The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Blast exposes Pervez Achilles heel

Islamabad, Dec. 15 (Reuters): He may not be as indispensable as he makes out, but a weekend assassination bid on Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf has revealed an Achilles heel in the war on terror.

In both Pakistan and Afghanistan, analysts say the West is relying too much on individuals, preferring to deal with Presidents they can trust, rather than building firm foundations for the future.

“The assumption is made that it is sufficient to have strong leaders at the helm, without an understanding that what is needed in both countries is strong institutions,” said Samina Ahmed of the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think-tank.

Both Musharraf and Afghan President Hamid Karzai have been the target of bullets or bombs from Islamic extremists in the last two years, and al Qaida expert Ronan Gunaratna says they are the most threatened leaders in the world today.

If either man were killed tomorrow, there is little doubt that a political vacuum would be created — this fact alone makes them a target for the extremists who hope to reap a reward.

In Pakistan, Musharraf’s suppression of mainstream political parties has created a parliament with little popular legitimacy and maintained his place at the centre of everything. “If the pivot is removed, the order is disturbed, and what emerges is not easy to predict,” said former senator Shafqat Mahmood.

Officials in Islamabad say it is too early to say who was behind yesterday’s explosion, which blew up a bridge just after the President’s cavalcade passed. But suspicion is bound to fall on al Qaida, after deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri issued a tape in September urging Pakistanis to overthrow Musharraf for supporting the US.

In October, a Karachi court convicted three Islamic militants for an assassination attempt on Musharraf last year, while Karzai survived one in the Afghan city of Kandahar in September 2002. Each bid must send shivers down western spines.

“The problem is there is no clear post-Musharraf plan,” said Husain Haqqani at Washington’s Carnegie Endowment.

“The US is putting all its hopes in General Musharraf and has built an alliance not with Pakistan, but Musharraf the person,” he said. In the longer term, reliance on Musharraf and Karzai risks undermining democracy in both countries, and ultimately western interests, said Ahmed.

“We are undermining our own interests when we opt for a short cut to political stability or to promote security interests,” he said.

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