Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Rattled President Treads a Dangerous Path between Compromise and Conflict; PAKISTAN

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Rattled President Treads a Dangerous Path between Compromise and Conflict; PAKISTAN

Article excerpt

Byline: MICHAEL GRIFFIN

GENERAL Parvez Musharraf of Pakistan stood before the cameras visibly sweating, as he spelled out the painful compromise he had reached between meeting US demands to mediate the surrender of Osama bin Laden by the Taliban, and the dangerous expectations of his fellow officers and the pro-Islamist cries of the street.

His speech was a carefully pitched recipe that stressed national survival over Islamic solidarity, but which hedged all bets on whether Islamabad would indeed provide the US with access to Pakistani airspace, military bases and intelligence in the manhunt for Bin Laden.

He ordered his 36,000-strong army to go on nationwide alert, but whether to repel an incursion by the 25,000 Taliban reportedly massing at the Afghan border - or US troops flying in to capture the rogue Saudi - was not immediately apparent.

Musharraf 's obvious discomfort was not entirely due to the complex military and religious forces at play in his regime. The military's seizure of power from Nawaz Sharif in October 1999 was triggered by the insistence of the Clinton administration that the ousted premier and the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan's leviathan security service, shut down Bin Laden's terrorist training camps inside Afghanistan, or face being branded a pariah state.

Evidence of the ISI's military support to the Taliban is legion, dating back to the movement's origins in the dustbowls around the southern city of Kandahar in 1994. Several thousand Pakistanis, chiefly students of religious schools, retired soldiers and noncommissioned officers, are known to fight with the Taliban army. The government in Islamabad has never tried to crack down on the recruitment of volunteers from Pakistan, despite intensive US pressure.

What is less certain is the degree to which the ISI's assistance to the Taliban was also extended to Osama bin Laden. …

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