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Is the US suspicious about Pakistan?

August 30, 2004

Part I: Guess where the homeland of terrorism is?

All right -- I lied a little -- not all of the past two week's arrests of big-time Al Qaeda leaders happened in Pakistan -- one head-honcho did get arrested in UAE. But before the Pakistanis get any heartburn -- no need to worry -- your record is still perfect -- the arrested man is a Pakistani militant, named Qari Saifullah Akhtar, head of the Harkat Jihad-e-Islami Al Alami.

Deny, Deny, Deny: In spite of the deluge of Pakistani terrorism reports pouring in from all over the world -- the steady denial from the Bush White House continued unabated.

'With good allies in places like Pakistan, we are getting information that is more detailed and more specific than we had before about terrorists' plans and that allows us to better defend ourselves,' US President George W Bush's National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said on Tuesday,' reports PTI.

Unfortunately for the administration -- not many people accuse it of habitually telling the truth after such wonderful fictional tales like 'connections between Al Qaeda and Iraq,' 'yellow cake from Niger went to Iraq' and 'WMDs that can be used to strike the US' were concocted to target 11,000 civilians, 900 odd US soldiers and $87 billion of US taxpayer generosity.

In just the last two weeks, the battering ram has been taken by the US and Western media to the obvious Pakistani role in terrorism around the globe:

On complicity in 9/11 attacks: The imprints of every major act of international Islamist terrorism invariably passes through Pakistan, right from 9/11 -- where virtually all the participants had trained, resided or met in, coordinated with, or received funding from or through Pakistan -- to major acts of terrorism across South Asia and Southeast Asia, as well as major networks of terror that have been discovered in Europe.

'The Pakistan army consistently denies giving the militants anything more than moral, diplomatic and political support. The reality is quite different. ISI issues money and directions to militant groups, specially the Arab hijackers of 9/11 from al-Qaida. ISI was fully involved in devising and helping the entire affair. And that is why people like Hamid Gul and others very quickly stated the propaganda that CIA and Mossad did it.' -- Arnaud Borchgrave, chief editor, UPI.

'Maybe we should take a closer look at the Pakistanis. They've had an uncanny way of producing senior Al Qaeda figures when they've felt the heat from the United States, and seeming to miss them right in their midst when the pressure was lowered. The first thing you notice when you look at the record of high-profile Al Qaeda arrests over the last three years is that almost all of these bad guys have been found in major cities, and deep inside Pakistan,' he says.

'They're not being caught in some haystack on the border," says M J Gohel, an authority on terrorism at the British-based Asia-Pacific Foundation. 'The much-publicised drive into the back-of-beyond tribal lands near the Afghan frontier last spring produced zilch. Whenever Musharraf is under pressure he seems able to produce one or two Al Qaeda fighters like a magician out of a hat.' -- MSNBC

The latest arrest of the Africa Bomber: 'Ghailani -- the latest catch -- is a black African. And there aren't many of them in Pakistan. He was caught in the industrial city of Gujrat, and he had been living with friends and extended family in Pakistan for the better part of six years. That is, ever since the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were blown up. His picture has been posted on the web for years, along with a $5 million reward from the United States government. And nobody noticed this guy until last week?' -- MSNBC-Newsweek.

While the New York Times hints: 'Mr Ghailani managed to live in comfort with Pakistani help. He lived in a spacious two-story home in a middle-class neighborhood, apparently without raising suspicions in the local police force.'

A cartoon in The Miami Herald says it all.

Captioned 'Pakistani Military helps US look for Osama Bin Laden,' it shows five soldiers marching in a line through mountainous terrain, presumably the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. The first four are Americans. Bringing up the rear is a Pakistani, alerting everyone about their presence,shouting: 'Look out, look out wherever you are.'

On the threat of nuclear attacks on US soil: 'It is crucial to note that if the Islamist terrorist groups gain access to nuclear devices, ISI will almost certainly be the source. At least six Pakistani scientists connected with the country's nuclear program were in contact with al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden with the thorough instructions of ISI.' -- Washington Times.

