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US - Pakistan Relations Critical in Thwarting Terrorism - 2003-10-27


Even though Pakistan is a U.S. ally in the fight against global terrorism, some of the leading terrorist organizations are based in that country. At a recent conference in Washington, political analysts and scholars said cooperation between the United States and Pakistan is crucial in thwarting international terrorism.

Renewed attacks against American and Afghan government forces in Afghanistan indicate that Taliban forces have regrouped and are waging a renewed jihad in the mountainous regions of Afghanistan near the border with Pakistan. U.S. and Afghan officials say Taliban fighters are recruited and trained in Pakistan's tribal areas of Baluchistan and North-West Frontier Province where the central government has little influence.

In last year's general elections, both provinces voted overwhelmingly for Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, or MMA, an alliance of six religious parties openly critical of U.S.-Pakistan cooperation. When Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf decided to allow the United States to use his country's air space and bases to launch attacks against the Taleban in Afghanistan, he knew he would be turning many of his people, especially religious leaders, against his government.

Richard Bonney is professor of modern history at the University of Leicester in Britain. He says even though President Musharraf's cooperation with the United States has not been widely popular, it does not mean the majority of Pakistanis support the Taliban: "Yes, it was extremely unpopular in Pakistan. Some wondered whether he would stay and hold on to power, but the military remained firmly behind him. And I think that storm has been weathered."

Ross Masood, former Director of the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad, says the same. In his view, the majority of Pakistanis trust President Musharraf. "And they feel that he is the person who would not betray their cause. He has repeatedly asked the people in various speeches on television: put your faith in me. I am not going to let Pakistan down, but I'll just do what is in Pakistan's supreme national interest."

By allying his country with the United States, President Musharraf has secured a promise of three-billion dollars in U.S. economic and defense aid and forgiveness of some of Pakistan's massive foreign debt. Analysts say he also hopes to gain some U.S. support in Pakistan's dispute with India over Kashmir. And so he placated the discontents in his country, at least initially.

But since the U.S. attack on Iraq, the anti-American sentiment that flared up throughout the Muslim world has also inflamed many Pakistanis. Some religious and community leaders have openly called for a renewed jihad, or holy war, against western influence in the Muslim world and, judging by recent renewed Taliban attacks in Afghanistan, the call has been heeded.

Nasim Zehra, a Pakistani journalist and now a fellow at the Harvard University Asia Center, says anti-American sentiment is widespread in Pakistan: "In Pakistan, the people are against the U.S. policies in places like Kashmir, where there is a very obvious need to resolve the issue of self-determination of the Kashmiris. And since the United States is not at all focusing on that as much as it is focusing, for example, on cross-border infiltration. That is something that makes people resentful of the United States. Similarly on Palestine, what goes on- on a daily basis, which is tragic both for the Palestinians and the Israelis. That is something that the people of Pakistan would like the United States to play an important role in. And finally, what is happening in Iraq. The invasion and occupation of Iraq, Pakistanis are against it."

Ms. Zehra says many Pakistanis also think the United States is asking for too much from their country and giving too little. In addition to logistical support, the Pakistani government has apprehended a number of Al-Qaida and Taliban leaders, including a suspected organizer of the September-eleven attacks who is also linked to the kidnapping and murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl.

Opposition groups in Pakistan complain that the United States supports authoritarian rulers in Muslim countries as long as they satisfy U.S. interests. They note that General Musharraf took power in a 1999 military coup from a democratically elected government. Even those who favor the US-Pakistan alliance are disappointed, says Ross Masood:

"The United States has been our ally in so many critical situations and we are grateful for that support the United States has given us. But there is a bit of a grouse (complaint) that you come very close to us and then after the job has been done, whatever the job is, we are just abandoned. And then of course, there's a question of putting sanctions on us. There's a question of declaring us as a terrorist state, there's a question of calling us failing or even a failed state. When all this happens, there is a tremendous amount of disappointment among the people of Pakistan."

The United States, for its part, believes Pakistan could make more of an effort to shut down terrorist camps in its territory and secure the borders. This is easier said than done, says journalist Nasim Zehra. The Pashtun tribes on both side of the border have long been Taliban supporters and suspicious of the United States.

"I don't think Pakistan's aim is the elimination of the Taliban because the Taliban is a group of people who go and attend madrassas. So all madrassa-going students there are obviously not thinking of elimination, says Ms. Zehra.

And that number seems to be growing. There is evidence that many religious schools in Pakistan serve as training and recruiting grounds for members of terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaida and the Taliban.

British professor Richard Bonney says President Musharraf's approach of vying for the support of moderate Islamists is a good one. He adds that Pakistan has been a cooperative ally in the U-S fight against terrorism and should be rewarded.

Pakistani scholar Ross Masood agrees. "We've been collaborating with the United States on each and every issue, whenever it was critical for the United States. We only wish that the United States now comes in with the large amount of trust and faith in us and makes investments, tries to give us aid, trade, which would improve the socio-economic conditions of the people. If you do that, people will respond very positively to the U.S. gesture."

But some analysts say helping Pakistan alleviate its poverty may not diminish terrorism. Marvin Weinbaum, political science professor at the University of Illinois, says the United States should work on improving its image in the Muslim world: "We can't rest our relationship entirely on one individual and on the military alone. We have to realize that for this to be a lasting relationship, it's got to be on the firmer ground than simply the cooperation of a small group of people."

Professor Weinbaum says the United States must help Pakistanis understand it is in their interest to fight terrorism: "So if we say it is a good idea to put clamps on the jihadi groups, it's a good idea to do something about education, if we say these things, we have to say: it is not because it fits our values and may happen to coincide with what seems to be developments that we need for our own foreign policy, but because this is in their own interest to do this and we just happen to have a coincidence of interest."

Analysts agree that broader support of people in the Islamic world is crucial for a successful fight against global terrorism.

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