President Pervez Musharraf's much-publicized crackdown on Islamist extremists is a dismal failure, according to Western intelligence appraisals. Pakistani national police sources in Islamabad estimate that some 10,000 Afghan Taliban cadres and followers and about 5,000 al-Qaeda fighters are now hiding in Pakistan "with the full support of intelligence authorities, as well as religious and tribal groups," according to one source.
The latest reports from Pakistan are ringing alarm bells throughout the Western intelligence community. Disinformation about U.S. intentions is being circulated by "midlevel" Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency operatives and some field-grade army officers. Samples:
Senior Pakistani officials concede privately they are "deeply concerned" about Punjab province, where Kashmiri "freedom fighters" are undergoing training with full government support.
The government plan to clean up the madrassa (religious school) network has been largely ignored. Interior Ministry figures show that there are some 6,000 plus "important" madrassas that "educate" youngsters to believe that to be a jihadi ("holy" warrior) is Islam's highest calling.
The government has tried to get the mullahs to explain that jihad means "an internal struggle to better oneself," but the clergy continues to teach that it is the sacred duty to resist the American, Israeli and Indian "infidels" who want Islam's destruction. The demise of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan is repeatedly cited as "proof" of what the mullahs claim.
Punjab province alone has 2,500 madrassas, 80 percent of them in the city of Lahore. Some 600,000 students are still being taught to hate America and Americans. The U.S. has allocated $34 million for madrassa reform during this fiscal year. Poor families – 40 percent of 145 million live below the poverty line – favor the schools because they provide free meals and lodgings.
Mullahs talk proudly about their common heritage, culture and religion and say that the financial strength of the entire "Muslim Ummah" is behind them. The madrassa system is almost entirely dependent on subsidies from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Libya.
Despite Musharraf's denials and assurances of total control of Pakistani intelligence agencies, ISI, including many "retired" cadres, is stirring a "witch's brew" designed to force a postponement of October's elections and the country's return to republican government. Anti-American forces are "slowly but surely coalescing against American aggression and is using the Palestine issue to join hands with al-Qaeda as a new Taliban movement," said one former prime minister.
About 30 Muslim extremist organizations that were blacklisted by the United States are still in business and are proselytizing Muslim countries to join forces with al-Qaeda.
In Pakistan, al-Qaeda's Pakistan network is expanding rapidly with full intelligence and private financial support, according to a prominent tribal leader in NWFP who claims that Osama bin Laden has been living in Peshawar since the second week in December, "where he is among friends and admirers and protected by several thousand Pakistani sympathizers."
More than 80 percent of Pakistanis, according to a public opinion poll last fall, believe that bin Laden is a "freedom fighter," not a "terrorist."
ISI operatives are spreading the word, according to this tribal chieftain, that "America is a glass house that is breakable" and predict, "U.S. injustices all over the world, especially in the Middle East, will lead to far worse incidents than Sept. 11."
For Pakistani extremists, the loss of Afghanistan was no more than the destruction of an outpost in a global battlefield. Pakistan has now taken Afghanistan's place. Al-Qaeda's underground in Pakistan emerged unscathed from Operation Enduring Freedom across the 1,300-mile border.
The extent of bin Laden's network in Pakistan can be gauged from the movements of U.S.-born Jose Padilla, who converted to Islam and adopted the name Abdullah al Muhajir. The suspected "dirty" bomber took a bomb-making course at an al-Qaeda safe house in Lahore in January, then met with senior al-Qaeda agents in March in Karachi and moved around Pakistan with impunity.
Before 9-11, Musharraf estimated that Pakistan harbored about 1.4 million extremists, or 1 percent of the population, who were holding the rest of the population hostage. Since 9-11, Musharraf conceded that 10 percent to 15 percent of the population was opposed to his pro-American foreign policy. That would be 10 million to 14 million people whose sympathies are with America's enemies.
Copyright 2002 by United Press International.
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