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War on Terrorism Stirs Anger of Pakistani Tribe

Asia: Those living near the Afghan border resent the U.S. for helping direct the hunt for Al Qaeda and Taliban holdouts.

October 04, 2002|PAUL WATSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

HASSANI, Pakistan — Hidden from the outside world, an escalating war against terrorism in the wild badlands of northwestern Pakistan is feeding a seething anger, and many here are talking of new scores to settle with the United States.

The hunt for suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters in the Pushtun tribal areas bordering Afghanistan has turned violent several times during the last few months. Recently, Pakistani police blew up five ethnic Pushtun villagers' homes as punishment for refusing to cooperate with the U.S.-declared war against terrorism.

Several thousand Pakistani soldiers and paramilitary police, said to be working with U.S. military advisors, are mounting search-and-destroy operations in rugged areas where Pushtun tribesmen bitterly resent outside interference.

Any mistakes made now risk creating a new generation of anti-American hatred in a region that has long been a breeding ground for terrorism against the West and India, Pakistan's neighbor.

"We welcomed the Pakistan army, but now, when people suspect American advisors are with them, feelings are turned against them," said Maulana Mir Kalam, 50, a Pushtun religious leader from the village of Datta Khel, on Pakistan's border with Afghanistan.

"We think that all of Pakistan is our home, and we cannot tolerate having American troops searching our homes and areas."

The Pakistani government says it has arrested 422 Al Qaeda members crossing from Afghanistan so far, but scores more are believed to have eluded capture. Former Taliban government ministers and other officials have been seen residing, and making speeches, in Pakistan's refugee camps. A militant underground is still thriving.

A former Taliban diplomat summoned four Pakistani journalists Sept. 27 to a secret location in Peshawar, the capital of North-West Frontier Province, and said he had recently met with Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar in Afghanistan.

Naseer Ahmed Roohi, who was first secretary at the Taliban's embassy in the United Arab Emirates, said he saw Omar in Afghanistan more than two weeks earlier to receive instructions from him. Roohi also claimed that 5,000 Taliban members and supporters were waging a guerrilla war against U.S. forces and their Afghan allies.

The Pushtuns here have resisted central authority, and outside intervention, for centuries, and many see the U.S. as the latest in a long line of foreign powers that have tried, and failed, to conquer them.

They live by a centuries-old code of honor called pushtunwali. It allows a Pushtun only one way to restore his honor and self-respect in the face of an insult or injury: He must exact revenge. And if death comes first, his surviving relatives are bound to seek vengeance for him.

The first U.S. soldier killed by enemy fire in Afghanistan, Sgt. 1st Class Nathan Ross Chapman, was shot in January by a 14-year-old boy as payback for the death of his father in a bombing raid, Pushtun elders in the eastern city of Khowst said at the time.

Just across the border in Pakistan's tribal areas, U.S. troops are providing what is officially called "technical assistance" to Pakistani forces. Both governments refuse to say how many U.S. soldiers, or civilian agents, are operating in northwestern Pakistan or what they are doing here.

A Pakistani intelligence official said several FBI agents work out of the U.S. Consulate in Peshawar and go into the tribal regions only on special missions.

But the common belief among Pushtuns is that Americans are directing Pakistani forces to attack their own countrymen. Right or wrong, that view is strengthening support for the Taliban and Al Qaeda in a region the U.S. military sees as a rear base for the radical Islamic fighters.

Islamic radicals in madrasas, or religious schools, are resisting Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's reform efforts, and some have become rallying points for extremists as they regroup. Angry rhetoric against the war on terrorism is escalating in the madrasas, including the one where American John Walker Lindh studied the Koran for six months before joining the Taliban in 2001.

"This is not a war, this is a cancer--for the entire world," said Mufti Mohammed Iltamas, 33, a staunch Taliban supporter who taught Lindh here in this village.

At least three U.S. soldiers in uniform are advising Pakistani forces from a base in a former vocational school compound in the town of Miran Shah, in the North Waziristan tribal region, according to local journalist Al-Haj Mohammed Paxir Gul, correspondent for Dawn, one of Pakistan's leading English-language dailies.

The U.S. soldiers decide where to look for suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters, and then Pakistani troops carry out the searches, or deal with any resistance, Gul said.

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