Islamabad, Aug 19 : After former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf's resignation yesterday, the US will have to look out for a new "war-on-terror" ally in the fragile looking coalition Government consisting of two old political foes - PPP Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari and PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif, and the new Army Chief Gen Parvez Kayani, said an article in the New York Times.
The paper said that the Pakistan government will almost certainly remain an American ally in the campaign against terrorism, and that the question for Washington will be how firmly it could fix the attention of the two leaders of the governing coalition on the raging Taliban insurgency.
According to it, while Zardari is a controversial businessman with little experience in government and is a virtual unknown in Washington, Prime Minster Yousaf Razi Gilani, whom Zardari handpicked, made a "poor impression" during his first visit to the White House last month.
On the other hand, Sharif left a legacy as a leader who was prepared to introduce the strict Islamic Shariah law in the late 1990s, a threat that left doubts in Washington about his commitment to containing extremists. But, in the words of a former Pakistani envoy in Washington, "that reputation (of Sharif) should be put aside". "I don't think missteps of the past should haunt him. I think he understands the gravity of the situation. He realizes how the insurgency can destabilize. He needs to be listened to. He is there now, you can't walk around him," said Gen. Jehangir Karamat, a former army chief of staff who served as Pakistan's ambassador to Washington in the early Musharraf era.
Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao, a former interior minister, said that Washington might bank upon Gen Kayani. "Even with a civilian government in control of Pakistan's Parliament, Washington will continue to concentrate its antiterrorism efforts on Gen. Kayani, the army chief of staff, who succeeded Musharraf as military chief last November," the paper quoted Sherpao as saying.
According to the paper, neither of the two - Zardari and Sharif - have shown much interest in the nexus of the Taliban and Al Qaeda, which have found sanctuary and renewed strength in Pakistan's tribal areas, from there, they threaten American soldiers in Afghanistan and have been destabilizing Pakistan itself.
At the end of the Bush administration and the start of a new era in Washington, the major concerns about Pakistan, a poor, nuclear-armed country with 160 million people, are twofold. First, the US wants to prevent Al Qaeda from preparing another attack on the US from the safety and seclusion of the lawless tribal region; and second, the American military is demanding that Pakistan stop Taliban fighters from crossing the border into Afghanistan and attacking American and NATO forces.
For Pakistan, the Taliban threat is a domestic one. In the past month, for example, more than 130 girls' schools have been burned by the Taliban in the region of Swat alone, and in the past 10 days there have been daily casualties in clashes in the tribal areas between the insurgents and the military. Many of the 60 suicide bomb attacks last year, and indeed, the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in December, have been attributed to the Pakistani Taliban.
Meanwhile, Washington's chief complaint about Pakistan in recent months has centered around its "substantial support" for the Taliban by the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency.