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Our safety is in the hands of Pakistan

Our safety is in the hands of Pakistan

Author: Con Coughlin
Publication: The Telegraph
Date: July 17, 2005
URL: http://www.opinion.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/main.jhtml?xml=/opinion/2005/07/17/do1701.xml&sSheet=/opinion/2005/07/17/ixopinion.html

Irrespective of whether you are dealing with the disaffected youth of Leeds or a brainwashed Jihadi at a madrassa on the North West Frontier, the inescapable conclusion is that Pakistan forms the epicentre of Osama bin Laden's unremitting campaign of terror against the West.

This unpalatable, yet irrefutable, truth will no doubt come as a shock to Tony Blair and the other coalition leaders who have placed such faith in President Pervez Musharraf's ability to rein in al-Qaeda's murderous activities. It was, after all, Mr Blair who helped to persuade the Pakistani general to decide whose side he was on after President George W Bush issued his "you are either with us, or you are with the terrorists" dictum in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

When Mr Blair flew to Islamabad in October 2001 he was under no illusions about the role that Pakistan's infamous ISI intelligence service had played in creating the Taliban, and had been briefed by Britain's Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) chiefs about the activities of A Q Khan, the "father" of the Pakistani bomb, in clandestinely proliferating nuclear technology to such unsavoury regimes as Libya and Iran.

Even so the dictates of realpolitik required Messrs Blair and Bush to get the Pakistanis on side so that they could focus their energies on tackling the more pressing issue of overthrowing the Taliban in Afghanistan and destroying bin Laden's terror infrastructure.

In return for helping to round up al-Qaeda operatives and generally assisting with the coalition's war effort, General Musharraf was promised, and has received, hundreds of millions of dollars in US aid. Four years on, it is looking increasingly as though Mr Blair, in particular, has got the raw end of the bargain.

Let us gloss over the complicity of renegade sections of Pakistan's ISI in facilitating the escape of bin Laden and Mullah Omar, the Taliban's spiritual leader, at the end of the Afghan war, and ignore the fact that we still do not know the full extent of A Q Khan's nuclear criminality (because Musharraf insists on preserving his national hero status). It is now clear that the West's courtship of General Musharraf is in deep trouble.

Last week's revelation that two of the London bombers had spent time in Pakistan is depressingly familiar. Virtually every British subject known to be involved with al-Qaeda, from Richard Reid, the shoe-bomber, to the two British suicide bombers responsible for blowing up a Tel Aviv bar in May 2003, had visited Pakistan in the months leading up to their terror attacks. And in each case it appears that individuals who, in the main, left these shores nurturing nothing more sinister than a youthful sense of ennui returned with a burning desire to commit murder and create mayhem.

As the shocked relatives of the 22-year-old bomber Shehzad Tanweer explained last week, the young athletics enthusiast underwent a radical transformation after he spent a few months last year in Pakistan studying the Koran and Arabic. Tanweer, it now transpires, had spent his time studying at a madrassa, a religious establishment where the students are required to devote their entire energy to studying the Koran.

There are thought to be an estimated 20,000 such places in the country - the Pakistani authorities are unable to provide an accurate number. Many provide an important and valuable education for the children of poor families who would otherwise have no schooling.

But a significant number have a far more sinister agenda: inculcating the cult of martyrdom and sacrifice into their pupils in the hope that the blood of these naive young Muslims will one day enable the Islamic creed to conquer the entire world.

Even more alarming for our security forces is the fact that hundreds, if not thousands, of the young British Muslim men and women who are sent to study at Pakistan's madrassas return to these shores filled with the conviction that it is their Islamic duty to sacrifice their lives as suicide bombers.

As one senior British security official commented last week, sending a British Muslim to a Pakistani madrassa "is the equivalent of sending them to a bin Laden boot camp".

Both Washington and London have in the past urged President Musharraf to curtail the Islamic brainwashing taking place in the madrassas, but Pakistan's response has been at best half-hearted, mainly because the country's military and intelligence community fully support the Islamic agenda that the madrassas represent.

All this must now change if Pakistan wants to remain a key coalition ally in the war on terror. Many of the intelligence failings that enabled the London bomb attacks to take place were caused by the inability of the security forces to track the activities of British nationals visiting Pakistan.

Lulled into a false sense of security by Pakistani assurances that they had the extremists under control, British intelligence seems to have missed the fact that a new, better organised al-Qaeda network has developed since bin Laden's eviction from Afghanistan.

One of the more remarkable aspects of the London bombers was that, even though they had been radicalised to the point where they were prepared to carry out suicide bomb attacks, they took great care not to give any indication to their friends or family of their fanatical outlook. As one of Tanweer's relatives lamented last week, "there was nothing in his behaviour to show us that anything had changed".

This is just one of the many new tactics al-Qaeda has developed as it seeks to maintain its campaign of terror. And despite the fact that many operational aspects of the cell that carried out the London bombings were home grown - the DIY explosive, for example - British intelligence remains convinced they received guidance from al-Qaeda veterans.

"The degree of sophistication demonstrated by the London bombers is not something you pick up off the internet," says a senior British intelligence officer. "The timing of the attack, the coordination of the bombings; this all indicates they had outside help."

Not surprisingly, much of the British effort to prevent further attacks will now focus on Pakistan and the ability of al-Qaeda to recruit naive British Muslims to their cause. And if we are to have any chance of success, then President Musharraf must decide whether he is really with us in the war against Islamic fanaticism.
 


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