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Keeping Pakistan on Target

April 03, 2002

In predawn raids last week, a combined force of FBI agents and Pakistani police shot and took into custody one of Osama bin Laden's top aides. The arrest demonstrated the kind of teamwork that must continue in the hunt for Al Qaeda terrorists and their Taliban protectors. But recent developments raise the question of how much help Pakistan is willing to provide.

Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf supplied additional forces for the raids, which seized dozens of men, including Abu Zubeida, believed to have helped orchestrate the Sept. 11 massacre and earlier attacks. On Tuesday White House spokesman Ari Fleischer called Zubeida a "key terrorist recruiter and operational planner" for Al Qaeda.

Police on Tuesday reported another series of raids and arrests in what they said was a crackdown on Bin Laden's network in Pakistan. One unanswered question is why it took so long. Zubeida and some cohorts apparently fled from Afghanistan into Pakistan in December. Pakistani law enforcement has supposedly been on high alert since Musharraf said after the September terrorism that he was turning his back on Islamic extremists in his country and casting his lot with Washington. So why have so many Taliban and Al Qaeda members been able to play hide-and-seek for so long with Pakistani intelligence agencies?

Washington is also concerned that Musharraf recently freed hundreds of militants arrested since December, when he began outlawing extremist groups. Musharraf, who is attempting to hold and win a referendum to remain president, may be using this wholesale dumping as a tactic to gain support from religious groups. Whatever the reason, it undercuts the U.S. attempt to find Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters in Pakistan and stop them from regrouping and renewing terrorist attacks.

Islamic extremists do pose a real threat to Musharraf. They are probably to blame for the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in February, the killing of the brother of Musharraf's interior minister and the bombing of a Christian church last month that killed five people, including a U.S. Embassy employee and her daughter. Still, it's a blunder for Musharraf to go easy on extremists now. Rather, he needs to push even harder to clean out his enemies in the government's notorious Inter-Services Intelligence agency, many of whom have close ties to the Taliban.

At the same time, the United States must show its friendship to Musharraf, both by offering economic assistance to develop his desperately poor country and by bluntly reminding him that it's in his own best interests to search ever harder for the aspiring mass murders hiding in Pakistan.

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