The U.S. confronts Pakistan on the Taliban and al Qaeda camps
The Pakistani government can no longer hide the the Taliban and al Qaeda safe havens in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas along the border with Afghanistan. After a year of praising Pakistan as a partner in the war against al Qaeda and the Taliban, the Bush Administration has recognized the western and southern regions of Pakistan have become a base of operations for the terrorist groups.
The administration kicked off the pressure campaign with a series of leaks published in the New York Times, which was published on February 26. Unnamed administration sources “[Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf] made a number of assurances over the past few months, but the bottom line is that what they are doing now is not working,” said one official. “The message we’re sending to him now is that the only thing that matters is results.” The threat of cutting over $785 million in aid, including $300 million in military aid, was made.
Next, Vice President Dick Cheney and CIA Director Stephen R. Kappes flew to Pakistan and, according to ABC News’ The Blotter presented direct evidence of Taliban and al Qaeda camps inside Pakistan. Cheney and Kappes are also said to have demanded Ayman al-Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s second in command, and Mullah Dadullah, the Taliban’s military commander, be handed over. “The Americans claim that both Zawahiri, and Dadullah keep shuttling between Pakistan and Afghanistan and have masterminded a major offensive against the allied forces starting in spring,” The Nation reports. “Sources claimed Pakistan has also been told that the US-NATO forces do not like to take any action by themselves inside Pakistani territory but if the movement of ‘people’ did not stop, there would be no other option left.”
The Administration leak and Cheney/Kappes visit to Pakistan were followed by the testimony of Mike McConnell, the Director of National Intelligence , before the Senate Armed Services Committee. “To the best of our knowledge that the senior leadership, No. 1 and No. 2, are there, and they are attempting to re-establish and rebuild and to establish training camps” in the tribal areas, said McConnell. It is rumored the CIA may have photos of Osama bin Laden or Zawahiri inside Pakistan, and presented these to Musharraf.
Pakistan, for its part, denies the presence of al Qaeda camps or that bin Laden or Zawahiri were inside Pakistan.
But statements from the Pakistani government on this subject cannot be trusted. The Pakistani government has targeted al Qaeda camps in Bajaur and North and South Waziristan. Over the past year, four camps: Zamazola, Chingai, Danda Saidgai, and Damadola have been hit by U.S. and Pakistani air strikes. Government spokesmen, minister and even President Musharraf have repeatedly changed their tune on the issue of the presence of Taliban and al Qaeda inside their borders.
The Musharraf government now has a difficult choice: take meaningful action against the Taliban and al Qaeda and risk losing the support of the military and decending into a full scale civil war , or conducting business as usual and risk losing U.S. political and financial support.