- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 12, 2002

One of Pakistan's most notorious homegrown terrorists was elected to parliament from prison. As

Azam Tariq emerged from confinement a free man, he stepped into a limousine and was driven away by his own armed guards. His pro-Taliban, pro-al Qaeda outlawed party, Sipah-e-Sahaba (Guardians of the Friends of the Prophet), was one of five extremist groups banned by President Pervez Musharraf last January as he tried to dulcify U.S. concerns. The Pakistani police blame Tariq's Guardians, the country's most violent group, for some 400 killings in the last year alone.

The U.S. also bustled Mr. Musharraf on free elections. The unanticipated result was the emergence of a coalition of six politico-religious extremist parties as a key partner in the horse-trading for a national coalition government. If excluded, Islamist extremists would then become a disloyal opposition dedicated to sabotaging Pakistan's post-9/11 links with the U.S. The Muttahida Majlis Amal (MMA, or United Action Council) is led by Fazul-ur-Rehman, a fiery antediluvian demagogue, friend of both Mullah Mohammed Omar, the former Taliban leader, and the world's most wanted terrorist, Osama bin Laden. Mr. Rehman suddenly became the other two major political factions' choice for prime minister. His campaign appearances were festooned with "Osama bin Laden the Liberator" and "U.S. Go Home" posters and banners. One of the Bush administration's ranking national security officials confided privately, "Better to have the crazies in than out of government." The U.S. State Department praised the Pakistani elections as "an important milestone in the ongoing transition to democracy." Apparently unbeknownst to the State Department, democracy was the big loser in Pakistan. So much for the idea of free elections in a Muslim country with a population of 145 million that is more than half illiterate.

To call Pakistan an ally in the war against terrorism has become an oxymoron. Mr. Rehman and his cohort Sami ul-Haq were the tutors to most of Taliban's top leadership. Two years ago, Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden delivered joint commencement addresses at the University for the Education of Truth one of Pakistan's principal madrassas in the township of Khattak near Peshawar. Now Taliban cadres are free again to come and go into Afghanistan as they please without fear of arrest. Because the Oct. 10 elections also gave control of the regional governments of two of Pakistan's four provinces Northwest Frontier Province and Baluchistan to those who guard the friends of the prophet. The entire length of the Pakistan-Afghan frontier is now once again the dominion of anti-American religious extremists. From the provincial capitals of Peshawar and Quetta, they will run police forces, border guards and paramilitary scouts. Sharia law will be strictly enforced.

Everything appears to be in place for a rebirth of Taliban on both sides of the border. In Afghanistan, letters have been found tacked to trees urging an uprising against American "occupation" forces that have made "our Afghan sisters their servants and slaves." Several girls schools have been attacked, two by rocket-propelled grenades. Religious conservatives are still the law outside of Kabul. Warlords use the sharia and opium and heroin smuggling to buy weapons and consolidate their hold. Opium production, banned by Taliban in 2000, was down to 185 tons last year. This year, opium is expected to yield 3,500 tons, on its way up to peak production of 5,000 tons in 1999. "Afghan brown sugar" is the country's only cash crop that doesn't require much water, a boon in a country that has suffered from drought for four consecutive years. Taliban's infamous Ministry for the Protection of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice still holds sway in distant provinces. In Kabul, Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah says the Karzai government is losing credibility because little of the $1.8 billion in emergency reconstruction aid pledged in Tokyo last January for 2002 by some 60 nations and 20 international organizations has made it into the country, let alone the $4.5 billion through 2007.

The man who engineered the victory of Pakistan's fundamentalist parties was Hamid Gul, a retired former head of the Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) who acted as "strategic adviser" to MMA. Gen. Gul's reward: a Senate seat. Some 300 ISI officers who had been working with Taliban prior to September 11 and were transferred to regular army units have now been returned to the intelligence agency. NWFP and Baluchistan are once again privileged sanctuaries for al Qaeda a clear and present danger for President Bush's war on terror." This week, Gen. Gul publicly praised MMA's top leaders as "saints just like [former Taliban leader] Mullah Omar" and hailed Saddam Hussein, Col. Moammar Gadhafi, Fidel Castro, the Assads (father and son) in Syria, China and Iran for "standing up to America's new world order, the cruelest system on earth. But we have the nuclear capacity, a gift from God, to resist its imposition on us."

The unholy nexus between Mr. Musharraf, the mullahs and the terrorists was clearly not the result the president had anticipated. But there is little doubt it was the key objective of Gen. Gul and his ISI cronies. The two dozen arrests of al Qaeda types in Pakistan were the result of FBI coordination with the Interior Ministry, not ISI.

By keeping Pakistan's two most prominent political leaders Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif out of the political contest and in exile abroad, Mr. Musharraf ensured major extremist gains (from 5 percent to 20 percent; from two seats in the old parliament to 60) as well as 116 seats for the "king's party," PML-QA (Pakistan Muslim League-Qaid-e-Azam), where retired army friends and ISI officers were recruited to run. This pro-Musharraf spinoff of Mr. Sharif's PML scored the largest single gain of any party.

If the U.S. goes to war against Iraq, Pakistan may well go the way of Yugoslavia. It could easily blow into four deadly parts and where the country's nuclear arsenal would wind up is anyone's guess. Mr. Musharraf is not an Islamist, but a number of jealous, ambitious generals are. The president has survived six assassination plots. In the event of Mr. Musharraf's demise, ISI would play a major role in the struggle for succession.

ISI's role in supplying North Korea with nuclear know-how for its missile warheads in return for North Korean missile technology for Pakistan's nuclear delivery vehicles had been a closely guarded state secret. So when the New York Times broke the story, it was yet another awkward pause in the make-believe world of a Pakistani-U.S. alliance. The chief of the North Korean Air Force has been a frequent visitor to Islamabad since September 11, 2001. He stays at the Marriott Hotel and doesn't even bother to conceal his identity; he wears his uniform.

Scanning editorials from Buenos Aires to Bombay, it is hard to find anyone who believes war on Iraq has anything to do with the war on terror. They concluded months ago what Forbes magazine headlined in its Oct. 28 issue "Bomb Baghdad, hit OPEC" with this explanation: "Defeating Saddam means opening up Iraq's oil reserves. Bad news for oil producers and good news for everyone else."

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