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7 Pakistanis caught in fake passport racket

News of a kidnapping

Author: Husain Haqqani
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: February 7, 2002

The kidnapping of The Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl and the infighting among Afghan tribal warlords serve as reminders of the fact that the world's war against terrorism is far from over. The American journalist was kidnapped from Pakistan's financial capital, Karachi, defying the purported crackdown on militants by the country's military regime. The Afghan warlords, on the other hand, started fighting each other instead of focusing on eliminating the remnants of the international terrorist network that the US-led coalition had gone to fight in their country.

Both events hold out messages for the United States government: that tens of thousands of individuals trained in terrorism are still on the loose the world over and are capable of actions such as Pearl's kidnapping. And local political power plays, like the ones in Southern and Eastern Afghanistan, can detract the massive force mobilised by the US and its allies from their objective of hunting down the leaders of global terrorism.

The Pakistani government initially appeared to have taken the American journalist's disappearance lightly. But Pearl's kidnappers have made an impact for being extremely smart and very ruthless. They have managed to evade detection for almost two weeks. Their ability to kidnap a western journalist in the heart of Karachi points towards Pakistan's vulnerability to terrorist acts notwithstanding Islamabad's status as a key US ally in the anti-terrorist coalition.

General Pervez Musharraf may have announced his plans to retrieve Pakistan from extremists. But until all militants are neutralised, the country remains a soft state with limited law enforcement capabilities. The kidnapping of Pearl is a signal from the militants that they have not ceased to exist, despite the crackdown.

The timing of the abduction is also significant. Pearl has been kidnapped a few days ahead of General Musharraf's official visit to the United States. Extremist groups seeking worldwide attention in a ''spectacular'' manner (similar to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Indian Parliament) could again ignore the sanctity of human life. They could time causing harm to Pearl so that it coincides with General Musharraf's visit to Washington for maximum effect.

Pearl's kidnapping has nothing to do with Islam or any freedom struggle. He is one of thousands of journalists who have done nothing other than their duty of newsgathering in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Holding him hostage in an attempt to influence the foreign policy of his home country is impractical and criminal. The fact that his kidnapper remain untraced is cause for concern for all those who want Pakistan's law enforcement machinery to be more effective than the lawbreakers operating within its territory.

Years of neglect have rendered the Pakistani government incapable of dealing with organised crime, which has also tied itself to ideologically motivated religious extremists. Tolerance of extremist groups has allowed them to spread their tentacles throughout society. The mafia-militant alliance appears to command greater means than the country's police or intelligence services. At least some of the terrorists seem to have a considerable degree of sophistication, as exemplified by their use of anonymous electronic mails to convey their demands.

Pearl's kidnappers have also avoided using Islamic idiom in their communication with the international media, focusing instead on a Pakistani nationalist line. Their intention seems to be to embarrass the Musharraf regime, by painting it as a US client, without drawing themselves into controversy over the un-Islamic nature of their own act.

For the last two-and-a-half years, the Pakistani government has seen only sectarian terrorist groups as a threat to domestic stability. Pro-Taliban militants and groups operating in Jammu and Kashmir were not identified as terrorists until September 11. While some of these groups have been banned since then under orders of the United States, there are others that are probably still operating within the country clandestinely. In fact, some extremist groups are not even known to the Pakistan government.

The knowledge of the US government about terrorist organisations is by no means complete either. The fact that the US has lost trail of Osama bin Laden confirms the limitations of Washington's ability to fulfil its anti-terrorism objectives in a short time frame. If the world's sole superpower, with its massive resources, cannot track down all the terrorists it seeks, poor and under-developed Pakistan cannot be expected to be more efficient.

Pakistan has to develop the means to deal with the threat of terrorism in a hurry. Otherwise the nexus between organised criminal gangs and terrorist groups will weaken the Pakistani state, making it difficult for General Musharraf to seek international support for his policy initiatives aimed at rebuilding the country as a moderate Muslim state.

The national agenda announced by General Musharraf in his address to the nation on January 12 is in early stages of implementation. The terrorists' action, in the form of a journalist's kidnapping, is the first significant challenge to the military regime's post-Taliban agenda. One way of dealing with the challenges ahead would be to start acknowledging the existence of extremists other than sectarian groups on Pakistani soil. Pakistan's leadership needs to acknowledge that mistakes were made in the past when pursuit of ''strategic objectives'' allowed the formation of militias that are capable of acts such as Pearl's kidnapping. Criminal underworld figures were allowed to carry on their business so that their regional connections could be used for political advantage.

A break with these past mistakes would allow Pakistan to create the basis of cooperation with all countries - including the US and India - in working towards the elimination of the terrorist threat. It would also take away the cloak of respectability from groups and individuals who have used religion or politics to legitimise activities that by any definition are nothing other than terrorism.

(Husain Haqqani served as adviser to Prime Ministers Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto and as Pakistan's Ambassador to Sri Lanka)

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