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Pakistan: Nuclear Trader, Islamist Swamp By: Kaushik Kapisthalam
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, December 15, 2003


In his first State of the Union Address after the September 11 attacks, President Bush said "Our second goal is to prevent regimes that sponsor terror from threatening America or our friends and allies with weapons of mass destruction.” The President had Saddam Hussein's Iraq foremost in his mind when he uttered those words. Saddam is gone now and the world is still looking for his WMD cache. There is another regime, however, that is thriving despite having nuclear weapons and strong links to terrorists. It is the regime of Gen. Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan.

Pakistan is, on the “official record,” a US ally in the War on Terror. Under Gen.Musharraf, Pakistani authorities have arrested and handed over hundreds of Al Qaeda terrorists and the General himself has appeared intent to transform his country into a moderate, West-friendly Islamic democracy.

But there is also another Pakistan.

A U-Turn?

It would be worthwhile to revisit the speech Pakistani strongman Pervez Musharraf gave after the 9-11 atrocities explaining his alignment with the US. What many Americans may not know is that Musharraf gave two speeches to his countrymen. Faced with a “with us or against us” ultimatum from America, Musharraf gave a speech in English, which only the rich Anglophone Pakistani elite understood, blandly stating that Pakistan is aligning itself with America in the war on terror. A few days later, on September 19, 2001, Musharraf made another speech, this time in Urdu, Pakistan’s national language, not meant for Western ears.

In that speech, Musharraf likened his decision to support America with Prophet Mohammed’s temporary alliance with his enemies, the Jews, called the Treaty of Hudaybiya. He reminded his jihad loving countrymen that the Prophet made a calculated decision to side with the Jews, so that he can ward off the infidels. Later on, the Prophet went back on the alliance and was able to defeat the Jews.

Musharraf’s message was unmistakable. Pakistan’s decision to align with America, which many Pakistanis believe is “controlled” by Jews, was just to ward off a threat from the “infidels”, which was a reference to India, the Hindu majority neighbor of Pakistan. While most Pakistanis would find it hard to understand the intricacies of global politics, they know their Quran well and they knew that Musharraf just promised them that Pakistan’s support for jihad would resume after the immediate crisis with America was averted. Musharraf also reminded his countrymen that he had done everything he can for the Taliban and would strive to ensure that they were not defeated.

More than two years after Musharraf’s two speeches, it is quite clear that whatever Musharraf thought of the promises he made in his English language speech, he definitely meant to live up to the vows he made in his Urdu one.

Taliban Resurgence

Even amidst the chaotic Iraq situation, there has been a steady stream of reports indicating rising US and allied casualties in Afghanistan. Taliban fighters are now reported to be in control of certain districts in Southern Afghanistan and have been able to harass Afghan and US forces almost at will. Everyone, including US officials, Afghan leaders and others have squarely laid the blame for the Taliban resurgence on Pakistan.

The fact is that to date, not a single one of the 500 or so people arrested and handed over by Pakistani authorities to the US is a Taliban leader. In late 2001, Pakistan evacuated hundreds of top Taliban and Al Qaida leaders from the Afghan city of Kunduz, in an apparent deal made with the State Department. US officials later admitted that Pakistanis used that opportunity to whisk away top Taliban leaders.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai gave Pakistani strongman Pervez Musharraf a list of top Taliban leaders comfortably ensconced in Pakistan. Gen.Musharraf has refused to arrest them. Western journalists have been easily able to meet top Taliban leaders in big Pakistani cities. Despite this Pakistani authorities brazenly deny that the Taliban leaders are in their country.

Pakistani border guards and troops, instead of stopping the Taliban, have consistently prevented the US troops from attacking the Taliban and have gone as far as attacking US troops. Pakistani madrassa graduates have provided an unlimited number of foot soldiers for cross border attacks on US troops. Despite this, Pakistani authorities have closed down not one madrassa.

Clearly, Musharraf has lived up to the promise he made to his countrymen that he will not let the Taliban be harmed. Except for the deaths of the thousands of easily replaced foot soldiers, Musharraf has allowed the Taliban leadership to lie low and strike back when the US is distracted with Iraq. The much-touted Pakistani 180 on the support to the Taliban, has turned out to be a 360.

Nuclear Commodity Trading?

