NEW YORK, Oct. 21 /PRNewswire/ -- After the Sept. 11, 2001, terror
attacks, the United States successfully deposed the fundamentalist Taliban
leadership in Afghanistan. But in the years since then, there have been an
increasing number of signs of a resurgence, and their influence has crossed
the border into neighboring Pakistan, which many now fear has become a safe
haven for terrorists.
(Photo: http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20071021/NYSU003 )
Today no other country on earth is arguably more dangerous than
Pakistan, according to Newsweek's South Asia Bureau Chief Ron Moreau and
Senior Editor Michael Hirsh, who delve into the Taliban's spreading
influence in Pakistan and what it means to the war on terror. The October
29 cover story, "The Most Dangerous Nation In the World Isn't Iraq. It's
Pakistan." (on newsstands Monday, October 22), states that unlike countries
such as Afghanistan and Iraq, Pakistan has everything Osama bin Laden could
ask for: political instability, a trusted network of radical Islamists, an
abundance of angry anti-Western recruits, secluded training areas, access
to state-of-the-art electronic technology, regular air service to the West
and security services that don't always do what they're supposed to do.
Then there's the country's large and growing nuclear program.
The conventional story about Pakistan has been that it is an unstable
nuclear power, with distant tribal areas in terrorist hands. What is new,
and more frightening, is the extent to which Taliban and Qaeda elements
have now turned much of the country, including some cities, into a base
that gives jihadists more room to maneuver, both in Pakistan and beyond.
Taliban fighters now pretty much come and go as they please inside
Pakistan, Newsweek reports. Their sick and injured get patched up in
private hospitals there. "Until I return to fight, I'll feel safe and
relaxed here," Abdul Majadd, a Taliban commander who was badly wounded this
summer during a fire fight against British troops in Afghanistan, told
Newsweek after he was evacuated to Karachi for emergency care. Guns and
supplies are readily available, and in the winter, when fighting
traditionally dies down in Afghanistan, thousands retire to the country's
thriving madrassas to study the Qur'an. Some of the brainier operatives
attend courses in computer technology, video production and even English.
Far from keeping a low profile, the visiting fighters attend services at
local mosques, where after prayers they speak to the congregation,
soliciting donations to support the war against the West. "Pakistan is like
your shoulder that supports your RPG," Taliban commander Mullah Momin Ahmed
told newsweek, barely a month before a U.S. airstrike killed him last
September in Afghanistan's eastern Ghazni province. "Without it you
couldn't fight. Thank God Pakistan is not against us."
The contrast to 2002 is striking. Back then, in the first flush of
President Pervez Musharraf's crackdown on extremists, a newsweek reporter
met Agha Jan, a former senior Taliban Defense Ministry official, in an
orchard outside the city of Quetta. A nervous Jan recounted how he had to
change homes every two nights for fear of capture, and he fled when some
local villagers approached. Jan now has a house outside Quetta, where he
lives when he's not fighting with Taliban forces across the border in his
native Zabul province. Reporters in Peshawar, a strategic Pakistani border
city some 50 miles east of the historic Khyber Pass and the Afghan border,
say it's not unusual these days to receive phone calls from visiting
Taliban commanders offering interviews, or asking where to find a cheap
hotel, a good restaurant or a new cell phone.
Armed militants have also effectively seized control in places like the
picturesque Swat Valley, where a jihadi leader named Mullah Fazlullah rides
a black horse and commands hundreds of men under the noses of a nearby
Pakistani Army division that seldom leaves its barracks. Peshawar is
perhaps the most important production and distribution center for Taliban
and other Islamist material. Jihadi CD and DVD shops abound. The Afghan
refugee camps around Peshawar, meanwhile, have become vast jihadist
sanctuaries, according to Moreau.
"The biggest chink in Musharraf's armor is his failure to move against
the Taliban, particularly in the cities," says Samina Ahmed, the South Asia
director of the International Crisis Group in Islamabad. "The brains, the
ones who plan the operations, are not necessarily in the boonies or in the
sticks, they're in cities like Quetta. Can he pick them up? Easily."
Bruce Riedel, the former senior director for South Asia on the National
Security Council, points out that Pakistan's large and growing nuclear
program is another cause for concern. "If you were to look around the world
for where Al Qaeda is going to find its bomb, it's right in their
backyard," he says. And despite the U.S. government's assertion that
Musharraf's government has tight control over its nuclear-weapons program,
radicals would not need to steal a whole bomb in order to create havoc.
Pervez Hoodbhoy, a noted nuclear physicist at Quaid-i-Azam University in
Islamabad, says outside experts don't really know much highly enriched
uranium Pakistan has produced in the past and how much remains in existing
stocks. "No one has a real idea about that," he says. "That means that
stuff could have gotten out. Little bits here or there. But we really don't
The most recent example of how bold the extremists have gotten in
Pakistan occurred during what would have been former Prime Minister Benazir
Bhutto's joyous return to Pakistan on Thursday, Oct. 18, after an
eight-year exile. One or more suicide bombers set off twin explosions that
killed at least 134 bystanders and police, and injured 450 others as her
motorcade inched along a parade route guarded by roughly 20,000 Pakistani
security forces. Musharraf's government quickly fingered as a suspect
Baitullah Mehsud, a longtime Taliban supporter and director of some of the
most lethal training facilities for suicide bombers in the far-off
mountains of Waziristan.
(Read cover at www.Newsweek.com)