The resurgence of the Taliban, as well as cross border incursions of Al Qaeda terrorists into Afghanistan, has led to increased pressure, criticism and charges of complicity against Pakistan from Western leaders. The increase in terrorist activity has highlighted the failure of the Pakistani leadership to contain terrorism and dismantle its terrorist infrastructure, adding to the growing distrust of Islamabad as a true partner in the war against terror. Despite a pledge by Pakistan’s President, General Pervez Musharraf, to support U.S. efforts to extinguish terrorist groups, Islamabad is increasingly viewed as a partner to the resurgence of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.
Key to that view are various documents that indicate the extent of terrorist activity within Pakistan. An affidavit obtained during an FBI investigation of Hamid Hayat, an Islamic terrorist arrested in Lodi, California, in June, 2005, contains Hayat’s admission to FBI agents that he spent six months in an Al Qaeda training camp in Pakistan with hundreds of participants from around the world. According to an October 8, 2006 article in The Sunday Times, proof of Pakistan’s support of the Taliban was confirmed by American, NATO and Afghan intelligence, which obtained satellite photos and videos of training camps for Taliban soldiers and suicide bombers near Quetta.
Meanwhile, a recent report in the International Herald Tribune cited an interview with a Taliban commander who had been jailed by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency for his refusal to join the fight in Afghanistan. His arrest was falsely publicized as an example of Pakistan’s efforts to crackdown on the Taliban. The same report quoted former Pakistani government advisor, Husain Haqqani, who described the ruthless efficiency of the ISI in monitoring the communications and movements of Pakistanis. He disputed the possibility that a terrorist training camp could operate in Pakistan without ISI knowledge.
Other failures by Pakistan include a controversial peace agreement signed by the Pakistani government with the local mujahideen and Taliban of North Waziristan in September. President Musharraf promised that the agreement would bring peace to Afghanistan. In reality, it has had the opposite effect. It has created a safe haven for Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives and is viewed as a selling out of U.S. and Afghan interests. U.S. military spokesman Colonel John Paradis reported a "twofold, in some cases threefold" increase in attacks against Western and Afghan troops shortly after the treaty was signed.
Also disappointing for coalition forces that overthrew the Taliban during Operation Enduring Freedom was President Musharraf’s authorization of the release from jail of over 2,500 suspected Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters caught in Afghanistan during the war. It is indeed revealing that since the beginning of the coalition’s fight against terrorists in Afghanistan, the Pakistani government has opposed elimination of the Taliban, calling instead for merely weakening the terrorist group and leaving in place so-called "moderates" within their ranks.
Further, Islamabad has insisted that any intelligence gathered about terrorist activity in Pakistani territory be passed on to Pakistani officials for action. Since the war in Afghanistan began, Pakistan has arrested and handed over to the U.S. several senior Al Qaeda leaders but no senior Taliban leaders have been captured and extradited to Afghanistan.
In the wake of criticism of its lackluster efforts to root out Al Qaeda and the Taliban, Pakistan has verbally reasserted its commitment to fighting the Islamic insurgency and strengthening its alliance with the United States. The importance of a posture of support for the U.S. anti-terrorism campaign in Afghanistan is not lost on Islamabad as it pursues its national interests. Lack of cooperation with Washington would jeopardize Pakistan’s aid-dependent economy, shift the balance in its relationship with India, affect its influence in Central Asia and possibly threaten its nuclear weapons capability. The Pakistani government receives $3 billion in U.S. assistance. It wants to be in a position to encourage a pro-Pakistan regime in Kabul and be involved in Afghan affairs. Pakistan also aspires to shift the balance of power in the region to be able to stand up to India and pursue its interests in Kashmir.
As part of Pakistan’s efforts to prove its commitment to the war on terror, it has revisited plans for walling off and possibly mining sections of its 1,700-mile border with Afghanistan along the hotly contested Durand Line. The Durand Line was imposed by the British in 1893 to separate Afghanistan from what was then British India and is now the North-West Frontier Province (N.W.F.P.) of Pakistan. Afghanistan has never accepted that the N.W.F.P. is part of Pakistan and refers to the natural border of the River Indus as its national boundary. In 1949, following India’s independence from Britain and the creation of Pakistan, Afghanistan declared the Durand Line invalid. Since that time, successive Pakistani governments have attempted without success to reach a bilateral agreement with Kabul to establish the Durand Line as the international border. No Afghan government, including the Taliban regime, has accepted this division.
Despite these obvious nationalistic interests, Pakistan has defended the barrier proposal as an important step toward stopping the flow of weapons and terrorists across the border. The proposal was made directly to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, possibly to secure approval and funding, and has not been discussed with Afghan officials. The proposed fence and mining will artificially divide the Pashtuns, the ethnic Afghans of the region, and has met with resistance from political parties in both countries. The plan, which will include designated monitored crossing points, is viewed as a unilateral way for Pakistan to define its desired borders, legally solidify control of the N.W.F.P. and achieve strategic depth against conflict with India. Formally establishing the border may also be a maneuver to secure Pakistan’s position for the proposed Iran-Pakistan-India natural gas project and quell fears of potential pipeline sabotage in Pakistan.
Although Pakistan is categorized as an ally of the United States in the war on terror and Bush has pushed Musharraf to do more to stop terrorists, it is increasingly clear that the Pakistani government is imperiling the position of the coalition forces in the region and pursuing its own national interests. As the Taliban have regrouped and reorganized their resistance with assistance from Islamabad, resentment of the American presence in Afghanistan has grown. Pakistan’s ill-advised deal with Waziristan has alienated Afghanis and is viewed as an attempt to destabilize their government and bring back the rule of the Taliban. Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai has declared that, "There is an open campaign by Pakistan against Afghanistan and the presence of the coalition troops here."
Musharraf has done little to curb extremism in Pakistan and his actions have been a direct threat to U.S. anti-terrorist efforts. Under Pakistan’s watchful eye, Islamists continue to operate openly throughout Pakistan and export terrorism to Afghanistan. Can we really still afford to count on Pakistan as an ally? It is time for President Bush to seriously ask Pakistan, "Are you with us or with the terrorists?"
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