On providing succour to the Taliban: 'A Western diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity in an interview last month in Kabul said, "When you talk about Taliban, its like fish in a barrel in Pakistan. They train, they rest there. They get support. Other militants who have been captured are Afghans from the refugee community in Pakistan. They have described receiving training in large, walled residential compounds in and around Quetta, rather than in military camps, according to Sher Muhammad Akhundzada, the governor of Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan.' -- New York Times

On the role of the ISI: 'To understand how this works, it is useful to conceive of Pakistan's ISI as a State acting as terrorist traffickers, complaining that, if it does not receive the extraordinary dispensations and indulgences that it seeks, it will, in effect, 'implode,' and in the process do extraordinary harm. "Part of the threat of this 'explosion' is also the specter of the transfer of its nuclear arsenal and capabilities to more intransigent and irrational elements of the Islamist far right in Pakistan, who would not be amenable to the logic that its present rulers -- whose interests in terrorism are strategic, and consequently, subject to considerations of strategic advantage -- are willing to listen to.' -- Arnaud Borchgrave

On Pakistani support on the War on Terror: 'While its Pakistani partners keep the US-led coalition busy hundreds of miles to the south, Taliban and al Qaeda move with relative freedom further north, and in some of Pakistan's most congested cities, including Quetta and Karachi.' From 'Take a Hard Look at Terror Allies' by Kathy Gannon in the Wall Street Journal.

'The vast bulk of these (arrested) men are British citizens of Pakistani descent. Hundreds of young Pakistani-descended British citizens have spent a few weeks or months with 'mujahideen' groups, many sponsored by the Pakistani government, in Kashmir or training in Afghanistan or Pakistan in the past decade.' -- Jason Burke, Paul Harris and Martin Bright (The Observer).

Once again, note that these are almost all, reports from just the last two weeks.

Other personalities and social entities are also joining in the melee of beating up on Pakistani tendencies towards terrorism. The reigning patriarch of the Democratic party, ex-president Clinton, 'criticised the Bush administration for "contracting out" US security to Pakistan by putting in its hands the hunt for Osama bin Laden.' Talking to CBC television, he pointedly asked: 'Why did we put our number one security threat in the hands of Pakistanis with us playing the supporting role?'

From the Charlotte Observer: Ah!! such popularity these Pakistanis have now garnered -- even local US politicians are falling over themselves to 'represent' them adequately. In a local North Carolina, Congressional election, candidate Vernin Robinson has a new ad, 'calling Kamran Akhtar, the Pakistani man arrested while filming Charlotte skyscrapers, a "terrorist" who came here to kill you.'

'This is Pakistani terrorist Kamran Akhtar. He got arrested videotaping targets in Charlotte, North Carolina. He came here illegally, across our Mexican border,' says the announcer. Then Robinson speaks. 'I'm Vernon Robinson and I approve this message because Akhtar didn't come here to live the American dream. He came here to kill you.' Such adequate representation is hard to find, indeed.

So, while the US establishment's message through pro-jihadi proxies like Rocca seems to be 'we'll say nice things about you, we'll shove some big bucks into the pockets of your generals and mullahs and yes, even turn a blind eye when you carry out jihadi beheadings of women and little children in India and Afghanistan -- but things stop there; if you dare come to these here American shores, we'll promptly treat you like what you really are -- terrorists.'

Every action of the US establishment digs in this message.

Sometimes, however, the enthusiasm of the US homeland security department to protect US shores from Pakistanis, gets out of hand.

Consider the case of David Joseph from Haiti, who is described by the New York Times as 'a little guy, about 5-foot-5, maybe 115 pounds. He's 20 years old, looks younger, and has the sluggish demeanor and sad expression of one who is deeply depressed. He has nightmares and headaches.'

