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PM grumble sends Armitage scrambling

Washington, Oct. 1: The Americans have concluded that General Pervez Musharraf is a “good man” — a pet expression of President George W. Bush — but that he is incapable of implementing the US agenda in Pakistan, Afghanistan, or for that matter, on relations with India.

Allegations by Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee — in that order — to Bush in New York last week of continuing Pakistani-supported cross-border terrorism to their respective countries have brought deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage hotfooting to South Asia once again.

It was Armitage, the US President’s main foreign policy troubleshooter, who doused the flames of a growing military crisis between India and Pakistan last year after terrorists supported by Islamabad attacked Parliament on December 13, 2001.

This time, Armitage, accompanied by assistant secretary of state for South Asia, Christina Rocca, may be seeking answers to a troubling question, which Washington has so far refused to face: What happens after Musharraf'

The number two man in the state department today threw Musharraf’s government into a tizzy by comments here on the eve of his departure for Islamabad suggesting that Pakistan’s President did not have the full loyalty of his army or the intelligence apparatus.

“I personally believe that President Musharraf is genuine when he assists us in the tribal areas (where Osama bin Laden is said to be hiding) and he has from inside of the border, but I do not think that affection for working with us extends up and down the rank and file of the Pakistani security community,” Armitage told US lawmakers.

Pakistani foreign ministry spokesman Masood Khan was today quoted as retorting in Islamabad that “the President (Musharraf) is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. All security agencies are answerable to him and they follow his direction faithfully... Our government is working as one unit”.

Armitage also told US Congressional leaders yesterday that “I personally believe President Musharraf is intent on being supportive of President Karzai.

“The ability of the government of Pakistan, particularly the military of Pakistan, to operate in the federally-administered tribal areas is significantly inhibited”.

Armitage and Rocca will spend Thursday in Islamabad, go to Afghanistan on Friday and return to the Pakistani capital on Saturday.

But equally important as the Armitage visit are several goings-on here on America’s Pakistan front which suggest that after two years of shifting positions, double talk and often questionable support for the US-led war on terrorism, the Bush administration may at last be harbouring doubts about the continued utility of Musharraf in office.

This should not, however, be any source of comfort to New Delhi. If the process of eventually writing off Musharraf has, indeed, begun here, the quid pro quo to that would be a massive effort by the US to strengthen Pakistan’s army and buy its loyalty to the US.

This stems from Washington’s assessment that the US agenda in South Asia can only be advanced by securing the total support of Rawalpindi’s army establishment in a fall back to the days of Field Marshal Ayub Khan and General Zia ul Haq.

Therefore, it did not come as a surprise here that on the eve of Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali’s meeting with Bush, Pakistan’s defence secretary, retired Lt General Hamid Nawaz, announced in Islamabad yesterday that “we have achieved a major breakthrough in acquisition of defence items from the US”.

Khan said that barring two or three items, the US had agreed to supply all the equipment from a long defence shopping list, which he handed over to the Americans during a meeting of the US-Pakistan Defence Consultative Group here last month.

It is understood that on the footsteps of Jamali’s visit, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff of the Pakistani army, General Mohammad Aziz Khan, will be here.

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