Pakistan’s arrest of al Qaeda operatives highlights the dichotomy in the government’s anti-terror efforts. While Pakistani officials have been willing to pull in foreign Islamic militants, native insurgents and Taliban remnants active in and around Afghanistan, the area near the Indian-controlled Kashmir region is rarely part of the dragnet. And although Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has helped bolster regional security through a rapprochement with India, he let off the world’s leading nuclear proliferator with nothing more than a forced public apology last February.
Pakistan said Tuesday it had arrested seven or eight al Qaeda militants, including one “most wanted” suspect with amultimillion-dollar bounty on his head. Last month, authorities captured Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, believed to have been involved in the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa. Pakistan said it has arrested at least 18 al Qaeda suspects in the past three weeks, including Mohammad Naeem Noor Khan, a 25-year-old computer expert and al Qaeda planner.
Officials have also found in the raids hundreds of photos, sketches and written documents which indicate the kinds of targets al Qaeda has looked at. The information gleaned in Pakistan led to the arrests of 13 al Qaeda militants in Britain, according to Pakistani authorities.
However, Pakistan has not arrested a single former Taliban leader since the September 11 attacks. The Taliban had close ethnic and institutional ties to Pakistan. Most of the Taliban were Pashtun, the ethnicity that is prevalent in Pakistan’s border region with Afghanistan. And Pakistani military and intelligence services supported the Taliban before September 11 in order to maintain a friendly government and “strategic depth” in Afghanistan, so they could offset the rivalry with India on the opposite border. Should war ever break out with India, the reasoning went, the Taliban would allow Pakistanis to withdraw into Afghan territory. According to some observers, a majority of Taliban attacks inside Afghanistan are launched from bases in Pakistan’s Pashtun areas. And in some of those bases, al Qaeda militants are believed to be harbored.
But the attacks in Afghanistan aren’t the only problem. Al Qaeda, the Taliban and Pakistani militants are increasingly converging. Some al Qaeda members have longstanding battlefield ties to Pakistanis and Afghans dating back to their days fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan. Now, the groups have common goals, such as evicting U.S. forces from Afghanistan and assassinating Gen. Musharraf, who has already survived two well-coordinated assassination attempts. And an al Qaeda-linked group has claimed responsibility for the July 30 attempt on Shaukat Aziz, the finance minister nominated to be the next prime minister.
Also problematic have been insufficient steps to counter madrassas, or Islamic schools, that inculcate hateful interpretations of Islam. While some initiative has been taken to try to motivate madrassas to adopt a more moderate curriculum, enforcement methods have not been used.
Some of the worst damage Pakistan could inflict on global security has already been done. Pakistani scientists, led by metallurgist Abdul Qadeer Khan, are known to have exported nuclear technology and components to Iran, Libya and North Korea. That nuclear proliferation could have a profound and very unfortunate impact in the future.
The success of the counterterror effort depends, to a large degree, on Pakistan’s commitment. But Gen. Musharraf undoubtedly values both his alliance with the United States and his support from all ethnic and tribal components of his country. How he balances those often conflicting Pakistani interests will materially affect our progress in the war on terror. Pakistan remains central to the reconstruction of Afghanistan and the global effort to defeat the jihadists.