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Eye of the storm

"Eye of the storm" Continued...

Issue: "Bleeding economy," Oct. 18, 2008

U.S. generals have commended the Pakistani offensive but say they have yet to see a decrease in the number of insurgents crossing the border into Afghanistan. And some intelligence officials say there are Taliban sympathizers embedded in the Pakistani army who are leaking sensitive information to militants hiding in the dark recesses of the Pakistani border.

Despite his checkered past-he spent several years in jail on corruption charges-many Pakistanis believe President Zardari can lead the country through these stormy times and restore a political system marred by almost a decade of military dictatorship. Since inheriting the leadership of the Pakistan Peoples Party from his wife-the late Benazir Bhutto-and ascending to the presidency following the resignation of Pervez Musharraf, he has promised to cut back presidential powers.

Already he has made efforts at diplomacy with the United States, but not all Pakistanis look favorably upon such endeavors. Recent polls suggest 90 percent of Pakistanis have an unfavorable view of the United States.

Economic woes have also plagued Pakistan: Rising energy costs and instability have led to a drop in investments. Legislation considered by the U.S. Congress that would have tripled economic aid to Pakistan is now unlikely to pass in light of the economic crisis on the home front.

Despite regional tensions, Ali believes U.S.-Pakistani relations will remain intact and says the Pakistani military generals she has spoken to acknowledge their need for American assistance in the battle to curb insurgents. Coalition forces appear willing to discuss thepossibilities. "There are mutual border security concerns that both the Afghans and the Pakistanis have," Gen. McKiernan said. "So the more we can work together to approach those concerns, the better off we all are."

But these collaborative efforts are best done covertly, Ali says, noting the complex web of perceptions in this part of the world: "For years our special forces have been in Pakistan, and there've been a number of covert operations that are happening. Certain things should remain covert as opposed to being in the public eye."

While political analysts are optimistic that downward trends in both Pakistan and Afghanistan can be reversed, the cost of failure is high: "Unstable Pakistan in one of the world's toughest and most dangerous neighborhoods will mean that there will be instability in Afghanistan," Nawaz said. "And quite likely the instability will reverberate into South Asia and the relationship with India and Kashmir." That is why it's important to get it right in Pakistan.

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