Podium: Musharraf isolation highlights the need for reform

The crisis in Pakistan has deepened since the country's democratically elected government decided to seek the impeachment of the President, Pervez Musharraf.

Musharraf, who was the country's army chief until last November, seized power in a 1999 coup and has retained office through two controversial votes.

The new coalition government, which came to power in February, is seeking to impeach him on charges that include violating the constitution, damaging the economy, and unlawfully dismissing senior members of the judiciary.

The alliance between Musharraf and the Bush administration over the US global "war on terror" and Musharraf's crackdown on the judiciary and media have made him unpopular at home. The government has sought to marginalise him but he appears determined to fight.

Experts say his isolation has left a power vacuum in the political corridors of Islamabad. As army chief and president, he was the most powerful leader in the country but now it is unclear how much control the civilian government wields.

Its rule so far has been marked by spiralling food and fuel prices, rising militant violence, and deteriorating relations with Pakistan's neighbours.

Musharraf's decline poses a problem for Washington, which has given him unstinting support throughout his period of tumult. Experts worry the army and the intelligence services continue to play an important role in the country's counterterrorism and foreign policies.

According to the New York Times, the US Central Intelligence Agency has accused Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of harbouring links to the militants operating in Pakistan's tribal areas and also suspects the ISI of aiding theJuly 7 bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul. The ISI's alleged complicity in the Kabul embassy bombing has also put India-Pakistan relations on edge.

US, Nato and Afghan officials have repeatedly blamed terrorist safe havens in Pakistan's tribal areas for increased attacks across the border in Afghanistan. Increased casualties in Afghanistan have prompted both US presidential nominees, Barack Obama and John McCain , to call for a troop surge in Afghanistan.

But Morton Abramowitz, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, contends that sending more troops won't save Afghanistan when "the main problem is Pakistan".

It may, experts say, be wiser to adapt the options advanced by the south Asia expert Daniel Markey in a Council for Foreign Relations report which lays out a more comprehensive US approach that aims to foster political and economic reform and increase the capacity of the Pakistani government.

This is an extract of a blog that appeared on the Council for Foreign Relations website wwww.cfr.org