But most attention has been centered on Pakistan and the attention is now spinning from requesting more to Islamabad's ability to deal with the terrorists. The turnaround in perspective has been partially created by Pakistani politicians themselves. They have argued that they have deployed 80,000 troops on the border, withstood multiple assassination attempts on Musharraf, taken more casualties, and have more wounded soldiers than all allies put together. They even characterized U.S. official testimonies in Congress on al Qaeda presence in Pakistan as "absurd." By not being truthful that the troops have not been well deployed and in fact assist the Taliban to infiltrate into Afghanistan, Islamabad's brilliant tactics has failed in strategy and led to the impression that Musharraf is not competent to handle the Taliban.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been one of the harshest critics of Musharraf and repeated facilitative trips by U.S. officials have failed including the famous dinner meeting at the White House where Bush himself interceded. After making multiple excuses for Islamabad, the Bush Administration has come around a full circle to now demand action and results or else. The threat at this time was clearly the loss of financial aid that Islamabad needs desperately to stay afloat economically and also fund the expensive military, missile, and nuclear programs.
While Karzai has complained about the Taliban and the NATO warned against the resultant impact in Afghanistan, the U.S. has independently determined the increased al Qaeda activity in Pakistan. The U.S. takes the threat of al Qaeda is so seriously that it now says that it can destabilize Pakistan itself leading punch to a new realization that Islamabad may be losing control. As if to make a point, a Black Hawk helicopter circled Musharraf's official residence with snipers leading out. A New York Times report even quoted unnamed U.S. officials saying that Musharraf will be an "unusually tough message" about funding cuts unless al Qaeda operatives and cells are hunted and shut down and the only thing that matters are "results" and not "promises."
Already, the new Democrat-controlled U.S. Congress has already initiated legislation that would cut financial aid to Pakistan, which is the fifth largest recipient of aid, unless it delivers on terrorism and non-proliferation. Shocked by increased pressure from U.S. lawmakers delivered personally by U.S. Congress Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Musharraf reluctantly acknowledged that some of his forces may have been turning a "blind eye" to some militia movement-- clearly, a diplomatically-nuanced climb-down from "nonsense" and "absurd."
Coincidentally, British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett was also in Pakistan just days after her nation promised 5,600 additional troops in Afghanistan to fight the Taliban in the south. Beckett again raised the resurgent and spiraling Taliban insurgency ratcheting up pressure on Musharraf. An official spokesperson for Pakistan said that Musharraf "called for a comprehensive strategy and economic reconstruction for effectively dealing with the militant activities in Afghanistan." The officialdom continues to downplay the context of this visit by stressing on "strategic partnership between the UK and Pakistan" and a British spokesperson softened the blow by also stressing on how this visit will "deepen this partnership."
Beckett will also meet North West Frontier Province (NWFP) Governor Ali Muhammad Jan Aurakzai in Peshawar and no doubt talk about his reported comments that the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan was becoming a "liberation war." Karzai has been extremely harsh in his criticism of this attitude. It is hard to see how Britain can keep the pressure on Aurakzai and Musharraf if their spokespeople talking about deepening partnerships. The British Government is desperately trying to appear impartial to Muslims world-over to duck criticisms at home on how its officials are handling terror suspects within the U.K. To further this agenda, a British High Commission spokesperson in Islamabad was quoted saying that Beckett will deliver a speech in Islamabad that would take a "long view on the relationship between the Muslim world and the West."
Privately, Pakistan officials are more somber admitting that Beckett is "in the context of recent efforts by the international community to help Pakistan tackle the border regions and make a collective push against the Taliban spring offensive." Specifically, Western officials are very concerned about a dubious peace deal between Pakistan Army and the Taliban in North Waziristan located in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).
While the conversations between Cheney and Musharraf and Beckett's message to Pakistan will be kept secret, it is clear that the West is focusing more on assessing Pakistan's competence rather than its willingness. One Indian newspaper editorially asked Islamabad which is worse-to be called unreliable or be called incompetent.