The Magazine

Al Qaeda's Pakistan Sanctuary

Musharraf appeases the Taliban.

Apr 2, 2007, Vol. 12, No. 28 • By BILL ROGGIO
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And in the last six months, the Taliban has conducted a concerted roadside and suicide bombing campaign in the settled regions of Pakistan. Suicide bombings have occurred in Islamabad, Peshawar, Quetta, Mir Ali, Dera Ismail Khan, and Dera Adamkhel. Pakistani security forces were attacked by the Taliban with roadside bombs and ambushes in Tank, Dera Ismail Khan, Bajaur, and North and South Waziristan. A Pakistani military base in Dargai was hit by a suicide attack, which killed over 45 recruits exercising outside the base. Faqir Muhammad was responsible.

Throughout the North-West Frontier Province, schools, nongovernmental organizations, foreign banks, barber shops, and music and video stores have received notices ordering them to shut down or face attacks--a standard Taliban modus operandi. Some shut down, others were destroyed by bombs.

All the while, the Taliban is working to consolidate its power by removing anyone who remotely opposes its radical agenda. Tribesmen are routinely found murdered, often with their throats cut, stabbed multiple times, or beheaded. They always have a note pinned to their body identifying them as a "U.S. spy." More than 250 "spies" have been murdered in the past year. The network of pro-Western tribal leaders in the region has essentially been dismantled, according to an American military intelligence official.

The mastermind of this terror and bombing campaign is Baitullah Mehsud, the most powerful Taliban leader in South Waziristan. He is estimated to have an army of over 30,000 trained fighters. The Pakistani government negotiated yet another of its "peace" deals with Baitullah back in 2005, in which he agreed to cease attacking Pakistani security forces and sheltering "foreign fighters." Baitullah never lived up to the agreement.

In January, one of Baitullah's training camps in the small town of Zamazola was hit by an airstrike, purportedly by Pakistani security forces. It is widely accepted, however, that U.S. Special Operations Forces conducted the attack. Baitullah then embarked on the recent suicide campaign, killing scores nationwide. "They launch airstrikes on us and we respond with suicide attacks," Baitullah told a crowd after the strike on Zamazola. He also promised to continue the fight in Afghanistan, saying, "The holy warriors will give a tougher fight this year than last year." Pakistani police traced the string of suicide strikes directly to Baitullah--yet the Pakistani government sent negotiators to meet with him, and they accepted his protestations of innocence. Baitullah is untouchable.

To illustrate just how badly the Waziristan Accord has failed, last week a powerful Taliban commander fought with an al Qaeda-linked Uzbek group in South Waziristan. More than 160 Uzbeks and Taliban are reported killed. The Pakistani government was quick to represent this fight as proof that the accord was working: In the government's version of events, pro-government tribes had battled foreign jihadists to enforce the agreement. But nothing could be further from the truth. The fighting began after Uzbeks killed an Arab al Qaeda fighter supported by the Taliban. To settle the conflict, the Taliban sent in senior commanders, including Baitullah Mehsud and Mullah Dadullah Akhund, military leader of the Afghan Taliban, to negotiate a truce between the factions.

Now, the Taliban and al Qaeda openly rule in the tribal lands. Terror training camps are up and running, secure from harassment by Pakistani security forces. Al Qaeda leaders are thought to be sheltered in the region, as Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, confirmed in February.

The Bajaur agreement signals once again that the Pakistani government is unwilling to police its own borders, and is prepared to hand over even more territory to the Taliban and al Qaeda. Behind the agreement is the hidden hand of General Hamid Gul, the former chief of Pakistan's shadowy intelligence service, the ISI.

Gul, an Islamist, is credited with laying the groundwork for the establishment of the Taliban and is said to be friends with Mullah Omar. The 9/11 Commission believed he had warned Osama bin Laden prior to the 1998 missile strike launched by President Clinton, allowing bin Laden to escape. Last year, Gul sought an injunction from the Pakistani supreme court to prevent Pakistani military action in Bajaur. President Musharraf's dismissal of the chief justice on March 9 is rumored to be related to this case.