Stop Bombing Us: Osama Isn’t Here, Says Pakistan

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by
The Times/UK

Stop Bombing Us: Osama Isn’t Here, Says Pakistan

by
Christina Lamb in Karachi

(The Times)

Osama bin Laden and the top Al-Qaeda leadership are not in Pakistan, making US
missile attacks against them futile, according to the country's interior
minister.

"If Osama was in Pakistan we would know, with all the thousands of troops we
have sent into the tribal areas in recent months," Rehman Malik told The
Sunday Times. "If he and all these four or five top people were in our area
they would have been caught, the way we are searching."

He added: "According to our information Osama is in Afghanistan, probably
Kunar, as most of the activities against Pakistan are being directed from
Kunar."

Washington does not directly acknowledge its missile attacks on Pakistani
territory by unmanned drone aircraft but Pakistani officials say the US has
carried out more than 40 attacks inside its borders in the past 10 months,
killing hundreds of people.

CIA officials claim these attacks have been highly effective in disrupting
Al-Qaeda's ability to operate. However, Malik insists they are a waste of
time because the Al-Qaeda leadership is on the other side of the border in
eastern Afghanistan.

"They're getting mid-level people not big fish," he said. "And they are
counterproductive because they are killing civilians and turning locals
against our government. We try to win people's hearts, then one drone attack
drives them away. One attack alone last week killed 50 people."

US officials in Islamabad say Pakistan's government is being disingenuous,
claiming to oppose the drone attacks to win domestic support, while being
quite happy to benefit from them.

On Friday two missiles fired from a drone destroyed a communications centre in
South Waziristan that belonged to Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the
Pakistani Taliban responsible for a recent string of suicide attacks in
Pakistan.

Pakistan's military admits it has been helped by intelligence from US
surveillance flights over the tribal areas as well as the mountain region of
Swat, where thousands of troops have been battling against another Taliban
group which had taken over the area, forcing more than 2m people to flee.

Yesterday, the government told the refugees that it had cleared Taliban forces
from most of Swat and they should return home.

Most refugees are reluctant, worried about continued hostilities and lack of
food after fighting disrupted the harvest. Abdullah Yusufzai, a medical
student who returned to the main city of Mingo-ra, said: "There is a real
shortage of food and fighting is ongoing in the hills and the army is still
blowing up houses of suspected militants."

The army has not yet caught the leaders of the Swat Taliban though the
interior minister claims that the main leader, Maulana Fazlullah, has been
hit twice and is badly wounded. "I'm quite confident we'll get them," he
said.

"Not only have we killed most of them but we've also destroyed their hideouts
and arms depots," he added. "We discovered long, wide tunnels they were
using for weapons."

According to Malik, the families of the militant leaders had been discovered
hiding in the refugee camps. Fazlullah's family was found in a camp in
Haripur and taken into custody.

Troops will remain in Swat to prevent the Taliban from returning but the
army's main focus is switching to the tribal areas of Waziristan, home to
one of the area's fiercest tribes. South Waziristan is the headquarters of
Mehsud, and the north is also a base of Jalaluddin Haqqani, an Afghan
warlord with close links to Al-Qaeda believed to be responsible for the
capture of an American soldier last week.

"Wherever these militants are, we'll get them out," said Malik. "The decision
of the government is very firm - no mercy, no negotiation. They must
surrender or die."

For all Washington's talk of an "AfPak strategy", he said, Pakistan's efforts
to take on the Taliban their side of the border are being hampered by the
failure of American and British troops in Afghanistan to monitor their side.

"Two years ago we were being criticised by the West for our ISI
[Inter-Services Intelligence agency] helping the Taliban cross into
Afghanistan," he said. "We have stopped the border crossing. Now we're
finding the same situation - they're coming from the other side, bringing
arms and fighters from Helmand into Baluchistan and into Waziristan. Should
we say it's Afghan or western intelligence helping them?"

He argued that Nato troops in Afghanistan should have first sealed the border
before stepping up the fighting. "If we can't seal it totally we should seal
it as much as possible," he said. "If we can't have a wall, at least let's
put up barbed wire."

"They should replicate what we've done," he added. "We have 1,000 checkpoints
on our side - they have only 100, of which only 60 are working. It makes no
sense to both be fighting either side of the border without stopping the
militants crossing."

Karachi target

Political leaders have warned that Baitullah Mehsud, Pakistan's Taliban
commander, is exploiting the political and refugee crisis to destabilise
Karachi, the largest city in the country, writes Nicola Smith.

Thousands of Pashtun refugees loyal to Mehsud have fled to Karachi in the past
few months to escape fighting in the northwest. More are expected to arrive
from South Waziristan, on the border with Afghanistan.

This has led to fears that Pakistan's commercial capital, home to the banking
industry and stock exchange, is becoming "Talibanised".

Syed Mustafa Kamal, mayor of Karachi, warned that Taliban insurgents are using
their refugee status to establish strongholds.

Explaining that remittances were funding Taliban fighters, he said: "Karachi
has become the revenue engine for the Taliban. If our enemies hit Karachi,
then Pakistan's stability will be in question. Karachi is the fuel for
Pakistan's economy."

The mayor claimed the city had 3,000 madrasahs (religious schools), which were
closed to local students, and that the Taliban had begun to threaten women
in short sleeves. Police said militants planned a terrorist strike.

 

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