Pakistanis Welcome
al-Qaeda And Taliban
Arnaud de Borchgrave
United Press International

OGHAZ PASS, Pakistan (UPI) - Pakistan's tribal areas are free passage zones for Taliban and al-Qaeda's foreign legionnaires escaping from Afghanistan, a UPI team has verified in a weeklong investigation along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
The Pakistan army has announced that two brigades, each made up of three battalions of 850 men each, or a total of 5,100, have been deployed along a 30-mile stretch of jagged, zigzag mountainous and totally porous border and have now "sealed the frontier tight." Helicopter gunships, military authorities have assured the United States, are surveilling mountain passes against infiltration.
Presidential spokesman Gen. Rashid Qureshi went so far as to publicly deny that any al-Qaeda fighter had made it across the border into Pakistan.
Junior officers - all officers and most non-coms speak English - speculate that such assurances are given to make "the Americans feel good." Border tribal zone populations have long been pro-Taliban and pro-al-Qaeda as countless painted slogans and posters of Osama bin Laden are visible in towns and villages throughout the three key tribal "agencies" Kurram, Orazkai and Kohat.
Tribal elders, over post-fast Iftar dinner, told this reporter, accompanied by a Pakistani friend and a multilingual guide, that while the army had established interlocking fields of fire at four key mountain passes, it could not possibly check dozens of other routes invisible from the air. A Pakistani captain, who asked that his name not be used, shared the same assessment.
As the UPI team walked over a three-mile strip of foothills on the Pakistan side of the Spin Ghar range, one crest over from Tora Bora mountain, two helicopters flew overhead at about 3,000 feet in poor visibility and could not have seen anyone on the ground. During the 2 -hour walk, several dozen tribesmen were seen coming from the direction of Afghanistan.
Scanning snow-capped Spin Ghar with binoculars revealed a wide range of ravines, crevasses, valleys and dry river beds, so many potential exfiltration routes for bin Laden's Arab fighters. Dressed in khameez shalwar and pie-shaped hats, the UPI party did not attract attention as it moved in local buses through border towns and villages. Bin Laden's picture, inscribed "Father of the Revolution," covered half the rear window of one bus that passed through army and frontier constabulary checkpoints without so much as an ID check of the passengers.
'Taliban Always Welcome'
Scores of pickup trucks loaded to the gunwales with civilians similarly drove through unchallenged. Rubber-wheeled donkey carts with three or four passengers also were part of the traffic pattern. UPI was stopped once and when the U.S. passport was produced, the civilian security official made clear Americans were "not welcome." When asked whether that went for Taliban, too, he answered, "Taliban always welcome."
From Kohat, army headquarters for some of the tribal areas, to Parachinar, on the western edge of the frontier under surveillance, rock formations along the road had been daubed with slogans glorifying terrorist organizations and vilifying President Pervez Musharraf as an "American agent." Towns such as Dera Adam Khel, Hangu, Doaba and Thall, headquarters for one of the army brigades deployed along the frontier, are identical to towns across the border in Afghanistan.
The men look the same because they are the same. The few women spotted - fewer than six in Thall, a town of 250,000 - wore head-to-foot burkas. The men were doing the shopping for the four-day Eid holiday that starts Sunday and marks the end of Ramadan.
'For Commando Training, Contact Sharish'
Bin Laden's poster picture was pinned to shutters and windows. Open-air markets also displayed it on the side of stalls. Sipah-e-Sahaba, or Army of the Friends of the Prophet, and Shaish-e-Mohammed, are among the most extreme religious organizations in Pakistan. They are particularly strong in the tribal belt and in Punjab, the country's largest province. One rock-face advertisement said, "For Commando Training, Contact Shaish-e-Mohammed." Another one proclaimed, "Shaish-e-Mohammed and Al-Qaeda are Bubbling Blood Brothers."
"Kill America" was painted on the outer wall of the "Handyside" army fort (named after a prominent colonial during the British Raj) before the narrow road twists and turns alongside an ochre-colored, shrub-pocked limestone mountain one side and a 3,000-foot precipice on the other. Five-ton 10-wheelers manage to squeeze by in both directions, many adorned with bin Laden's face.
Shopkeepers and a cot-and-breakfast employee told our interpreter, an English-speaking native of the North Waziristan Tribal Agency, that al-Qaeda has "an extensive network in the region." They did not believe that bin Laden would be turned over if he resurfaced in Kurram tribal turf.
Resident "Political Agents," the eyes and ears of federal authorities, have made monetary deals - U.S. covert funds greased the relays - with four major tribal chiefs. If bin Laden shows, they agreed to lure him into a false sense of hospitality and total security. But these deals, according to local "fundos" (Pakistani jargon for fundamentalist extremists), did not include them and they proudly say they would give sanctuary to bin Laden or any of his "freedom fighters." The pro-Taliban, pro-al-Qaeda feelings of Afridi and Orakzai tribesmen are openly expressed in random conversations.
'They Won,t Serve America's Cause'
One pharmacist who simply gave his name as Amir explained that the mullahs and bin Laden had the same agenda. "Even if you pay them, they won't serve America's cause. At the end of the day, the tribal chiefs will go with the mullahs."
The madrassa (religious schools) network, according to local interlocutors over Iftar dinners with the UPI team, could easily hide bin Laden and his top lieutenants indefinitely or until they could organize his clandestine passage by truck to Karachi, 1,000 miles south, where he could set sail for another part of the world.
'There Will Be Many More Bin Ladens'
This religious network works closely with the Inter-Services Intelligence agency, an organization long known for its pro-Taliban culture. Majority opinion among those UPI talked to is that bin Laden would rather die in the current battle for Tora Bora and Spin Ghar than quietly slip away to fight another day. "There will be many more bin Ladens," said one old man. Others around the table nodded agreement.
The tribal belt is also Massoud Azher territory, an Indian-born terrorist who was exiled and remerged in this part of Pakistan where perpetrators of major crimes in government-run Pakistan find safe haven.
Fazul Reman, a major religious extremist firebrand, under house arrest, also enjoys an abundance of laudatory posters. Mullah Rehman used his mobile phone this week to try to negotiate the return of several thousand Pakistani "volunteers" who crossed the border in the closing weeks of the Northern Alliance's campaign against Taliban. Some 500 Pakistani prisoners have been returned. About 8,000 are still missing. They are a source of embarrassment to Musharraf and his new alliance with the United States.
Indian accusations that Kashmiri terrorists were responsible for this week's attack on the Indian parliament will lend weight to U.S. pressure to close down Pakistan's fedayeen, or "freedom fighters," operations against India in Kashmir. These are would-be suicide bombers who were trained in bin Laden's training camps in Afghanistan.
Copyright 2001 United Press International.
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