- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 3, 2007

In the same week that Vice President Dick Cheney arrived in Islamabad to urge Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to take stronger action against the resurgent Taliban forces that find safehaven in his country, Pakistani security forces made their most significant arrest since the Bush administration turned to Gen. Musharraf for counterterrorism assistance in 2001. The arrest last week shows that a tougher diplomatic line with Gen. Musharraf, which has been effective in the past, can pay dividends. What remains important is a sustained crackdown, not a token effort to placate U.S. and NATO officials.

The capture of Mullah Obaidullah, defense minister when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan and close council to Taliban leader Mullah Muhammed Omar, is not likely to undercut the insurgency in Afghanistan, but it is important nonetheless. He was arrested in Quetta, Pakistan.

Pressure on Pakistan from Washington has been increasing, with a bill in Congress that would condition U.S. aid to Pakistan, some $8 billion to $10 billion since 2001, on stronger cooperation — “making all possible efforts” — against Taliban and al Qaeda militants. The agreement between Pakistan and tribal leaders in its northwest border provinces, which did nothing but compound the surge in cross-border violence, has come under particular fire. Taliban insurgents responsible for some of the violence in Afghanistan find safe haven in Pakistan — either despite efforts of Pakistani security forces or in concert with them, depending on which side is telling the story.

For all the warranted criticism, it’s important not to understate the difficulty of Gen. Musharraf’s circumstances and task. His position is politically unstable — made all the more tenuous by upcoming elections. A close relationship with Washington is seen as a liability, and he suffers from a perceived willingness to do America’s bidding. The counterproductive accords with the tribal areas, for instance, were driven largely by political considerations, and even if Gen. Musharraf could be convinced to scrap the agreements, sending a larger military force to secure the area — an initiative with little support in Pakistan — would prove difficult.

None of this means, however, that the United States should shy away from more forceful diplomacy. Mr. Cheney’s visit, which was set against the backdrop of largely supportive comments from the White House for the Pakistani president, shows how successful that approach can be in countering Gen. Musharraf’s reticence to go after the Taliban. It can’t be the only tack, however. To facilitate Pakistan’s efforts against the Taliban and al Qaeda militants, the United States should continue to emphasize its commitment to the long-term stability and success of Afghanistan.

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