One of the biggest crises in the post 9-11 world is the current tense nuclear standoff with North Korea. This standoff came to a head when US intelligence discovered that the North Koreans were secretly developing a Uranium based nuclear weapons program with technology supplied by Pakistan. In fact, US intelligence had tracked a Pakistani nuclear shipment to the Koreans on a C-130 cargo plane that Pakistan received from the US. Egregiously, these transfers occurred as late as the summer of 2002, well after Pakistan became an official US "ally". Nuclear industry journals have given specifics on Pakistani transfer high-speed centrifuge machines, blueprints for the production of nuclear weapons and even "cold test" results to North Korea. A prominent North Korean defector has even claimed that one of the bombs Pakistan tested in 1998 was for North Korea. More recently, as Iran's nuclear program received spotlight, credible reports indicated that Iran's Uranium enrichment technology originated from Pakistan.

To complete its proliferation to the Axis-of-Evil, it is worth mentioning that United Nations inspectors dismantling the Iraqi nuclear program after Operation Desert Storm found evidence Pakistan provided the design for Iraq's nuclear bomb project. Iraqi documents also stated that Dr. A.Q. Khan, the "father" of Pakistan's bomb had offered to help Iraq in its quest for the bomb. Just days ago, Pakistan was reported to have signed a secret nukes-for-oil deal with Saudi Arabia, another militant hotbed. In off the record press conversations, Administration officials try to give gloss over the direct involvement of Pakistani strongman Gen. Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan' proliferation acts and try to pass the blame to "rogue" individuals, such as Dr. A.Q. Khan. But that leads to more questions.

If individuals in Pakistan can use state resources like transport aircrafts to transfer nuclear material to other states, then is it not likely that they could transfer, say a small nuclear warhead, to terrorist groups? Besides, what happened to the "tight grip" that Pakistan's military is supposed to have on the nukes, when proscribed material somehow found their way to the Axis-of-Evil charter members? Whether Musharraf sanctioned the proliferation or not, the fact that groups in Pakistan were crazy enough to transfer nukes to other rogue nations after the “with us or against us” position of the US was made clear only highlights the severe threat posed by Pakistan.

The threat of loose Pakistani nukes is worrying in and of itself, but when combined with the preponderance of suicidal terrorists in the same circles, the threat acquires a greater imminence and severity.  In late 2001, two top Pakistani nuclear scientists were identified by the US as having had contact with Osama Bin Laden. Many reports indicate that when the US sought to interview the scientists and two other nuclear experts with access to the most secret of the Pakistani nuclear facilities, Pakistan shipped them off to Myanmar, far out of American reach. Just prior to 9-11, one of the missing scientists, Sultan Bashiruddin, along with the “father" of Pakistan's bomb, Dr. A.Q. Khan attended the annual conclave of an Al Qaida linked terrorist group called Lashkar-e-Taiba.  Along with other attendees (including retired Pakistan Army Generals) they watched as speaker after speaker made calls for the destruction of India, Israel and the US.

The Lashkar-e-Taiba connection is ominous. Although officially a group fighting to help Pakistan annex Indian Kashmir, the Lashkar is a pan-Islamist terrorist group. It was found to be sheltering Abu Zubeida, a top Al Qaida leader, in its Pakistan safe house. Recently convicted Virginia Jihad terrorists, including American citizens, belonged to the Lashkar-e-Taiba. Their indictment  says that they trained in Lashkar-e-Taiba training camps in Pakistan. Just recently, the French terrorist arrested in Australia, Willie Brigitte was found to be a member of the Lashkar-e-Taiba. Australian police have uncovered pictures of a nuclear reactor and a list of bomb-making components in his apartment.

Clearly, there is very obvious evidence of a direct link between Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and pan-Islamist terrorist groups whose tentacles reach as far as America and Australia.

Musharraf’s Crackdown – Real or Smoke and Mirrors?

