Washington, Jan 6 : The Bush Administration may give more freedom to the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to conduct clandestine operations in the tribal areas of Pakistan.
Senior national security advisers of President George W Bush are arguing whether to expand the CIA's authority, especially after intelligence inputs that the al Qaeda and the Taliban are intensifying their efforts in the tribal areas of Pakistan in order to destabilize the Musharraf regime, according to the New York Times.
On Friday, Vice President Dick Cheney, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Bush's top national security advisers met at the White House to discuss the matter that is said to be "a broad reassessment of the US strategy", 10 days after the assassination of former Pakistan premier Benazir Bhutto.
They also discussed "how to handle the period from now to the February 18 elections, and the aftermath of those elections."
Bush's national security adviser Stephen J Hadley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, and other top intelligence officials, also attended the meeting.
A large number of the participants of the meeting believed that the threat to the Musharraf Administration is so grave that the both the government and new military leadership in that country "were likely to give the US more latitude," Bush Administration officials claimed.
They further revealed that the US so far did not give any formal presentation of the new proposals to Musharraf.
Officials at the White House and the Pentagon feel that due to the changing scenario in Pakistan the Americans can advocate for the expanded authority in that country.
"After years of focusing on Afghanistan, we think the extremists now see a chance for the big prize - creating chaos in Pakistan itself," the New York Times quoted a senior official, as saying.
According to sources, new options for expanded covert operations include "loosening restrictions on the CIA to strike selected targets in Pakistan" but in some cases it will have to use inputs given by the Pakistani intelligence.
At present, there are about 50 American soldiers in Pakistan, said military officials, adding that any expanded operations using CIA operatives or Special Operations forces, like the Navy Seals, "would be small and tailored to specific missions."
However, critics think that more direct US military intervention may prove to be ineffective, it may annoy the Pakistani Army and give leverage to the support for the militants.
"I'm not arguing that you leave Al Qaeda and the Taliban unmolested, but I'd be very, very cautious about approaches that could play into hands of enemies and be counterproductive," said Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at Georgetown University.
Raids by US troops would prompt a powerful popular backlash against the Bush and Musharraf Administrations, said Hasan Askari Rizvi, a leading Pakistani military and political analyst.
"At the moment when Musharraf is extremely unpopular, he will face more crisis," said Rizvi, adding. "This will weaken Musharraf in a Pakistani context."
American officials have said that the assassination of Pakistan ex-premier Benazir Bhutto had not diminished "the Pakistani counter terrorism operations, and there were no signs that Musharraf had pulled out any of his 100,000 forces in the tribal areas and brought them to the cities to help control the urban unrest."