 19, 2007 - Posted by | Blogroll, news, personal, politics, random, religion, Terrorism, Terrorism In The U.S., Terrorism News, Uncategorized, War-On-Terror

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