Throwing in the Towel in Pakistan

By Gretchen Peters

Oct 2, 2007 12:40pm

As a widening political crisis distracts President Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s army appears to be folding in the face of a mushrooming Taliban insurgency sweeping down from the Afghan border, diplomats and Western military officials say. "I am very concerned that they are sort of throwing in the towel because it’s something the people don’t support and since Musharraf is also on the ropes," a Western military official told ABC News. A series of deadly attacks that have killed hundreds of Pakistani troops this year and the abduction of more than 200 soldiers in the volatile Waziristan district have convinced longtime observers that the military lacks clear direction from the top. THE BLOTTER RECOMMENDS Blotter Former Spy Chief, Avid Golfer Set to Take Over Pakistan’s Army Blotter Another Pakistani Defeat as More Soldiers Feared Kidnapped Blotter Musharraf Shuffles Pakistan’s Military Ranks in Preparation for His Possible Departure Click Here for Full Blotter Coverage. Foreign governments, including the U.S., Britain and other European nations that have suffered terrorist attacks on their soil, are particularly concerned President Musharraf has lost focus, amid a widening political crisis and his struggle to remain in power, diplomats say. This week, the U.S. government pledged $750 million in USAID development funds to the tribal areas over the next five years. In addition, U.S. and U.K. troops will retrain the Frontier Corps, an ethnically Pashtun paramilitary force, in counterinsurgency tactics, Western military officials say. Pakistan has stationed some 80,000 troops from the predominantly Punjabi army in the tribal areas, a Pashtun region. "The Pakistan Army has always been the wrong force to use there," say military officials. "They don’t speak the language. They are not trained to do counterinsurgency." In the wake of stinging recent defeats for the Pakistan Army in the tribal areas, some Western officials fear the Pakistan Army will simply withdraw its Punjabi troops before the new Pashtun force can be properly trained. "I am worried they will use this as an excuse to dump out fast and that will leave a vacuum," said a Western military officer. The only solution to the areas seemingly intractable problems will be a strong counterinsurgency effort coupled with massive development programs to turn the local people away from the insurgents, officials say. "We are not doing so hot now, but we are not failing," said one Western official. "This is going to take years and years, and it won’t be easy." A CIA report released in July said al Qaeda has regrouped in the lawless tribal areas and may be plotting further strikes against the West. European police say they recently prevented an ambitious al Qaeda plot to plant car bombs at U.S. military installations in Germany. "We are worried that they are not doing and putting in enough to solve this problem on their end," said a Western official. Recent high-level delegates — including U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte who visited in September – pressed the Pakistanis privately on this issue, says the official. Today, Musharraf appointed his trusted deputy and former spy chief, Lt. Gen. Ashfaq Kiani, as vice chief of the Pakistan Army. Musharraf has pledged to step down as army chief if he gets re-elected president in a vote Saturday. Kiani would then assume the powerful role of army chief. Analysts and Western officials have praised his appointment, describing Kiani as a dependable, competent commander who will support the U.S.-led war on terror. Washington has stepped up its support for Pakistan’s efforts in the tribal belt that hugs the Afghan border, an area seething with Taliban and al Qaeda militants. Do you have a tip for Brian Ross and the Investigative Team?

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