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

posted 18 Feb 2013, 12:04 by Mpelembe   [ updated 18 Feb 2013, 12:06 ]

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'

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.

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 know."

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

-0- 10/21/2007