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Uneasy Ally in Terror War Suddenly Feels More U.S. Pressure

Uneasy Ally in Terror War Suddenly Feels More U.S. Pressure

Author: John F. Burns
Publication: The New York Times
Date: December 21, 2001

By adding two more Pakistan-based groups to Washington's terrorism list, President Bush sharply increased the political pressures that have gripped Pakistan's military leader, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, ever since the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States, according to Pakistanis with close links to the Musharraf government.

In naming one of the groups, Ummah Tameer-e-Nau, Mr. Bush said it had provided information on nuclear weapons technology to Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda terrorist group, a charge Pakistan has insistently denied since the issue first arose in October.

The second group, Lashkar-e- Taiba, accused by Mr. Bush of involvement in an attack last week on the Indian Parliament in New Delhi, is the most powerful of the Pakistan- based groups fighting Indian forces in the disputed territory of Kashmir.

After Sept. 11, the issue was Pakistan's support for the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan, with Washington telling Islamabad it must side with the United States in its war on terrorism, or be included among the countries that would be American targets as state sponsors of terrorism.

Within days, General Musharraf abandoned the Taliban and pledged full support for American military operations in Afghanistan.

That commitment led General Musharraf into a confrontation with militant Islamic groups in Pakistan, and ultimately to a crackdown that included detaining several of the most prominent militant leaders and pledging further steps to break their political power.

With his latest actions, particularly naming Lashkar-e-Taiba as a terrorist group, Mr. Bush appears to be pushing the Pakistani leader toward even greater political hazards. Kashmir is a far more sensitive issue for most of Pakistan's 140 million Muslims than the fate of the Taliban.

"What Bush is demanding now is that Musharraf make the biggest U- turn yet," a former official with close links to the government said.

"It places the general in an even more difficult position than he was in after Sept. 11, because what he's been told this time is that he has to abandon the militant aspects of the Kashmir liberation struggle - and that's an issue that is much closer to the hearts of most people in Pakistan than the survival of the Taliban, which mattered a lot to the Islamic militants and to their sympathizers in the army high command, but not nearly so much to ordinary Pakistanis."

Placing a terrorism brand on Ummah Tameer-e-Nau, a group founded by a retired Pakistani nuclear weapons scientist, was another kind of shock from the Bush administration. Senior Pakistani officials said Mr. Bush, with the blunt wording of today's announcement, was as much as accusing General Musharraf of lying in his government's repeated statements that the group was involved in relief work in Afghanistan and had nothing to do with nuclear weapons.

"At the very least," a Western diplomat said, "you'd have to say that it's a huge embarrassment to Musharraf."

General Musharraf, who spent today in Beijing on the second day of an official visit to China, had no immediate comment on the American actions. But Pakistani analysts said the fact that the general hurried to China so soon after the attack on the Indian Parliament last week showed that, at times of crisis, Pakistani leaders looked at least as much to China as to the United States for help.

After the attack in New Delhi, India threatened to retaliate with military strikes against camps in Pakistan where Kashmiri militants are trained. That prompted new fears, in Washington as well as New Delhi and Islamabad, that the situation could lead to a wider conflict between two nations that have both acknowledged having stockpiles of nuclear weapons.

Diplomats said they were puzzled that the dispute surrounding the Pakistani nuclear scientists had been allowed to lead to such a public breach between Washington and Islamabad. When the two nuclear scientists involved were first detained in October, at American insistence, Pakistani officials said that representatives of the F.B.I. and the C.I.A. had participated in the questioning.

This implied, at the least, that the two countries were sharing information and seeking common ground.

Today, it became clear the effort had failed. Just last weekend, the son of Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, twice arrested in the case with the other nuclear scientist, Chaudry Abdul Majeed, said both men had been released and declared innocent. Today, diplomats speculated that General Musharraf had decided, in releasing the two scientists, to send a signal that Pakistan was drawing a "line in the sand" of its own, and telling Washington that Islamabad, at least on issues relating to nuclear weapons, would not be pushed around.

One Pakistani official said today that General Musharraf was deeply unhappy about events in Afghanistan. The new provisional government, set to take office on Saturday, will be, in Pakistan's view, heavily dependent on the Northern Alliance forces that occupy Kabul, the capital, with an international force that is likely to lack the firepower and the authority to challenge alliance troops. Ever since Sept. 11, General Musharraf has said that Pakistan will not accept an Afghanistan dominated by the alliance, which has close political and military links to India.

But an even more pressing problem for the Pakistani ruler, on his return from China, will be the American move against Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Together with another Kashmiri militant group added to the American terrorism list in October, Jaish- e-Muhammad, the Lashkar group has been responsible for about 70 percent of all Pakistan-backed militant attacks in Indian-ruled Kashmir in the last two years, according to Pakistani intelligence officials.

Through Inter-Services Intelligence, its military intelligence agency, Pakistan helps to train and arm the Lashkar group, which includes large numbers of Arab and other foreign Muslims in its ranks, as well as Pakistanis.

Because of its links to Al Qaeda, Lashkar was in Washington's sights from the moment President Bush declared his war on terrorism, but Pakistan had hoped to finesse the issue by more closely overseeing the group's military activities and reducing, and eventually eliminating, its non-Pakistani fighters. General Musharraf has said repeatedly that the war on terrorism must distinguish between groups that engage in terror, like Al Qaeda, and other groups, including Pakistan-based militant groups operating in Kashmir, that are engaged in "liberation" struggles.

But now, Mr. Bush appears to have sided with India, and has told Pakistan that any further backing for armed Islamic militant groups operating in Kashmir will be tantamount to supporting terrorism.

In effect, General Musharraf appears to have been told that Pakistan, after more than 50 years of battling India over Kashmir, must now abandon the armed struggle there, and rely henceforth on political means of confronting India. The question now is whether the general will comply, and whether he can carry Pakistan's masses with him if he does.

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