IT will probably have come as a surprise to many Americans to hear the Bush administration's homeland security adviser, Frances Fragos Townsend, tell a TV interviewer at the weekend that the United States would consider military strikes against alleged al-Qaeda hide-outs in Pakistan's northern borders with Afghanistan. Since when does an advisor on homeland security have a public voice on military intervention?

The last thing that Pakistan needs at this moment is a clumsy military intervention on its soil by the US military. Islamist sentiment in the country is extremely hostile to President Musharraf and it would use any such action to escalate opposition to him. Despite the shortcomings of the president and his government, they are still America's best bet for a fairly reliable ally in a dangerously volatile area. The President is in an extremely exposed position following his sacking of the Red Mosque in Islamabad and last week's reversal by the Pakistan Supreme Court of his earlier dismissal of the country's top judge. He also has to find a way of gaining acceptance from the Pakistan electorate in the forthcoming elections in October even though he insists that he will not relinquish his military status before doing so.

Yesterday the White House spokesman, Tony Snow, acknowledged “this notion afoot, or an attempt or an inclination somehow, we're going to invade Pakistan” but added that Pakistan is “a sovereign country and a very important player in the war on terror.”


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