- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 27, 2001

In an attempt to avoid embarrassing Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, and to pre-empt any Indian campaign to extend the war against terrorism to cover terrorist training camps in Pakistan, the White House announced Dec. 20 it was blocking the assets of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET) which it described as "a Kashmiri terrorist organization that has conducted a number of operations against Indian troops and civilian targets in Kashmir since 1993."
That was once over very lightly. If truth be known, the facts behind LET are identical to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda's organization. The terrorists are interchangeable between both organizations. They were all trained in al Qaeda's camps and some of bin Laden's Afghan Arabs have already found refuge among LET's ranks in Kashmir. The White House's new formulation calls LET "a stateless sponsor of terrorism." But LET is also Pakistan-based and Pakistan-sanctioned.
LET's ranks consist of Pakistanis, Afghans, and Arabs led by Pakistani cadres. Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency oversees LET's terrorist operations. Headquartered at Muridke outside Lahore, LET holds annual conclaves that are attended by serving and retired officers of ISI and the regular army, political leaders, and retired scientists of Pakistan's nuclear establishment. LET's terrorists are "freedom fighters" dedicated to "the liberation of Indian-occupied Kashmir." Its political cover is called Marka-ud-Dawa-wal-Irshad (MDI), a fiercely anti-U.S. pseudo-religious, extremist organization.
LET's last big meeting was held in Muridke April 13-15 and was attended by retired Gen. Hameed Gul, a former head of ISI and currently "strategic adviser" to Pakistan's extremist religious parties; Retired Gen. Javed Nasir, another former ISI director general; Abdul Qadir Khan, the father of Pakistan's nuclear bomb; Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, formerly with the Atomic Energy Commission and recently detained at the request of the U.S. for questioning about his meetings with Osama Bin Laden. The conference passed a resolution calling on its "freedom fighters" to capture Hindu temples, destroy the idols and hoist the flag of Islam on them.
ISI was tasked with ensuring that no journalists gained access to the meeting. But some did. The News reported on April 22 that LET "operates six private military training camps in Pakistan and Kashmir where several thousand are given both military and religious education." The newspaper also reported that LET runs 2,200 recruiting offices across Pakistan and some two dozen "launching camps along the Line of Control [LOC] in Kashmir," which makes it "the biggest jihadi [holy warrior] network in Pakistan."
No militant training center in Pakistan can operate without the consent of the army, now in power, and ISI, a state within a state whose chief reports only to Mr. Musharraf. Yet the government continues to be in a state of deep denial. Presidential spokesman Gen. Rashid Quereshi says, "No group operating in Kashmir has any base in Pakistan."
Mr. Musharraf is riding a terrorist tiger and is having trouble dismounting. Last May 18, Najam Sethi, the editor of "Friday Times," an authoritative weekly journal, summed up the president's dilemma: "The Musharraf model seeks to covertly ally with the jihadi groups while overtly keeping the mainstream religious parties out of the power loop. This is to enhance and sustain its covert external agenda, while internally maintaining an overtly moderate anti-fundamentalist stance for the comfort of the international community whose economic support is critical to Pakistan's financial viability."
The terrorist attack against the Indian Parliament Dec. 13 was almost certainly the work of Jaish-e-Mohammed (Soldiers of the Prophet), another Pakistan-based terrorist organization. This writer found its slogans painted in towns and villages throughout the Pakistani tribal belt last week, to wit: "Jaish-e-Mohammed and al Qaeda are Bubbling Blood Brothers" and "For Commando Training, Contact Jaish-e-Mohammed." The motive for the attack was most probably an attempt to disrupt the budding U.S.-Pakistani alliance and isolate Mr. Musharraf.
After ditching Taliban, it becomes increasingly harder for Mr. Musharraf to crack down on those who would Talibanize Pakistan. In fact, he released from detention the No. 1 religious extremist firebrand, Fazrul Rehman.
Mr. Musharraf is now caught between a rock and four hard places Afghanistan where the anti-Pakistani, pro-Indian Northern Alliance holds the key government positions in the new coalition under Hamid Karzai; a hostile India on the edge of retaliatory action; a disloyal ISI; and a belligerent extremist clergy.
Despite the appointment of a Musharraf loyalist as the new head of ISI when U.S. bombing started last October, the powerful agency has not been responding to the president's pro-American policies. One regional ISI general even went so far as to rattle tribal chiefs by telling them Pakistan would be next in America's crosshairs after the defeat of Taliban. The secret organization continues to undermine him at every turn. The country's principal political leaders are fearful of ISI. They draw the initials with their fingers in the air when the subject comes out lest they be heard by ubiquitous bugs. And they say nothing short of a top-to-bottom reform of ISI, followed by accountability to a yet-to-be-created national security council of civilian and military leaders, will bring the agency back to its proper place in the body politic.
The Taliban infrastructure in Pakistan emerged unscathed from Taliban's defeat in Afghanistan. While ISI is officially cooperating with the U.S. in hunting down Taliban's deposed leaders, senior Taliban officials are now resting comfortably in their second homes in Quetta and Peshawar, the two frontier towns where they had parked their families when the bombing started. One has even given an interview to a British newspaper. Another has given a "religious lecture" at the madrassa the "University for the Education of Truth" where he graduated in the town of Khattak. ISI is doubtless aware of these activities. But is Mr. Musharraf?
Belatedly, over the Christmas weekend, Mr. Musharraf decided to freeze the accounts of LET and Umma Tamee-e-Nau (UTN), the group the U.S. believes passed nuclear weapons data to Osama bin Laden. The LET chief then resigned. It is to be hoped that a thorough housecleaning of ISI is next on Mr. Musharraf's must-do list as he returns from a weeklong state visit to China.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.

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