Most terrorist trails lead back to Pakistan, Britain's MI5 (internal intelligence service) concluded a year ago.
An average of some 400,000 Pakistani Brits a year fly back to the old country for vacation or to visit their relatives. From the airports in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad, where they land, side trips to the madrasas — Quranic schools — where they were originally radicalized, or to a terrorist training camp in the tribal areas that straddle the Pakistani-Afghan border, go undetected.
There is no way to keep track of thousands of passengers arriving from the United Kingdom every day. Nor can MI5 cope with up to 1,000 a day returning to their U.K. homes from trips to Pakistan.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, German intelligence services were happy to report to their Western colleagues they had no such problem with Germany's 2.8 million-strong Turkish minority. Most of them are second- and third-generation German-speaking Turks long established and integrated in German life. This week a high-ranking German internal security delegation met with the heads of several U.S. intelligence agencies to explain how their comfortable assumptions had to be re-examined.
German intelligence services have uncovered a direct al-Qaida link from Germany via Turkey to Pakistan — for young radicalized German Turks.
Mostly recruited on the Internet from al-Qaida Web sites, these terrorist wannabes have made their way to al-Qaida's privileged sanctuaries in the Pakistani tribal belt that straddles the Pakistani-Afghan border. So far, German security has uncovered more than 100 such cases.
Topic A for this week's German visitors with their U.S. counterparts was Pakista, and what to do about the privileged sanctuaries al-Qaida and the Taliban have secured in at least three of the seven tribal agencies known as FATA (for Federally Administered Tribal Areas). Western intelligence services agree that U.S. and NATO forces now in Afghanistan can only mark time and lose ground to the Taliban until FATA's safe havens are rooted out militarily.
This would then have to be coupled with economic aid for the tribes whose lifestyle hasn't changed much since the 4th century B.C., when Alexander the Great gave the Hindu Kush a wide berth and hurried through Afghanistan before finding the Khyber Pass to exit into India's Punjab to what is now Pakistan's cultural capital of Lahore.
The terrain is one of the world's most difficult — jagged mountains rising to 15,000 feet interspersed with valleys, deep and narrow ravines, crevices and fissures, all dotted with thousands of caves with concealed entrances.
The millions of Pashtun tribesmen who inhabit the tribal areas share a centuries-old code called "Badal," or "revenge," and a moral code known as "Pashtunwali," or "hospitality is sacred."
Under steady Bush administration pressure since the Battle of Tora Bora in November and December 2001, when Osama bin Laden and some 50 terrorist cohorts escaped, President Pervez Musharraf ordered some 35,000 troops into FATA, where they had been forbidden to go by treaty since independence in 1947. These were gradually increased to 100,000.
A 50,000-strong Frontier Corps of locals was also created. Most of the Pakistani soldiers are Punjabis — Urdu-speaking foreigners for the Pashtun. They hate being there and the locals hate them back, killing more than 1,000 Pakistani regulars and wounding 3,000.
No sooner did Musharraf order Special Forces to attack the Taliban-seized Red Mosque in downtown Islamabad last Aug. 1 than Pakistani frontier units stood down. Ambushed by Taliban fighters, some 200 Pakistani soldiers surrendered without firing a shot. Most of them were released two weeks later, but not before signing a pledge never to attack Pashtuns again. A handful opted to join their captors. Ill-equipped FC auxiliaries also surrendered their old weapons by the score. They had been issued only 10 bullets per man.
The way the German visitors understood their interlocutors in Washington this week, there are three options now being considered by the Bush administration — all admittedly bad.
1. The United States bypasses Musharraf, deals directly with the new Pakistani army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, 55, who has attended several staff courses in the United States and is regarded as pro-Western. The next generation of Pakistani officers earned promotions when the United States imposed all manner of punitive sanctions against Pakistan for its then still secret nuclear weapons buildup.
No one is sanguine about Kayani's ability to rekindle any enthusiasm for going after the Taliban and al-Qaida in FATA.
2. More military aid for the Pakistani army in return for acceptance of joint Special Forces operations in FATA — U.S. rangers coming in by helicopter directly into suspected Taliban-controlled villages and "painting" targets for unmanned Predators to bomb.
No optimism here either as Congress is loath to appropriate more military aid beyond the current $1.3 billion for this year. Most of the $11 billion doled out since Sept. 11 has gone into big-ticket military hardware items of no value for FATA fighting. Pakistani generals also resent U.S. micromanagement of military assistance.
3. Unilateral U.S. covert ops in FATA. These would not remain secret very long, most probably leaked by Pakistani intelligence to local media. The country, already a giant powder keg since Benazir Bhutto's assassination last month, would erupt. From Peshawar to Karachi and from Lahore to Quetta, an angry anti-Musharraf mood is palpable throughout the country. Pakistan's nuclear weapons could fall into the hands of a rebellious unit led, for example, by an anti-U.S. Islamist one-star general.
The overall Taliban commander in FATA is Baitullah Mehsud, the man accused of having ordered Bhutto's assassination. Posing as a tribal leader, turban wrapped around his face, he was one of the signatories to the Sept. 5, 2006, non-aggression pact with Musharraf, which guaranteed (a) Taliban fighters would not be allowed to cross into Afghanistan; (b) Pakistani soldiers would cease operations against the Taliban. It was snare and delusion from the get-go.
Already, anti-Musharraf rioters have torched thousands of cars and trucks, video stores, movie marquees, gas stations and electric power pylons in widely scattered parts of the country. Flour and power shortages and angry citizenry abound throughout Pakistan, now clearly the world's most dangerous crisis.
Five candidates belonging to outlawed extremist organizations are running in the Feb. 18 elections in Jhang District alone.
Deafening allied silence greeted U.S. Defense Secretary Bob Gates' Afghan request for additional NATO troops, so the Pentagon is now drawing up plans to move some 3,200 additional troops, all Marines, to Afghanistan, bringing U.S. and coalition forces to 50,000. But it's still the wrong target. The country is fractured, divided — and at war with itself. This won't change until the Taliban gets booted out of FATA.
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