Newsweek Cover: The Most Dangerous Nation in the World Isn't Iraq. It's Pakistan.

Pakistan Poses Bigger Threat Than Afghanistan and Iraq in War on Terror

Taliban Could Not Ask for Better Nation to Hide in; Leaders 'Come and Go as

They Please'

Oct 21, 2007, 01:00 ET from Newsweek

    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: )
     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

SOURCE Newsweek