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From: "Dr. Anwar Ul Haque" <haque@...
Pak plans to curb militant networks: NYT
ISLAMABAD (NNI): After months of criticism from Washington of its handling
of terrorism, Pakistan has outlined an ambitious campaign aimed at slowly
curbing networks of militants that have taken root here and in Afghanistan,
reports New York Times.
Senior officials said the military government has decided to act not because
of the American pressure, but because the networks threaten Pakistan by
"fanning sectarian violence and poisoning people's minds," said Moinuddin
Haider, the interior minister.
There has been a growing criticism of Pakistan by Washington and independent
groups. A Congressionally appointed advisory panel has recommended that
Pakistan be designated as a government that is "not cooperating fully"
In an interview, Haider said his government had made a "clear-cut policy
decision" to begin controlling the thousands of religious schools, some of
which preach hatred of the West and provide young recruits to the "jihads,"
or holy wars, in Kashmir, Afghanistan, Bosnia and Chechnya, and to other
conflicts involving Muslims.
Some also channel militants to terrorist groups such as those linked to the
Saudi financier Osama bin Laden, who is being sheltered by Afghanistan and
whose network has been accused of repeatedly killing Americans.
At Pakistan's urging, Haider said, the Taliban in Afghanistan have expelled
several Pakistanis and several Arabs wanted by their home governments for
alleged terrorist attacks. He said the Taliban have also occupied
Rishkavour, which Western diplomats say is a leading training camp for
militants near Kabul.
In addition to providing mujahedeen, or holy warriors, for conflicts
throughout the world, such camps have also produced the terrorists who
bombed the World Trade Center and two American Embassies in Africa,
intelligence officials have concluded. Most recently, veterans of such camps
plotted to attack tourist sites in Jordan and America around the time of the
new year's celebrations, they say.
The United States has become alarmed about those networks, particularly
those affiliated with or supported by bin Laden.
Haider, a retired general who was governor of Sindh Province until his
current appointment, insisted that Pakistan made the decision based on its
own security interests. "I feel this is good for Pakistan," he said. "I'm
not following anyone else's agenda. "Pakistan ought to become a progressive,
modern and tolerant secular state."
He said the campaign would mark a radical departure from some of Pakistan's
political and religious traditions. "It will not happen overnight, and it
will upset many people," Haider said. But he added that his government was
determined to enforce a "gradual rollback" of the networks.
Asked for comment on the steps outlined this week, Karl F. Inderfurth,
assistant secretary of state for South Asia, said the United States welcomed
them. Though Washington had not been officially informed about some of the
measures, he said: "These are precisely the kinds of things we've been
hoping to hear from the government of Pakistan. We hope they'll be
successful in carrying them out."
Whether they will be, he added, is "the $64,000 question."
Another American official who monitors terrorism expressed skepticism about
whether the Taliban were being truly responsive and whether Pakistan, which
is facing strikes and growing criticism of its economic measures, would
maintain pressure on the Taliban.
He noted, for example, that Washington had not confirmed that the Taliban
have taken over Rishkavour. But he said Islamabad's actions reflect a
"higher level of effort than we've recently seen."
Among other things, the steps Pakistan is talking about include demanding
that Afghanistan shut down 18 training camps identified by Pakistan;
arresting and extraditing 20 to 25 Pakistanis and an unspecified number of
Arabs wanted for terrorism by their respective governments; and improving
A second part of the effort involves the potentially explosive topic of
identifying thousands of religious schools, which typically have not been
regulated, and imposing standards on them.
To date, Haider said, about 4,000 religious schools, or madrassas, have been
registered. He has been meeting with madrassa leaders, he said, to encourage
them to modernize their curriculum to include mathematics and computer
skills. Such schools, he said, which often take the place of public schools,
should not produce zealots, but "balanced persons."
Jessica Stern, a terrorism expert at Harvard University and a former
official in the Clinton administration, said the Pakistani program could
greatly reduce terrorism in the region. But she said only 4,345 schools have
been registered so far, of an estimated 40,000. And, she said, most of the
rural, most extremist madrassas strongly oppose government intervention in
their activities. Pakistan has come a long way, she said, but it has a long
way to go in preventing sectarian violence.
Zahid Hussain, a senior editor of Newsline, said the military government is
caught between competing pressures. On one hand, he said, it needs the West
economically and does not want to be isolated politically. But on the other,
he said he doubted that it could afford to antagonize the religious groups
that are a core political constituency.
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