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Friday, Nov. 18, 2005

A chance to clean up terror


NEW DELHI -- The Oct. 8 South Asian earthquake struck at the epicenter of a principal recruiting ground and logistic center for global terrorists, leveling a number of terrorist nurseries and training camps in an area that serves as the last main refuge of al-Qaida. Much of the quake's destruction occurred in the two terrorist-infested areas of northern Pakistan where Osama bin Laden may be holed up -- Pakistani-held Kashmir and the North-West Frontier Province.

The calamity has brought foreign teams and troops to this restricted region in Pakistan, and given international donors the potential leverage to steer the area away from terrorism. The donors and NATO, which is sending up to 1,000 troops to the region in addition to the several hundred U.S. soldiers already there, can ensure that international aid is not used to rebuild the terrorist infrastructure destroyed by the forces of nature.

Several hundred members of underground terrorist groups were reported killed when the earthquake flattened their hideouts and training schools in the two mountainous regions. Several of these groups have enjoyed long-standing ties with the Pakistani military, especially its infamous agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, which reared them as part of its covert war in Indian Kashmir and its success in bringing the now-splintered Taliban to power in Afghanistan.

Pakistan granted outside rescuers access to its restricted areas because it found its own disaster-management capabilities woefully inadequate. Now, the access foreign teams and troops have gained to the stricken parts -- combined with Pakistan's need for continuing international aid -- can be leveraged to help that military-ruled country clean up its terror act.

The urgency of that task has been underscored by the death of some 70 festival shoppers in the Oct. 29 New Delhi bombings, blamed on the Pakistan-based, al-Qaida-linked Lashkar-e-Taiba group. More people died in those bombings than in the worst terrorist attack ever suffered by some of the other democracies that see themselves in the frontline of the war on terror, including Britain, Israel and Australia.

Pakistan has emerged as a common thread in the investigations of most acts of international terrorism. As Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, acknowledged July 21 in an address to the nation after the London subway bombings, "Wherever these extremist or terrorist incidents occur in the world, a direct or indirect connection is established with this country."

Two U.S. reports issued earlier this year presented a bleak picture of Pakistan's future. While the Congressional Research Service warned that Pakistan is "probably the most anti-American country in the world right now," the National Intelligence Council's Global Futures Assessment Report projected a scenario in 2015 of Pakistan as a "failed state ripe with civil war bloodshed, lack of command and control of nuclear weapons. . . ."

Since 9/11, Musharraf has ridden two horses -- extending selective antiterror cooperation to the United States, symbolized by some high-profile al-Qaida arrests, and maintaining a political alliance with Islamist parties at home. That way he has managed to pocket billions of dollars in U.S. aid and helped marginalize the political mainstream.

The terrorism scourge in Pakistan emanates not so much from the mullahs as from whiskey-drinking generals who reared the forces of jihad and fathered the Taliban. Yet by passing the blame for their disastrous jihad policy to their mullah puppets, Musharraf and his fellow generals have made many outsiders believe that the key is to contain the religious fringe, not the puppeteers. Their finger-pointing has only bred resentment among the Islamists, leading to the first cracks in the military-mullah alliance that has long dominated Pakistan. Musharraf's standing at home has now been further damaged by his inept disaster handling.

The massive international relief operation can aid the global war on terror by helping the injured and the displaced in the stricken areas of what remains the last bastion of transnational terrorists. Several hundred million dollars, including $156 million by America, have already been raised or committed to that international effort, which is likely to last through 2006 and could expand to include building civil infrastructure of a kind that didn't exist before.

That makes it necessary to ensure that international aid is not illicitly diverted to terrorist groups or employed to rebuild the "hate factories" that churn out trained and committed extremists. The aid needs to be used to help foster development in a region steeped in religious bigotry and teeming with Islamists of different hues and nationalities.

This necessity has been underscored by the way the earthquake relief effort is being directed by young militants wielding Kalashnikov rifles and walkie-talkies at some of the field camps set up in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir. In fact, underground extremists, seeking to shore up their standing among the local people, are competing with international teams in relief work, with the lead being taken by Jamaat ud-Dawa, an offshoot of the terrorist group that is the main suspect in the New Delhi bombings.

In Pakistan, where the culture of jihad is deeply woven into the national fabric, cleansing the stricken areas of their terrorist nurseries will not be easy. Despite the large losses they suffered, underground groups have not slowed their activities, as is evident from the killing of dozens of their members by Indian border troops while attempting to sneak in since the quake. What is needed is not just action against such groups, which keep changing their names, but the complete dismantlement of the infrastructure of terror in Pakistan.

Pakistan's fate has always been in the hands of three As -- Allah, Army and America. Now Allah's wrath has wrought ruin on the playground of terrorists, and the army has a new opportunity, with America's support and international aid, to put an end to the stricken region's role in fomenting global jihad.

Brahma Chellaney is professor of strategic studies at the privately funded Center for Policy Research.


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