David has been imprisoned as a terrorist, at a federal detention center for the last two years, even though he was just seeking asylum and had nothing to do with terrorism. John Ashcroft, the US attorney general, who personally blocked Joseph's release, defends this illegal incarceration by stating 'releasing this young Haitian would tend to encourage mass migration from Haiti, and might exacerbate the potential danger to national security of nefarious aliens from Pakistan and elsewhere who might be inclined to use Haiti as a staging area for migration to the US.'

Hai Ram -- so poor David Joseph is going to spend much of his life in jail, because, the US is determined to send a message to 'nefarious aliens from Pakistan' -- is this justice?

The association of terrorism with the Pakistani State runs quite deep. Week before last, the US department of homeland security was carrying out drills near my home, as in a loaned FedEx Boeing 727 on Oakland International Airport's tarmac was the scene of a mock hijacking as part of a national drill to test the nation's ability to react to multiple, coordinated terrorist attacks.

But guess what was the script of this mock terrorist attack, planned by the US government? 'Under the scenario script, hijackers demanded $5 million, a safe plane to Pakistan, three parachutes and the release of all Iraqis held at Guantanamo Bay.'

So, even in mock scenarios, laid out by the US goverment -- terrorists seek safety in the terrorist-State. Enough said.

You would think the news would get better -- but hell, no!

From just this weekend, we have:

The New York Post on the arrest of two men planning an attack: 'Two men charged with plotting to blow up the Herald Square subway station were also planning a "holy war" rampage against seven other crucial targets around the city -- including at least two other stations, three police precincts and the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, officials said yesterday.'

'Shahawar Matin Siraj, 21, a 'loose cannon' from Pakistan, and James El Shafay, 19, a Pakistan-born US citizen from Staten Island, were charged with conspiracy. Cops say they plotted to use backpack bombs to blow up the 34th Street-Herald Square subway station. It's just a block from Madison Square Garden, where the Republican National Convention kicks off. The feds first got wind of the plot last September.'

CNN reports from Afghanistan 'An explosion outside a US-based security firm that has been providing security for President Hamid Karzai tore through the building in downtown Kabul, killing at least seven people, the president's office said. Two Americans, three Nepalese and two Afghan nationals, including a child, have been confirmed dead,' Karzai's office said in a statement, according to Associated Press. The blast occurred at 5:35 p.m. (9:05 am ET) and appeared to have targeted the offices of DynCorp. A Pakistan-based militant group claimed responsibility for the blast, calling it an attempt to undermine the nation's first post-Taliban presidential election, scheduled to take place October 9.'

The New York Post on the arrest of four other Pakistanis -- 'The heightened security for the Republican convention resulted in four Pakistani students from St. John's University being detained in Times Square last night. The four, who were in a burgundy van, were taken into custody shortly after 5 pm outside the Marriott Marquis hotel on Broadway and West 45th Street after cops thought they were acting suspiciously. Police sources said two of the students were on an FBI watch list.'

In the end, you have to ask the question -- why?

Why does Pakistan have to play host to a terrorist groups from as far-away as Uzbekistan?

Why do countries thousands of miles away from Pakistan start their internal security enforcement, by attacking city-streets in Pakistan?

Why do Pakistanis well-settled in the West feel the deep need to work towards blowing up bridges, power plants and subway stations in their adopted countries?

Why is Pakistan's contribution to Afghan rebuilding primarily focused on burning down girl's schools, poisoning girls who dare to educate themselves and disrupting forthcoming elections through bomb blasts?

Why are assorted Pakistanis sitting in Karachi and Quetta, pouring over, with intent to destroy, building plans of cities thousands of miles away, in countries they have never visited?

Why, Indeed!

Perhaps its time to recognise the true meaning of what a senior Pakistani government official told The Washington Post recently -- 'I think our commitment on terrorism is absolutely unparalleled, and it needs to be acknowledged.'

