Is Pakistan global centre for terrorism?
Pakistan called ‘global centre for terrorism’
By Khalid Hasan
Washington: “Pakistan remains the global centre for terrorism and for the remnants of Al Qaeda, which is still very strong here,” according to Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid.
In an interview published by the German weekly newsmagazine, Der Spiegel, Rashid is quoted as saying, “The fact is, after September 11, despite the many crackdowns made by the military regime of General Pervez Musharraf, we haven’t effectively shut down the Pakistani militant groups. The reason for that is that these groups are very closely tied into the military’s foreign policy, especially with respect to Kashmir and Afghanistan. The militant groups here have not been crushed and if the madrassas they control - they all control a certain number of such religious schools - are not shut down, we’re not going to see an end to militancy here.”
Asked about the London bombings, the Pakistani journalist who writes for a number of foreign newspapers and is author of the best-selling book ‘The Taliban,’ Rashid replied that people in Pakistan were very apprehensive after the bombing, but the connection with Pakistan did not come as a surprise. “It was clear there was a great danger that the Pakistani community in London would carry out such an attack. It is well known that the Muslim community there is very radical - at least some of them. People also knew many of them had connections in Pakistan.” He explained that the roots of the attack, however, were in England, since there has been an “enormous radicalisation” of British Muslims in the last few years and especially since 9/11.
“There are radical preachers, there are radical mosques. There are lots of schools there which have been teaching students the Koran on Friday afternoons and at the same time radicalising them. There is no dearth of ideological training in England,” he added.
As to the question if President Musharraf was “doing enough,” Rashid replied, “When crackdowns do occur, they aren’t effective. Three hundred, or even 2,000, people are picked up, they’re held for 90 days and then they are freed as soon as the attention and pressure from the West has stopped. There has never been an organised campaign to combat it. It has never taken place.”
Asked what the message of the president in his July 7 speech was, the Pakistani journalist said, “His main message was a very positive one. He said we must combat extremism and launch a jihad against radicalism. He asked that people mobilise and not vote for extremists and so on. But there has been no shortage of such speeches. The main question is whether they will be followed by any meaningful action.”
As to the Pakistani president’s opinion that the bombers were born and bred British citizens, Rashid said the message was that you don’t need to come to Pakistan to become a fanatic. You can become a fanatic in Yorkshire, in Leeds or anywhere in England because there’s enough extremism there too. That’s what President Musharraf was alluding to, he added. To a question about what the Pakistani leader could do to “energetically combat fanaticism and terrorism,” Rashid’s answer was, “The biggest mistake the West has made with Pakistan since 9/11 has been the pursuit of private diplomacy. It hasn’t been made public. The West should spell out exactly what is expected of Pakistan and the regime. US President George W Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, they keep praising Pakistan and saying it is doing a great job hunting down Al Qaeda and the Taliban, but behind the scenes they are whistling a completely different tune. The West needs to have one policy which should be in the public domain. Then the Pakistani public would insist that Musharraf fulfil these demands.”
When Der Spiegel pointed out that President Musharraf was trying to walk a “fine line,” because of radical elements at home, Rashid replied that this argument had been in use for the last four years. The fact is, he added, that Gen Musharraf is still there, still very much in power and “absolutely nothing has been done about extremism.”
In his view, “It is clear that Musharraf has a very political agenda. He wants to be re-elected in 2007 and he wants to remain in office until 2012. And for that, he needs votes. At the same time, though, he has been trying to be a good partner with the West. But his political agenda takes precedence over any commitments to combating extremism and terrorism. An army general cannot have a political agenda while he is trying to crack down on terror.”
The Pakistani correspondent and commentator expressed the view that if Gen Musharraf were to leave the scene for some reason, the army would take over again. “People are afraid because the country has nuclear weapons and they think the country would fall apart. I don’t believe any of that would happen. There would be continuity.”
As for the madrassas and their reform, Rashid did not believe the London bombers came to Pakistan to attend a madrassa, but to make contacts with militant groups and possibly to get training. He added that 80 percent of the madrassas are playing their traditional role, but a number of them have been taken over by militant groups and become recruiting platforms for them. It is difficult to close them down because they are run by the militant groups Gen Musharraf needs for other aspects of his foreign policy.
Rashid said Osama Bin Laden was on the run and his main priority at the moment was to stay alive. At the most, he may be able to provide some strategic directives through his support group, but he is not in a position to run day-to-day operations. He added, “He is certainly in Pakistan because Pakistan has traditionally had the best infrastructure for Al Qaeda. I don’t think the Pakistani military knows where he is, but they aren’t looking very hard either because they fear the military support they get from the United States would disappear as soon as Bin Laden is caught.