- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 28, 2003

Pakistani soldiers who serve in Iraq with coalition forces and their families will no longer be considered Muslims and “will face serious punishment under the laws prescribed by Sharia (Islamic Law).” So decreed a fatwa issued recently by Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), a coalition of six politico-religious parties that governs two of Pakistan’s four provinces and controls 20 percent of the national assembly. The all-Iraq-news-all-the-time media evidently did not think the fatwa newsworthy enough to make the cut.

President Bush has asked President Pervez Musharraf to contribute a 15,000-strong division, or at least a brigade of 3,000, to assist the United States in policing Iraq. Mr. Musharraf has concluded that to be the first Muslim nation to send troops to Iraq would be political suicide. At the very least, he expects the U.N. Security Council to pass a resolution requesting military peacekeeping assistance from member nations.

“Let’s destroy America wherever its troops are trapped” is the new extremist slogan at public rallies and Friday prayers in Pakistan. In his latest public pronouncement, retired Gen. Hamid Gul, a former chief of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, and “strategic adviser” to MMA, said, “The Muslim world must stand united to confront the U.S. in its so-called war against terror which is in reality a war against Muslims. God will destroy the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan and wherever it will try to go from there.”

Jihadi (holy warrior) organizations are once again actively recruiting in the name of U.S. aggression in the two countries where U.S. forces are battling Iraqi and Afghan terrorists. And Mr. Musharraf is conceding ground to the extremists now crowding the Pakistani government. Anyone who tries to crack down on extremist activities is told to cool it.

The latest example came in Baluchistan where the governor, Gen. Qadir Baluch, a former corps commander in Baluchistan, attempted to curtail anti-U.S. demonstrations called by MMA. The president asked Gen. Baluch to back off while ISI negotiated with MMA. Gen. Baluch flew to Islamabad to confer with Mr. Musharraf. The president urged him to follow the new rules — imposed by ISI — or resign. Which he did.

The new governor, Awais Ghani, a former federal minister of Labor and Religious Affairs, has proved to be a pliant instrument that heeds the advice of ISI and lets MMA (now derisively known as Musharraf-Mullahs-Army) consolidate its hold on Baluchistan’s regional government. Pakistani moderates are shocked by Mr. Musharraf’s appeasement of religious extremists, who are now in charge of the province under the guidance of Gen. Gul and his former ISI colleagues.

Quetta, the provincial capital, is now a vast privileged sanctuary for former Taliban officials and their fighters. They are known locally as new mohajirs (immigrants). They possess Pakistani ID and are free to conduct business and buy properties all over Baluchistan. MMA, with generous subsidies organized by ISI, is now free to hold constant rallies and processions against “the U.S. desecrator of Islam.”

This reporter’s informants in Islamabad and Quetta say that U.S. agents are unable to tell the difference between Baluchis, Pathans and Taliban, and that most people are convinced Osama bin Laden and Mullah Mohammed Omar, the former Taliban chief, are hiding safely somewhere in Baluchistan under the protection of ISI and its extremist allies in the provincial government.

Hamid Gul’s agenda — which he barely conceals — is to create a deadly nexus between Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq. Those who know Gen. Gul say his longer-range objective is to widen the nexus to include Iran, Sudan and Saudi Arabia. The Pakistani nuclear establishment is, to a large degree, of the fundamentalist persuasion. From these geopolitical building blocks, it is not too much of a stretch to conclude, as the U.S. intelligence community now seems to believe, that Pakistani nuclear know-how has found its way, not only to North Korea (in exchange for missile technology), but also to Iran.

The CIA has also identified Iran, Saudi Arabia and Syria as the leading supporters of the Sunni insurgency against the U.S. military in Iraq. The Saudi government is clearly not involved, the CIA concluded, but Osama bin Laden’s Saudi followers and members of the Wahhabi clergy, harassed for the first time by the government, have evidently organized desert crossings for volunteer guerrilla fighters. Anti-government feelings are running high in Saudi Arabia these days.

Since last May’s bombing in Riyadh, the government has finally decided the homegrown danger of politico-religious extremism is as big and as pressing as the CIA believes. So far, Saudi security has interrogated 12,000 people. The clergy has been instructed never to use the word jihad again. Some 1,000 clerics have been suspended. So there is no shortage of “holy war” volunteers to go fight the Americans in Iraq.

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

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