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Terror Central By: Kyle Dabruzzi
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Within the past three weeks, the United States was dealt one of its greatest defeats to date in the war on terror. This defeat, however, was not courtesy of al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or any other terrorist organization. Rather, this setback was delivered by one of our allies in this fight, Pakistan.

In order to understand why Pakistan has done this, it’s important to have an understanding of its past record in combating terrorism. Additionally, this insight might shed some light on the likely future of Pakistan’s counter-terrorism efforts and determine whether Pakistan can save itself.

In the Counterterrorism Blog, Daveed Gartenstein-Ross has provided a continuing analysis of the current situation in Pakistan (see here and here). As he indicates, the Taliban and al-Qaeda won a significant victory recently when the Pakistani government yielded North Waziristan to the Taliban and their militant allies. According to Pakistan’s English newspaper Dawn, the 3 page agreement calls for the Pakistani government to pledge not to undertake any ground or air operations against the militants in the region.

For their part, the militants have pledged to halt cross-border raids into Afghanistan. This is unlikely, however, for two reasons. Under the agreement, foreign militants are allowed to reside in the region, so long as they “keep the peace.” Allegedly, Osama bin Laden and many of his lieutenants are among those militants living in the Waziristan region. Furthermore, the recent assassination of the governor of the Paktika province on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, perpetrated by Taliban members, only amplifies fears that cross-border incursions will likely continue.


This most recent peace deal parallels a similar agreement signed earlier in the year between the Pakistani government and militants in South Waziristan. Not much is known about the actual agreement, said to have been signed in secret. Military affairs analyst Bill Roggio writes that South Waziristan was handed over at some point in the spring of 2006. Shortly after, shariah law was established and the Taliban began to exercise control over the region. As a result, the region formally known as Waziristan, covering some 4,473 square miles along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, is now being referred to as the Islamic Emirate of Waziristan.


As if this were not a hard enough pill for the world to swallow, now there are reports that some 2,500 foreigners, originally held on suspicion of having links to al-Qaeda and/or the Taliban, have been freed from captivity in Pakistan. Those who have been released are reportedly returning to their home countries, while receiving aid from Islamic welfare organizations. One individual who is expected to be released from prison is Ghulam Mustafa, who was detained by Pakistani authorities late last year. Mustafa is known as al-Qaeda's chief in Pakistan and also had intimate knowledge of al-Qaeda's logistics, its financing and its nexus with the military in Pakistan.

Since 9/11, Pakistan has had a questionable success record in combating terrorist groups such as the Taliban and the Islamic radicalism that plagues the country. And understandably so, since, as Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid noted in 2001, Pakistan had “spent the past seven years providing every conceivable form of military, political and financial support to the Taliban.”


Clearly, for any nation to turn a 180 on a long-standing policy is pretty difficult. Yet, that doesn’t seem to be what has happened. The Taliban, after signing these peace deals, has effectively carved out its own little niche in Pakistan. As a result, the US-led coalition has yet another hurdle to overcome. And although the US has generally been praiseworthy of Musharraf’s efforts to combat terrorism, these recent events have highlighted a disturbing trend found in Pakistan’s counter-terrorism efforts.


After the September 11 attacks, the United States “asked” Pakistan to cut its ties with the Taliban, be cooperative with respect to the United States’ plan to attack Afghanistan, counter extremist arguments from the top down in Pakistan, reduce sectarian violence and curb alleged Pakistani support for jihadi activities related the Kashmiri issue. Essentially, the choice was (if one could call it a choice): make common cause with the United States or face international condemnation and possible engagement. For President Musharraf, who at the time was faced with trying to legitimize his takeover of power, this deal gave him an opportunity to boost his reputation in the eyes of the international community.


Indeed, Pakistan began to show positive signs of cracking down on terrorist elements within their borders immediately after 9/11. Wake Forest University professor Dr. Charles Kennedy, in his contribution to Religious Radicalism and Security in South Asia, provides a comprehensive assessment of Pakistan’s anti-terrorism efforts post-9/11. He indicates that the government, apparently gearing up for an increase in terrorism-related cases, increased the number of anti-terrorism courts, while establishing new courts in the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) and Baluchistan.


In 2002, the Musharraf government was able to pass a new amendment to the Anti-Terrorism Act, known as the Anti-Terrorism Ordinance. Part of this amendment remodeled the one person Anti-Terrorism Courts into a three person bench. Ostensibly, these three person benches would be able to handle the increasing case load. Furthermore, the benches would include a military officer, supposedly creating a greater sense of urgency in prosecuting terrorists. Since its adoption, however, there has been a lot of criticism of this amendment. In addition, the government quickly arrested hundreds of members of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and the Sipah-i-Muhammad terrorist factions. Pakistan also added 5 other groups to the proscribed terror list, including Lashkar-e-Taiba, Tehrik-i-Nifaz-i-Shariat, and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen.