The final straw came in the Friday Times of Lahore -- it seems even the Muslim community in the US is beginning to bad-mouth the Pakistanis now.

Riaz Khan, a member of the Muslim community of Houston, complains: 'I fully blame expatriate Muslims, mainly those from Pakistan. These people want to live in America but on their own terms, which means turning America into Pakistan. Instead of upgrading themselves, they have downgraded the US. These Pakistanis do not integrate with non-Muslims and their disgust for America is just unbelievable.'

'They are earning in America but criticising, hating and cursing the country! Before 9/11 things were different, on every corner mosques were opening up, not for religious purposes but to bring families over from Pakistan as preachers. Their sole objective was to collect funds in the name of Islam during sermons filled with hate against Jews, Christians and Hindus. They are the one who are blackening the face of Islam.'

The more things change, the more they remain the same.

'The core issue of instability and violence in South Asia is the character, activities and persistence of the militarised Islamist fundamentalist State in Pakistan. No cure for this canker can be arrived at through any strategy of negotiations, support and financial aid to the military regime, or by a "regulated" transition to "democracy," the establishment does not seem to see the light,' says a Washington Times columnist.

The recently released 9/11 report, talking about the $3 billion of extortion money being paid to Pakistan says, 'Sustaining the current scale of aid to Pakistan, the United States should support Pakistan's government in its struggle against extremists with a comprehensive effort that extends from military aid to support for better education.'

So, in essence, the US keeps giving money to the Pakistanis, with the hope that the extra money will cause the Pakistanis to suddenly change their spots on terrorism. The Pakistanis know they are getting this money, only because they're looked upon as terrorists -- in fact, if they were perceived as a peace-loving nation, they would not see one red cent -- so, they do their part in keeping up the act.

Echoing this theme, The Guardian says: 'Regardless of electoral considerations, US officials say privately they have had to constantly press Pakistan to keep up its effort.'

Whatever the pressure, though, Musharraf is faring quite well out of it.

In May, the five-year suspension of Pakistan's Commonwealth membership -- imposed when the general seized power -- was lifted. The country has also been hailed as a Major Non-NATO Ally of both the US and Britain and it has escaped without too many questions over the role of its nuclear expert, Abdul Qadeer Khan, in giving technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea.

More importantly, Pakistan is getting money -- probably far more than the $700m the US has officially earmarked. A small note in a recent national bank quarterly report showed Pakistan is getting $1bn a year for 'logistical support.'

A cynical view is that Pakistan has more to gain from waging a long and highly public war against terrorism than it has from totally defeating it -- because the foreign aid could dry up.

Yet delusion, it seems, still persists within the Pakistani community.

Omar Mirza of NY, writes a 'it couldn't be us Pakistanis, we're real good --it's those damned Arabs' note in the Friday Times of Lahore.

Quoting this gent, whose country's official biology text books promote jihadi terrorism, and whose community in the US frequently get hauled up for their socially-relevant efforts as in trying to blow up bridges in NY or power stations in Florida: 'I don't think it is at all likely any Pakistani-American would be involved in any acts of terrorism. Most Pakistanis are just here in the US working their butts off, supporting families in Pakistan. The Arabs on the other hand are a different story. They should all be carefully scrutinised at all ports of entry, particularly Saudis, who are the most intolerant religious fanatics on the face of the planet. After all, they produced 15 of the 9/11 suicide bombers and bin Laden is a former Saudi national. They do not have a free press, free speech, or religious freedom, and their school textbooks teach hatred of the West. It is in this atmosphere that religious fanaticism thrives.'

The shocker, however, is -- hold on tight for a second, here -- Pakistani commentator Rahilla Zafar, who wonders aloud in The News, why Pakistan's potential is being wasted, and asks, somewhat naively: 'Has Pakistan lost the battle for outsourcing'? (as in outsourcing business processes -- and I'm assuming legitimate ones).

Now that really made me fall off my chair.

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Arindam Banerji can be reached at

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