Tuesday, September 5, 2006

The good news from Afghanistan is the 18,500-strong coalition, now under NATO command, is good at finding and killing Taliban and al Qaeda fighters. The bad news, says a recently returned U.S. Army commander, is “as fast as the guerrillas are killed, they are replaced by new recruits — from camps in Pakistan,” whose existence the Pakistani government keeps denying. Last weekend, coalition forces killed 200 Taliban for a loss of 20 of their own. A Dutch F-16 fighter-bomber and a four-engine British Nimrod recon aircraft crashed, killing all aboard.

Part-time beneficiaries of Afghanistan’s record opium harvest that produces 95 percent of Europe’s heroin consumption, Taliban fighters now have the best equipment money can buy on the international arms black market. The annual poppy crop is at an all-time record of 6,000 tons, up 50 percent from last year. Since the liberation of Afghanistan in November 2001, the area under opium cultivation has grown almost 60 percent to 400,000 acres. This despite draconian eradication campaigns by the United Kingdom and the United States.

Now well more than half the country’s gross domestic product derives from narcotics trafficking. Warlords and drug lords — frequently one and the same — are represented surreptitiously in President Hamid Karzai’s central government, which also includes a minister for “counternarcotics.”

Taliban’s rebirth in southern Afghanistan has affected five provinces where crop substitution was abandoned to the exigencies of counterguerrilla operations. Taliban also encourages poppy farming for levied protection.

Some of the opium bounty greases the relays for Taliban to operate in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), which Pakistan denies despite the loss of at least 700 soldiers fighting Taliban and its al Qaeda allies in these areas.

Pakistan first tipped British intelligence about the August plot to down the same day 10 airliners flying from London to U.S. cities. Many of the British suspects arrested are of Pakistani origin. Almost 1,000 British Muslims are now under observation by MI-5, Britain’s internal intelligence service. The overwhelming majority are first-, second- and third-generation Pakistani Brits. A quarter of the U.K.’s 1.8 million Muslims, according to a recent opinion survey, are sympathetic to violent jihad (holy war), and a third would rather live under Shariah (Islamic) law than British law. British Home Secretary John Reed says the U.K. faces “the greatest danger since the Second World War.”

For many would-be suicide bombers all roads seem to lead to Pakistan. What is it about Pakistan that still holds a special appeal among those who harbor virulently anti-Western feelings, especially among Pakistani offspring in the U.K.?

Taliban was originally a Pakistan-based student movement nurtured, if not instigated, by the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, a combined FBI/CIA agency with a license to “terminate with maximum prejudice,” rig elections, and recommend civilian candidates for posts in military governments. ISI assisted Taliban in its conquest of Afghanistan (1992-96). Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were the only three countries to recognize the Taliban regime that took the country back several centuries and gave sanctuary to Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorist organization.

ISI’s latest successful assignment was to locate Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, an aristocratic octogenarian tribal chief and leader of Baluchistan’s fourth insurgency in the last 70 years, this time to get a fair share of massive gas and mineral deposits. Government troops attacked the cave where this former Cabinet minister was hunkered down. An artillery shell buried him alive. ISI has yet to locate bin Laden, widely believed headquartered in Pakistan’s FATA, protected by fiercely loyal tribes that are clearly disinterested in a $25 million U.S. reward.

The Aug. 26 blunder sparked violent protests and shut down most of the country in a general strike to protest Bugti’s “assassination.” Even retired generals called on President-Gen. Pervez Musharraf to take the army out of politics and return Pakistan to civilian rule.

Pakistan is frequently described as the most dangerous country in the world. One-third of 165 million Pakistanis survive below the local poverty line of $2 a day. Per capita income is $800. Half the population is illiterate. Two of its four provinces — that share a 1,400-mile border with Afghanistan — are governed by politico-religious coalitions that are friendly to Taliban and who admire Osama bin Laden. And Mr. Musharraf himself reckons 1 percent, or 1.6 million people, are violence-prone extremists whose organizations are banned from time to time only to reopen a few blocks away with a new shingle.

But Pakistan is also a nuclear power with some 60 nuclear weapons and missiles to deliver them as far as Mumbai in India. And the country’s most popular figure after Founder Father Ali Jinnah is A.Q. Khan, the father of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, and the international racketeer who sold nuclear secrets to America’s enemies — North Korea, Iran and Libya.

Pakistan is also the country of some 12,000 madrassas, the free-board Koranic schools for boys whose single discipline is learning the holy book in Arabic by heart, heavily larded with hate messages for the U.S., Israel and India. Before their teens, they are examined on the meaning of holy war and martyrdom. Thousands of foreign madrassa students from Muslim countries, as well as Britain, the U.S., Canada and Australia, have been ordered out of the country. But local police, loyal to local mullahs, tell the foreigners they can stay.

Mr. Musharraf has talked frequently about madrassa reform, but five years after he switched alliances from the medieval Taliban to the U.S., following President Bush’s post-September 11 are-you-with-us-or-against-us phone call, little has been done. To survive, Mr. Musharraf concluded early in his now seven years in the driver’s seat he had to pander to the mullahs. And the mullahs tell government regulators to butt out. Nothing seems to shake their conviction President Bush’s war on terror is a war on Islam.

Outside main cities, rape victims, who traditionally stay silent, must produce at least four male “eyewitnesses,” failing which they are tried for the serious crime of fornication. A recent “reform”: Only three eyewitnesses must be Muslim males.

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

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