Another area where the government cracked down after 9/11 was the madrassa system. Pakistan’s madrassas (Islamic religious schools), some of which were state funded, were widely considered to be the source of Islamic radicalism and were also largely responsible for the creation of the Taliban. Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, Pakistan adopted three measures aimed at the monitoring the madrassa system. Kennedy notes that the government introduced reforms to make the curriculum more “modern,” they placed the madrassas under federal, provincial and district control, and they placed additional conditions on visa requirements for non-Pakistani students.


A report done by the International Crisis Group recommended that “[I]nternational assistance to Pakistani education, especially from Western donors, however, should focus heavily on rebuilding a secular system that has been allowed to decay for three decades. Any international assistance for the government's madrassa reform project should be closely tied to proof that it represents a genuine commitment to promote moderate, modern education.” In reality, this would probably have been very welcome by the Pakistani government.


These reforms certainly showed signs of promise in the beginning. However, the success of these policies has been less than satisfactory. Right after Musharraf pledged his support to halting terrorist groups residing in Pakistan, tens of thousands of armed “volunteers” from the Tehrik Nifaz-i-Shariat Muhammadi (TNSM) group, led by Sufi Mohammad, crossed the Pakistan border in October, 2001 to aid the Taliban in Afghanistan. This instance alone should have clearly raised red flags, but not many in the West were even aware of this.


Since then, there have been a number of terrorist attacks that have been linked to groups residing in Pakistan. In December, 2001, an attack on the Indian Parliament was linked to members of Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad. On October 29, 2005, a series of bomb blasts killed 61 people in a marketplace in New Delhi. Those blasts were linked to the Islamic Inquilab Mahaz, a little known Kashmiri terrorist group with links to Lashkar-e-Taiba. Most recently, a series of train bombings in Mumbai, India killed over 200 people have been linked to Pakistani Islamic groups. Although these are just only a few examples, it seems clear that Pakistan still serves as a safe-haven for terrorist groups to plan and coordinate terrorist plots.


With respect to the policies enacted against the madrassa system in Pakistan, little has been achieved in curbing the radical curriculum being taught there. Ahmed Rashid indicates:


[t]he majority of madrassas in Pakistan -- I would say around 80 percent -- play a traditional role. That means they teach the Koran and then produce mullahs or religious leaders -- just like religious schools in any religion. But in Pakistan, a number of madrassas have been taken over by militant groups and it has become a sort of badge of honor for the extremists. These madrassas have become recruiting platforms for these extremist groups. But it is difficult to close them down because they are run by the militant groups Musharraf needs for other aspects of his foreign policy.


Indeed, Pakistani madrassas have continued to serve as a source for radicalization of terrorists. Case in point: the July 7, 2005 bombings in Britain. Shezad Tanweer, who blew himself up along with six other people near Aldgate Station, has been said to have spent as long as four months in a Pakistani madrassa run by Lashkar-e-Taiba. Although President Musharraf quickly ordered all foreign students attending madrassas in Pakistan to leave, there was, and still is, little reason to believe that this will actually occur.


Overall, Pakistan's efforts to counter the presence of terrorist organizations and the fostering of radical ideology inside its borders has been relatively unsuccessful. However, one has to view this lack of success in context. The primary goal of any government official, elected or otherwise, is to remain in power. For Musharraf, the September 11 attacks provided him with an opportunity to show his willingness to halt terrorism and to boost his political prestige. However, given the unique relationship between the Pakistani government and terrorist organizations like the Taliban, this has proven difficult.


It appears as though Musharraf has been living between the proverbial rock and a hard place since 2001. On the one hand, any ‘real’ success in the war against terrorism might trigger intense domestic scrutiny of the Musharraf government. On the other hand, by continually buckling under pressure from the Taliban, Musharraf’s legitimacy and power, in the eyes of the international community, are weakened.


It remains an open question as to whether the original reforms instituted by the Musharraf government are salvageable. If they are, Pakistan must make a concerted effort to re-institute those reforms and re-establish control over the nation. This might prove to be easier said than done however. Regardless, the query now is “what does the future hold for a) terrorist groups living in Pakistan, and b) the Musharraf government?” Based on the recent cessation of the Waziristan regions to the Taliban and the subsequent release of a number of terrorists, it looks as if terrorists are going to continue to have the opportunity to operate in Pakistan as Musharraf continues to “run scared.”

For the United States, this is a devastating blow. For Musharraf and the Pakistani government, in order to have any chance of regaining and solidifying their power over the country, they must understand that the potential ramifications of continuing to bow down before the Taliban could spell their demise a lot quicker than aggressively taking measures to halt terrorism.

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Kyle Dabruzzi is a Washington, DC-based Counterterrorism Analyst.

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