Pak­istan will close four camps to foil Afghan ter­ror

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Bill Gertz

Pak­istan’s gov­ern­ment will close four refugee camps near its border with Afghanistan to help pre­vent Afghan in­sur­gents from gun­run­ning and seek­ing safe haven in the coun­try, Islamabad’s am­bas­sador to the United States said on Jan. 15.

Mah­mud Ali Dur­rani said the res­i­dents of two of the camps will soon be sent back to Afghanistan as part of a new pro­gram to bet­ter con­trol the 1,550-mile shared border.

Agree­ment on the plan was reached Jan. 14 with na­tional and lo­cal lead­ers in what Pak­istan calls the Fed­er­ally Ad­min­is­tered Tribal Ar­eas and the Baluchis­tan sec­tion of the coun­try, Mr. Dur­rani said at a meet­ing with edi­tors and re­porters at The Wash­ing­ton Times.

“We had seen some level of ac­tiv­ity [and so] we thought we need to strengthen our sys­tems,” he said. “It is a por­ous border; it is a very dif­fi­cult border.”

About 20,000 Pak­ista­nis and Afghans cross the border in both di­rec­tions ev­ery day, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to weed out in­sur­gents who come to Pak­istan for med­i­cal treat­ment or a respite from the fight­ing in Afghanistan.

The four refugee camps hold tens of thou­sands of the 3 mil­lion refugees in the coun­try. Two will be closed around March and the other two later, the am­bas­sador said, adding that ar­range­ments would first be made to re­ceive the refugees in Afghanistan.

In the mean­time, Mr. Dur­rani said, his gov­ern­ment will beef up se­cu­rity around the camps, a mea­sure that he said was wel­comed by most of the refugees.

Other se­cu­rity mea­sures agreed to in­clude adding to the 938 border posts strung out through the moun­tain­ous re­gion, in­creas­ing intelligence ac­tiv­i­ties and tight­en­ing cen­tral gov­ern­ment con­trol over parts of Baluchis­tan. The gov­ern­ment will go ahead with pre­vi­ously an­nounced plans to fence parts of the border.

“We have wanted to do this for a long time,” Mr. Dur­rani said, not­ing that the refugee camp clo­sure was de­layed by the United Na­tions be­cause of a lack of funds, and that many refugees op­posed be­ing re­turned.

“But af­ter this re­cent spate of crit­i­cism that has come to­ward Pak­istan, we got fed up. We said, ‘If this is the prob­lem, then let’s re­move it.’ ”

Pak­istan has about 70,000 troops in the border re­gion and says Afghanistan’s weak cen­tral gov­ern­ment is not do­ing enough to se­cure the border against ter­ror­ist ac­tiv­ity. Kabul, how­ever, ac­cuses Pak­istan of in­ad­e­quate ef­forts to seal the border.

Army Lt. Gen. Michael Maples, di­rec­tor of the De­fense Intelligence Agency, said in writ­ten tes­ti­mony to the Se­nate Se­lect Com­mit­tee on Intelligence two weeks ago, “Afghanistan’s re­la­tions with Pak­istan are strained due to con­tin­ued Tal­iban reliance on safe haven in Pak­istan.”

Gen. Maples also said an agree­ment reached in Septem­ber be­tween Pak­istan’s gov­ern­ment and tribes in North Waziris­tan is not be­ing hon­ored. “Al Qaeda’s net­work may ex­ploit the agree­ment for in­creased free­dom of move­ment and op­er­a­tion,” the gen­eral said.

Early on Jan. 16, Pak­istani troops de­stroyed three sus­pected al Qaeda hide-outs near the Afghan border, killing sev­eral fight­ers, the army said.

The mil­i­tary car­ried out the op­er­a­tion in the South Waziris­tan tribal re­gion af­ter re­ceiv­ing in­for­ma­tion that 25 to 30 al Qaeda mem­bers were hid­ing there, said army spokesman Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sul­tan.

Mr. Dur­rani said Pak­istan’s gov­ern­ment has no sym­pa­thy for al Qaeda or the ousted Tal­iban regime. “They are our sworn en­emy,” he said.

He re­it­er­ated Islamabad’s ob­jec­tion to state­ments made two weeks ago by Di­rec­tor of Na­tional Intelligence John D. Ne­gro­ponte that Pak­istan, while a key ally in the war on ter­ror­ism, was be­ing used as a “se­cure hide-out” by al Qaeda lead­ers.

Mr. Ne­gro­ponte’s state­ments “grossly ex­ag­ger­ated” the level of al Qaeda ac­tiv­ity in Pak­istan, Mr. Dur­rani said.

Asked about the U.S. de­bate on pulling out troops from Iraq, Mr. Dur­rani said any “abrupt” pull­out would be “dan­ger­ous.”

“I think it would be dev­as­tat­ing to pull out abruptly,” he said. “I think it would be equiv­a­lent to hav­ing just ex­ploded a lit­tle bomb in Iraq and then walked away. I don’t think you can af­ford to do that.”

He said U.S. forces should be with­drawn over sev­eral years.

In an ear­lier in­ter­view, Mr. Dur­rani said he was an­gered by re­ports from the United Na­tions and NATO that Pak­istan was not do­ing enough to stop Is­lamic ex­trem­ists.

“I think Pak­istan had done ev­ery­thing that is pos­si­ble. If there is a gen­uine feel­ing that Pak­istan has to do X, Y and Z, then we will talk it out,” he said.

Chris Alexan­der, the deputy U.N. rep­re­sen­ta­tive in Afghanistan, said re­cently that Tal­iban lead­ers iden­ti­fied by the United Na­tions in 1999 were still ac­tive in the re­gion, in­clud­ing Pak­istan.

The lead­ers, he said in Kabul, “con­tinue to or­ga­nize, plan and carry out ter­ror­ist ac­tiv­i­ties in this coun­try and in this re­gion.” Some of those key play­ers “were in Pak­istan for at least a part of 2006,” Mr. Alexan­der said.

Sharon Behn con­trib­uted to this re­port.

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