- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 15, 2000

U.S. officials say they are satisfied that Pakistan's military leader Pervez Musharraf has begun to tackle thorny problems that had raised concern about the direction in which he is leading his nuclear-armed nation.

But it is still not clear whether the general has the support to fully confront what one analyst called "Pakistan's demons." These include Islamic militancy, terrorism, corruption, a poor economy and nuclear brinksmanship with India over Kashmir.

"Clearly he is attempting to grapple with a number of these problems," Assistant Secretary of State Karl Inderfurth said in an interview yesterday.

Another official at State, where Pakistani Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar holds talks today, said Pakistan "is taking steps to contain terrorists operating out of Afghanistan and is being more active about the whole issue of militancy in Pakistan."

Officials also were heartened by Gen. Musharraf's success in facing down the nation's merchants, who this week abandoned a two-week strike against new tax audits. The International Monetary Fund demanded the audits before it makes needed loans.

"General Musharraf may have arrested Pakistan's slide toward extremism and chaos," said Stephen Cohen of the Brookings Institution, a former State Department South Asia analyst.

Gen. Musharraf this week ordered that thousands of religious schools known as madrassas which have been recruiting grounds for militant groups teach less ritual and more science and technology.

But he has backed down from a plan to soften the anti-blasphemy laws in the face of Islamists who took to the streets two weeks ago.

"We're not really sure whether he's in charge or it is a junta in which two more hawkish and Islamist generals hold sway," said one U.S. official who spoke on the condition he not be identified.

The two are Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmad, head of the Inter-Service Intelligence agency, and Gen. Abdul Aziz Khan, chief of general staff of the army. The military overthrew the civilian government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in October and installed Gen. Musharraf as chief executive of Pakistan.

Despite his internal reforms, Gen. Musharraf remains hawkish toward India.

Tension along the border remains high, and one source said India in recent weeks came close to crossing the Line of Control (LOC) dividing Kashmir.

"The Indians had planned a fairly big bash," former Rand Vice President George Tanham said yesterday, citing "a good American source."

"The Indians have rethought it and won't do it."

This week, Mr. Sharif said from jail that the Pakistani army lost hundreds of soldiers during fighting last year in Kargil, on the Indian side of the LOC. Pakistan previously had insisted there were no regular Pakistani soldiers fighting with militant groups in Kargil.

U.S. diplomats have repeatedly asked Gen. Musharraf to use his influence to get Afghanistan to clamp down on terrorists, especially accused terror mastermind Osama bin Laden.

Pressure from Gen. Musharraf is credited for the closure by Afghanistan's Taleban rulers of a training camp for Islamic militants at Rishkore outside Kabul. However, the trainees reportedly have moved to other camps.

Gen. Musharraf also has halted the carrying of weapons in public by Islamic militants, but U.S. officials are not sure how widely this has been enforced.

Mr. Tanham said Gen. Musharraf seemed poorly prepared to run the country.

"He was a special forces guy, but he had to [take charge] for the good of the country and the army," he said.

"He can't turn the country around fast. We and the Pakistanis need to be patient. And we're not.

"I think he's done reasonably well. He can't alienate everyone."

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