Correction to This Article
The article incorrectly said that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had spoken with Gen. Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan two days earlier. They spoke on Oct. 31.
Page 2 of 2   <      

As Crisis Deepens, White House Endures Diminished Power to Influence Events

Even on countering terrorism, Musharraf has proven to be a disappointment. Despite years of effort, only a handful of top al-Qaeda figures have been captured in the unruly border areas between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Negotiated settlements Musharraf reached last year with armed Islamic groups and tribal leaders in North and South Waziristan, in which he pledged to pull back troops from the border areas if the tribes kept al-Qaeda and foreign fighters out, turned into a bad bet that instead allowed insurgents to gather strength and to begin challenging the government in other parts of the country.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman called Musharraf's declaration "unfortunate" but said "close coordination with the Pakistani military on operations continues."

The administration continued to back Musharraf, even as he began to hint at invoking emergency powers after a confrontation with Pakistan's Supreme Court. In August, during a late-night phone call, Rice managed to deter the Pakistani president from suspending the constitution. In the intervening weeks, the United States, along with Britain, worked out a deal that allowed opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, a former prime minister, to return to Pakistan last month for the first time in eight years. Under the arrangement, Musharraf was to remain president, but Bhutto could take part in parliamentary elections planned for early next year. But the U.S. efforts to support opposition parties came too late, experts said.

"The coup in Pakistan is a body blow to the administration's efforts to arrange a shotgun marriage between Musharraf and Bhutto that would have given the appearance of a broadening of Pakistani politics," said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst and National Security Council staff member now at the Brookings Institution's Saban Center. "Instead of a more democratic Pakistan, we will have a more authoritarian Pakistan. Instead of a more stable Pakistan fighting al-Qaeda, we will have a military regime fighting for its survival."

A number of Pakistan experts said the situation is too fluid for predictions. "I don't know what's going to happen," Cohen said. "I don't think any Pakistan expert knows what will happen even tomorrow."

Rice was in Istanbul, Turkey, attending an international conference on Iraq when her attention was shifted to the upheaval in Pakistan. One adviser traveling with Rice saw a silver lining in the rapid turn of events. "Thank heavens for small favors," the official said. Compared to Pakistan, "Iraq looks pretty good."

Staff writers Karen DeYoung, traveling with Rice, Robin Wright and Ann Scott Tyson in Washington contributed to this report.


<       2

© 2007 The Washington Post Company