Supporters of Pakistan might say that after 9-11 and Gen.Musharraf has “cracked down” on such terrorist groups. But has he really? In January 2002, under heavy American pressure, Musharraf banned the Lashkar-e-Taiba and a few other groups. But, immediately, these groups were up and running under new names. The terrorist leaders were never prosecuted. Instead, they were put up in government safe houses and were even paid a fat stipend for their troubles. After the international pressure died down, they were quietly released. The Wall Street Journal reported that the Lashkar-e-Taiba has been openly printing jihad pamphlets and magazines, giving its mailing address as a building within stone’s throw of the police headquarters in the Pakistani city of Lahore. The terrorist group even managed to publish its material online. The Wall Street Journal says about Lashkar’s website:

Other provocative offerings in recent days include downloadable, jihad-themed audio files, and downloadable computer wallpapers. One collage depicts "evil" with a broken cross, a Star of David, a broken chakra (an Indian emblem), Israeli and Indian flags, the White House, and the Eiffel Tower. An enormous sword exhorts young men to offer themselves up onto the battleground of truth and falsehood. Another vivid image depicts two red raised fists, shackled and chained -- producing a shape nearly identical to the map of undivided Kashmir -- and captioned "Mix your blood with ours."

Pakistani media also reported that the Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists have even begun openly collecting funds with no interference from the government. The terrorist leader of the Lashkar has been addressing crowded rallies calling for Jihad on America. Another “banned” terrorist group, Jaish-e-Mohammed, is also back with a bang. The Jaish has owned up to the murder of journalist Daniel Pearl as well as scores of Church bombings in Pakistan. Despite this, the Pakistani authorities have not only released the terrorist leader of Jaish, but also allowed him to openly collect funds for terrorism.

Just last week, after an unusually stern warning by the US Ambassador to Pakistan, Musharraf banned some of the renamed terrorist groups. But he still would not arrest or prosecute the terrorist leaders. Most egregiously, he still would not ban the re-named Lashkar-e-Taiba, which was singled out by Ambassador Nancy Powell. Contrast this with Musharraf's tough action against his political opponents. One leader has been in prison for seven years without trial. Another has just been arrested on flimsy charges. And these are people whose parties received almost 50% of the popular vote amongst them. But when it comes to terrorism, Musharraf feigns an "inability" to crackdown on the extremists, even though he says that they only form 2% of his country's population. For a dictator who rules by fiats, this is a lame excuse.

The fact is that Gen.Musharraf has still not completely forsaken the idea of using jihad as a foreign policy tool, whether against India or Afghanistan. The terrorists are his allies in that effort. Therefore, he has no intent to meaningfully crackdown on the terrorists. Whenever the pressure builds up Musharraf just arrests some non-Pakistani terrorists to show “progress”, while leaving the Pakistani groups unharmed. By doing this, Musharraf may have closed the terror tap for now, but has left the plumbing intact.

Unable to connect the dots – or unwilling?

More than two years after the biggest terrorist attack on America, the cliché "September 11 changed everything" seems to be accepted as a fact by everyone in the policy making circles. But the fact is that the same policy mistakes that led to the 9-11 attacks seem to be repeated in the case of Pakistan. Unlike Saddam Hussein, who foolishly chose to publicly confront America in the pursuit of his goals, Pakistan’s Pervez Musharraf realized that once he publicly aligned himself with America, he could keep pursuing his terror friendly ways with impunity. 

From Indonesia to Australia to Kenya and even Turkey, every terrorist event seems to have a Pakistan connection. Every Islamic terrorist, no matter where he is arrested, seems to be either born in, trained in or has been hiding in Pakistan. Even Pakistani media is aware that their country provides sanctuary to Islamic terrorists from every corner of the globe. One prominent daily reported that as many as 36,000 militants are being trained in the seminaries of a single Pakistani province! Indeed, despite Musharraf’s tall promises, Pakistan still remains Jihad Central.

So far America has had to consistently downplay the obvious Pakistani role in the development of a nuclear Iran and North Korea, Taliban resurgence at the cost of the lives and limbs of American troops and being forced to ignore Musharraf's crushing of Pakistani democracy, especially at a time where President Bush is calling for freedom in the Islamic world.

At some point, someone in American policymaking circles needs to evaluate whether all this is a fair price to pay for Pakistani assistance in the capture of a few hundred Al Qaida foot soldiers and the occasional leader, mostly timed to coincide with Musharraf's US visits. Worse still, the sinister collusion between Pakistani nuclear scientists, intelligence officials and Al Qaida linked terrorist groups illustrates a clear and present danger to America. But is the Bush administration paying attention? And can it do anything about it? Only time will tell..




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