Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Pakistan Faces More Challenges at Home, as Afghanistan Prepares for Elections

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Pakistan Faces More Challenges at Home, as Afghanistan Prepares for Elections

Article excerpt

Pakistan is a crucial frontline state in today's fight against international terrorism. Remnants of Afghanistan's dismembered Taliban regime, for example, were known to be hiding along the Afghan-Pakistani border. The army's attempt to oust them, however, met with stiff resistance in the border town of Waziristan. Moreover, although so far they appear to have missed their targets, al-Qaeda operatives have tried to kill Pakistani officials throughout the country in recent weeks. There have been two assassination attempts on President Pervez Musharraf, one on the commander of the Karachi Corps, and two attempted bombings of the U.S. Consulate in Karachi. Suicide bombings have become a deadly new addition to the state of lawlessness in Pakistan, with recent attempts on Prime Minister-designate Shaukat Aziz as well as on the life of Jam Mohammed Yusuf, chief minister of Baluchistan.

Even more ominously, the terrorists-regardless of their affiliation-now are infiltrating the regular Pakistan army itself. According to official reports, elements of the military and air force were involved in the attempts on Musharraf.

Pakistan has succeeded in capturing some key al-Qaeda members long sought by the United States and Britain. Notable among them is Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian national wanted by the U.S. for the 1998 bombings of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and for whose capture Washington had offered a $25 million reward. Ghailani was arrested following a 10-hour gun battle in the Pakistani town of Gujrat, some 125 miles from Islamabad. Others reportedly have been arrested as far away as Karachi, 1,000 miles to the south.

In addition to the information provided by the arrested men, their captured computers have contained information on several al-Qaeda plans to attack targets in the UK and U.S. While the retrieved data in some cases dates back two or three years, intelligence agencies apparently have found it still relevant. According to press reports, the latest heightened security alert in the U.S. is the result of information coming from Pakistan.

The UAE also arrested and handed over to Pakistani authorities one Qari Saifullah Akhter, wanted in one of the assassination attempts on Musharraf. Indeed, not a day seems to pass when such reports are not in the headlines in Europe and America alike.

Even as it assists in the coalition effort, however, Pakistan is busy fighting terrorist battles at home. In addition to internal feuds and threats, including sectarian disturbances as well as the bombings of mosques, it is becoming evident that some al-Qaeda members driven out of Afghanistan no longer are hiding only in the border region, but are finding shelter in various parts of Pakistan.

Some al-Qaeda members driven out of Afghanistan are finding shelter in various parts of Pakistan.

The most disconcerting report-denied by Islamabad-to appear in the Western press is that al-Qaeda-type training camps have sprung up in certain parts of the country. Needless to say, this poses yet another serious challenge to the Musharraf government. While it is unclear how far sympathy for al-Qaeda has spread inside the country, it is obvious that al-Qaeda could not find shelter in Pakistan without the cooperation of at least some of its citizens.

In this tense climate, some find it ironic that Pakistan's ambassador to Washington, Ashraf Qazi, has been named U. …

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