WASHINGTON — Pervez Musharraf’s resignation leaves the Bush administration struggling to increase counterterrorism operations against Islamist militants who operate in Pakistan.
U.S. officials say their influence over Pakistan’s civilian government is diminishing. They specifically cite the power of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, a major figure in the ruling coalition who has clashed with U.S. policy makers in the past. More broadly, political infighting has trumped the hunt for Taliban and al Qaeda members on the agenda of Pakistani leaders.
Although Mr. Musharraf was one of the U.S.’s closest allies, in the end there was little Washington could do to prop him up. President Bush steered clear of any contact with the Pakistani president during his last days in office. Mr. Bush will likely call Mr. Musharraf “at some point this week” to thank him, a senior administration official said.
U.S. officials say cooperation has diminished between American and Pakistani security forces, leading the Pentagon and Central Intelligence Agency to conduct operations unilaterally inside Pakistan’s tribal regions. The U.S. says the Taliban and other groups are using those regions to carry out cross-border attacks on the U.S.-led coalition forces inside Afghanistan.
The U.S.-funded Security Development Plan for Pakistan’s tribal regions has stalled because of discord between Washington and Islamabad, according to U.S. and Pakistani officials. The Pakistani military froze a $400 million program to train an ethnic Pashtun militia, called the Frontier Corps, after a U.S. air strike killed 11 members of the unit in June.
“The Americans are doing more unilaterally…and we’re not really working with the Pakistanis,” said a U.S. intelligence official who has worked extensively on Pakistan. “The Pakistanis are very nationalistic and proud…. They won’t stand back.”
The Bush administration showered more then $10 billion in aid on Islamabad during Mr. Musharraf’s tenure and defended him against criticism that he wasn’t moving quickly to restore democracy after seizing power in a 1999 bloodless coup.
Monday, White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe hailed Mr. Musharraf for his service, saying: “President Bush appreciates President Musharraf’s efforts in the democratic transition of Pakistan as well as his commitment to fighting Al Qaeda and extremist groups.”
But the U.S. was largely silent as Pakistan’s ruling coalition pushed impeachment plans this month against Mr. Musharraf. When Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani this month made his first visit to Washington since taking office, discussions focused on forging a new U.S.-Pakistani relationship, rather than protecting Mr. Musharraf, officials involved said.
U.S. officials said that the meetings went well and that they believe Mr. Gilani recognizes the threat posed by the Taliban to Pakistan. But they said Mr. Sharif appears to be driving the political agenda in Islamabad, emboldened by his leading role in forcing Mr. Musharraf from office. A number of U.S. officials said they thought the other leading coalition politician, Pakistan People’s Party chief Asif Ali Zardari, would have been content to allow Mr. Musharraf to remain president.
The White House now worries Islamabad could be in for a protracted political battle between Messrs. Sharif and Zardari, compromising the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban. Both men are expected to minimize public cooperation with the U.S. because of rising anti-Americanism among Pakistanis.
U.S. officials who have worked with Pakistan said they are concerned that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence and its military feel encircled by India and Iran, and are in little mood to help those countries stabilize the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Last month, CIA Deputy Director Stephen Kappes visited Islamabad and met with Pakistan’s army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani. U.S. officials familiar with the meeting said Mr. Kappes told the general about ISI members the U.S. believes aided the Taliban. Mr. Kappes laid out evidence of ISI links to Taliban commander Jalaluddin Haqqani, who the Afghan government said was behind the July bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul. Islamabad has denied such links.
With Gen. Kiyani in charge of the Army, one former senior intelligence official knowledgeable about the region said, there will be some measure of stability in the relationship between Pakistani and U.S. intelligence services. “My view on the intelligence side is it won’t have any effect,” the former official said, adding that the relationship wasn’t in good shape in the latter days of Mr. Musharraf’s term, either.
Siobhan Gorman contributed to this article.