- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 11, 2001

QUETTA, Pakistan Pakistan is taking unprecedented steps to prevent its 1,600-mile border with Afghanistan from becoming an escape route for terrorists fighting under Osama bin Laden.
In recent days, Pakistan has deployed thousands of troops and backed them up with helicopter patrols to seal remote mountain passes in tribal areas border crossings that have remained open and unguarded since ancient times.
With the consent of local tribal leaders yesterday, the deployment continued on one stretch of border near the Tora Bora area of eastern Afghanistan, where nearly 1,000 Arab fighters, and possibly bin Laden himself, are making a last stand against local ground troops.
One source described yesterday's troop movement to the Khyber and Momand tribal zones in Pakistan as "something that never happened before." The government of President Pervez Musharraf had to exercise considerable persuasion to win the backing of local tribal leaders before it could make the move.
U.S. Marines based south of Kandahar have been sending out "hunter-killer" teams after bands of Arabs who may attempt to flee into the deserts around Kandahar.
The incoming Afghan government says it wants to rid the region of all the Arab fighters but is at a loss on how to go about it.
Pakistani authorities quickly shot down a suggestion by one incoming Afghan official that the Arabs be allowed safe passage across the Pakistani border.
"Pakistan will never accept them and will never allow them to cross," said one senior Pakistani official in Chaman, a border town in southern Pakistan.
Incoming Afghan interim leader Hamid Karzai has called the Arabs an international problem. "The allies have to be involved. It's not only us," he said.
For now, Pakistan appears confident it can do a reasonably good job of policing its border, which officials otherwise describe as quite porous.
"Whoever tries to cross [without proper documents] will be arrested and prosecuted according to the law," said Maj. Gen. Rashid Qureshi, a spokesman for Gen. Musharraf.
Apart from the Arabs, Pakistan has its hands full with thousands of its own nationals who crossed the border to fight U.S. forces after the air strikes began Oct. 7. The Pakistanis have been involved in some of the bloodiest battles yet against anti-Taliban fighters in the north.
"Some Pakistanis have crossed over there [into Afghanistan]. Now they are wanted here and will be arrested if they come back. Any foreigner involved in the Afghan situation has to be arrested and interrogated," said Shoaib Suddle, police inspector general for the Baluchistan province, of which Quetta is the capital.
Over the years, Arabs have come to Afghanistan by the thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, dating back to the war against occupying Soviet troops during the 1980s.
That campaign drew Saudi-born multimillionaire Osama bin Laden to Afghanistan. When the war ended, he took over Afghanistan guerrilla camps and turned them into training bases for a new generation of Muslim militants.
They came mainly from the Persian Gulf region and northern Africa, although bin Laden's evolving theology blowing up airplanes and buildings full of people attracted a smattering of non-Arab fighters from Chechnya, Western China and even the United States.
Today, televised images of American jets pounding mountains in eastern Afghanistan illustrate one aspect of the Arab-terrorist menace confronting the region and possibly the world.
In the "Ward for Afghan War Patients" in Quetta's municipal hospital, Abdul Rahman from Yemen illustrates another. The hatred in his eyes blazes through his pain as he lies grimacing in bed with five other wounded Arab comrades. Last week, they found themselves on the receiving end of a U.S. bomb attack somewhere near the southern Afghan city of Kandahar.
"Give me a gun and I'll kill [them]," Mr. Rahman said with clenched teeth as two Western reporters approached with a local Pakistani reporter.
Three police guards armed with AK-47 assault rifles kept the Westerners outside the single-room, eight-bed ward while the Pakistani reporter persuaded Mr. Rahman to speak by assuring him that Islam came before journalism.
With one leg full of shrapnel and the bone shattered in three places, Mr. Rahman is unlikely to be going anywhere for a while. A doctor said the leg might have to be amputated.
But Mr. Rahman said he wanted to go back to keep fighting the Americans.
"We were trying to build a pure Muslim society in Afghanistan," he said. "I have nothing to lose. If I lose my life, I become a martyr, and if I win, it is a victory for Islam."
No one is quite sure how many Arabs remain in Afghanistan as of today. But there is little evidence thus far of a complete exodus in the direction of Pakistan.
Newspapers in Quetta have reported that about two dozen Arabs have been caught, including the six in the hospital and three women wives of fighters with children. The women were deported to their countries.
"We are trying to keep a close watch on all new arrivals," said Mr. Suddle, the police inspector general. He was referring not only to border crossings, but also to villages and cities where the Arabs may attempt to hide.
He said police are checking new arrivals at Muslim boarding schools, known as madrassas, and with landlords who rent to new tenants. Even local officials have been urged to keep a watch over areas that they represent.
As for the wounded Arabs, Mr. Suddle said there was no way they would ever make it back to Afghan battlegrounds. After they have recovered sufficiently, he said, police would question them.
"After we are satisfied with the interrogation, we will send them back to their own countries," he said.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide