Pakistan experiencing leadership void: NYT

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Islamabad, June 24 : Pakistan is experiencing a leadership void four months after elections.

Western diplomats, military officials, Pakistani politicians and Afghan officials are reportedly concerned about the fact that no one seems to be in charge.

According to the New York Times, the anxiety over the lack of leadership appears most acute when it comes to dealing with militants in the tribal areas. Although political parties and the military all seek a breather from the suicide bombings and nascent insurgency that have roiled Pakistan in recent years, there are fundamental disagreements over the problem of militancy that they have not begun to address, Pakistani politicians and Western diplomats say.

The confusion is allowing the militants to consolidate their sanctuaries while spreading their tentacles all along the border area, the paper quoted military officials and diplomats, as saying.

If anyone is in charge of security policy in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, Pakistani politicians and Western diplomats say, that remains the military and the country's premier intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, which operate with little real oversight.

While the newly elected civilian government has been criticized for dealing with the militants, it is the military that is brokering cease-fires and prisoner exchanges with minimum consultation with the government, politicians from the government coalition, diplomats and analysts said.

Politicians in both the provincial and central governments complain they are excluded from the negotiations and did not even know of a secret deal struck in February, before the elections.

The weekly Friday Times, satirized the situation with a front-page cartoon showing the country's main political players riding in a plane, all issuing different instructions.

Since coming to power in February, the fragile coalition government, run by Benazir Bhutto's widower, Asif Ali Zardari, leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party, has been engrossed in internal wrangling over removing President Musharraf.

The coalition is barely functioning after half its ministers left the cabinet in May in a dispute over whether to reinstate 60 high court judges dismissed by Mr. Musharraf last year.

For now it is just accepting the military's decisions regarding the militants, said Talat Masood, a retired Pakistani general who is now a political analyst. He characterized the country as suffering from "institutional paralysis and a dysfunctional government, signs of which are showing already."

The frustration is such that President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan threatened this month to send troops into Pakistan to pursue Pakistani militant leaders.

That Pakistan's government appears broken is not surprising, analysts say. Pakistan's civilian institutions have been atrophied by eight years of military rule, and the country's major political parties have been left rudderless.

Bhutto's assassination in December left her party in even deeper disarray.

The military remains the country's strongest institution, having ruled Pakistan for about half of the country's 61 years of independence. But it is proving to be an increasingly fickle and prickly partner for Washington.

More fighting and violence is almost certainly on the horizon. What the plan will be then, no one seems to know.

ANI

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