December 2002 News

Pakistan border areas hostile to US, supportive of terror

12 December 2002
The Hindustan Times

Akram Khan Durrani is not a politician likely to loom large on the world stage. But in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province (NWFP), Durrani is a very large fish. And NWFP has, since 9/11, become a place of strategic interest. It is of concern, then, that when Durrani was sworn in as the new NWFP chief minister, he banned the sale of alcohol, put an end to all gambling and outlawed music in all public vehicles. For Durrani's supporters, it is a promising start to honouring their party's promises: a ban on cable television and cinemas, and the enforcement of sharia law. NWFP is a critical border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

What Durrani thinks and does is of keen interest not only in Islamabad but in Washington too. The religious parties came to power on the back of two factors: Pashtun anger at Pervez Musharraf's support for the war in Afghanistan, and Musharraf's desire to hold on to power while honouring a promise to hold elections. He excluded the secular Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif from the elections. Power was handed to men whose sympathies for Al Qaeda were never in doubt. Was it Musharraf's incompetence that facilitated the religious parties' success? Perhaps. Had a secular party won, he risked being marginalised. Now he is confirmed as the man the US needs more than ever.

Back in the NWFP, Munawwar Hasan, a Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal leader was saying, "Taliban and Al Qaeda members are our brothers," he said. "Whether it is Osama bin Laden or Mullah Omar, we will not hand over anybody to the US without any proof. Our government will rule according to the Quran and Sunnah and not with the whims of the US." Of the 442 Al Qaida suspects arrested by Pakistan since last year, 380 were detained in the northwest border region. The new Baluchistan chief minister, Jam Mir Mohammad Yousaf, has released Islamist radicals whom Musharraf detained earlier this year when he banned extremist groups. The FBI has formed its own force of retired army, paramilitary and police personnel to bypass Pakistan's new political powers. The war on terror, in northwest Pakistan at least, is going to be a long one.


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