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U.S. Fears Greater Turmoil In Region
"The Taliban . . . are indeed a growing element of the domestic political stew" in Pakistan, said John Blackton, who served as a U.S. official in Afghanistan in the 1970s and again 20 years later. He noted that Pakistani military intelligence created the Taliban in Afghanistan.
How the United States responds will hinge largely on the actions of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, in whom U.S. officials have mixed confidence. If there is indeed a new challenge by Islamic militants emerging in Pakistan, then the United States will have to do whatever it can to support Musharraf, the U.S. Army officer in Afghanistan said.
"Pakistan must take drastic action against the Taliban in its midst or we will face the prospect of a nuclear weapon falling into the hands of al-Qaeda -- a threat far more dangerous and real than Hussein's arsenal ever was," he said, referring to the deposed Saddam Hussein.
But Musharraf has a track record of promising much to Washington but doing little to counter the militants, others said. "My prediction is, Musharraf will go into a bunker mentality and be nicer to the Muslims," said John McCreary, who led the Defense Intelligence Agency's 2001 task force on Afghanistan. "He goes through the pretenses of crackdown but never follows through."
"Pakistan isn't really engaged in a fight against terror," added Blackton. "One of the mistakes amongst many U.S. policymakers is to project the American construct of a war on terror onto the Pakistani regime struggle for survival. There are some congruencies between the two, but even more differences."
The clever move for Musharraf would be to allay such doubts by capturing or killing a major Islamic extremist leader in the coming weeks, said Larry P. Goodson, an area expert who teaches strategy at the U.S. Army War College. But he said he doubts that would happen or that Musharraf would take many concrete actions, aside possibly from declaring a new state of emergency.
A countervailing pressure on Musharraf is that if he does not respond effectively to an Islamic militant campaign against his government, he also could face falling from power. At some point, said Teresita C. Schaffer, a former State Department official specializing in India and Pakistan, the Pakistani army "could conclude that he's a liability."
Staff writer Joby Warrick and staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.