Ter­ror­ists threaten to shat­ter Pak­istan

The Washington Times Weekly - - National Security - BY SARA A. CARTER

Pak­istan is in a down­ward se­cu­rity spi­ral as mil­i­tants take ad­van­tage of a new civil­ian gov­ern­ment and ex­ploit grow­ing anti-Amer­i­can sen­ti­ment in the coun­try, U.S. in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials and re­gional spe­cial­ists said Sept. 22.

Two days af­ter a truck bomb blew up out­side the Is­lam­abad Mar­riott, killing more than 50 peo­ple in­clud­ing at least two Amer­i­cans, Bri­tish Air­ways sus­pended flights to the Pak­istani cap­i­tal, cit­ing se­cu­rity con­cerns.

In the north­east city of Pe­shawar, near the tribal ter­ri­to­ries that have be­come safe havens for the Tal­iban and al Qaeda, gun­men kid­napped Afghanistan’s am­bas­sador-des­ig­nate to Pak­istan and killed his driver.

The Sept. 20 bomb­ing ap­peared aimed in part at de­cap­i­tat­ing the Pak­istani gov­ern­ment.

Pak­istan’s new pres­i­dent, Asif Ali Zar­dari, and Prime Min­is­ter Yousuf Raza Gi­lani were to have been hav­ing din­ner at the Mar­riott that evening, but changed the venue two days in ad­vance to the prime min­is­ter’s home, a Pak­istani of­fi­cial said. The of­fi­cial, who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity, would not say whether the de­ci­sion was based on se­cu­rity con­cerns.

“The na­tional as­sem­bly speaker had ar­ranged a din­ner for the en­tire lead­er­ship for the pres­i­dent, prime min­is­ter and armed ser­vices chiefs at the Mar­riott that day,” Pak­istani In­te­rior Min­is­ter Rehman Ma­lik told re­porters in Is­lam­abad. The pres­i­dent and prime min­is­ter or­dered the din­ner moved to the prime min­is­ter’s res­i­dence and “thus the whole lead­er­ship was saved,” Mr. Ma­lik said.

Jef­frey Ad­di­cott, di­rec­tor for the Cen­ter for Ter­ror­ism Law at St. Mary’s Uni­ver­sity in San An­to­nio, said “Pak­istan is in the midst of a se­ri­ous se­cu­rity cri­sis” and the gov­ern­ment is faced with a dilemma in which both in­ac­tion and a mil­i­tary crack­down pose se­ri­ous risks.

“The Pak­istani gov­ern­ment’s in­ac­tion has given al Qaeda power, but if the gov­ern­ment re­acts too force­fully, they could also get a back­lash from the peo­ple,” he said. “They are in some ways caught be- tween the two un­sure choices, but if they do noth­ing, as they have been do­ing, al Qaeda will only gain more strength. It is an un­for­tu­nate cri­sis that is leav­ing both our na­tions in dan­ger and al­low­ing al Qaeda to flour­ish.”

CIA Di­rec­tor Michael V. Hay­den said in a speech two weeks ago in Los An­ge­les that al Qaeda and its af­fil­i­ates pose the most se­ri­ous threat to the se­cu­rity of the United States and present more risk of us­ing weapons of mass de­struc­tion than Iran or North Korea.

The se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion in Pak­istan has been de­te­ri­o­rat­ing since the as­sas­si­na­tion last year of for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Be­nazir Bhutto. Pervez Mushar­raf has been forced from the mil­i­tary lead­er­ship and the pres­i­dency, and a new civil­ian pres­i­dent and prime min­is­ter have taken of­fice in re­cent months.

“Pak­istan is fac­ing a con­certed chal­lenge from al Qaeda and its al­lies to break the will of the Zar­dari gov­ern­ment and force it to ac­cept a ji­hadist state within the state,” said Bruce Riedel, a for­mer se­nior of­fi­cial on the White House Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil and au­thor of an up­com­ing book, “The Search for al Qaeda.”

The Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion, frus­trated by a lack of Pak­istani co­op­er­a­tion and wor­ried about se­cu­rity leaks in the Pak­istani mil­i­tary and in­tel­li­gence ser­vice, has es­ca­lated at­tacks on al Qaeda tar­gets in Pak­istan’s tribal ar­eas, pro­vok­ing Pak­istani protests.

Wor­ried about fur­ther in­flam­ing pub­lic opin­ion, the Pak­istani gov­ern­ment has de­clined a U.S. of­fer to as­sist in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the Mar­riott bomb­ing.

“The Min­istry of In­te­rior has told us that it does not at the mo­ment need any out­side as­sis­tance for the in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” State Depart­ment spokesman Robert Wood said Sept. 22. “How­ever, we stand ready to as­sist the Pak­ista­nis with this in­ves­ti­ga­tion if they [. . . ] ask us for as­sis­tance.”

A se­nior Pak­istani of­fi­cial said his coun­try would share in­for­ma­tion about the bomb­ing with the United States, “but we ex­pect the same in re­turn when it comes to op­er­a­tions or knowl­edge about al Qaeda in our coun­try.”

Two U.S. De­fense Depart­ment em­ploy­ees died and a third Amer­i­can, a State Depart­ment con­trac- tor, is un­ac­counted for in the bomb­ing, Mr. Wood said. Also among the dead was the Czech am­bas­sador to Pak­istan. Three U.S. Em­bassy em­ploy­ees and a con­trac­tor were among more than 250 in­jured.

The bomber at­tacked at dusk, when the ho­tel was filled with hun­dreds of peo­ple break­ing the Ra­madan fast. Closed-cir­cuit sur­veil­lance footage showed a truck try­ing to breach the sec­ond gates be­fore catch­ing fire and ex­plod­ing.

Mr. Ad­di­cott said the new civil­ian gov­ern­ment in Pak­istan “is be­ing tested in re­gards to how they in­tend to deal with the ris­ing tide of mil­i­tant Is­lam.”

The so­lu­tion, he said, re­quires both mil­i­tary action in the tribal ar­eas and ef­forts to close rad­i­cal Is­lamic schools, which he likened to “Hitler youth camps” that in­doc­tri­nate stu­dents to hate.

“At a min­i­mum,” he said, “the new gov­ern­ment must reg­is­ter those rad­i­cal madras­sas and take steps to halt the spread of the mur­der­ous ide­ol­ogy that makes a mock­ery of free­dom of re­li­gion.”

This ar­ti­cle is based in part on wire ser­vice re­ports.

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