Friday, May 2, 2008

Al-Qaeda remains threat to Pakistan

Al-Qaeda remains threat to Pakistan

Thursday, May 01, 2008

The News International

By Umar Cheema

NEW YORK: Al-Qaeda's continued public calls to overthrow President Pervez Musharraf has remained a 'threat to Pakistan', said the US State Department's Country Report on Terrorism 2007 that has also declared attacks on Benazir Bhutto as the 'deadliest' of the previous year.

The report released on Wednesday said despite having huge presence of approximately 80,000 to 100,000 troops in Fata, the government's authority in the area continued to be challenged. It said military operations though disrupted militant activities no senior al-Qaeda leader was either captured or killed in 2007.

According to the report, the government freed 28 militants in November last year in exchange for the release of 213 Pakistani soldiers held by militant commander Baitullah Mehsud. Out of the 28 released, three of them were convicted on terrorism charges. However, over 1,000 Pakistani military personnel have been killed since 2001 while carrying out counter-terrorist operations, the report said.

Pakistan arrested or detained several high-profile terrorist suspects, but faced significant challenges in prosecuting such cases, the report said. Giving examples of those militants freed in exchange of the release of military personnel, the report also mentioned Naeem Noor Khan, alleged al-Qaeda's computer expert, and said he was released without formally being charged, notwithstanding the government's claim that he was top al-Qaeda operative.

The report said although anti-money laundering ordinance has been adopted, its certain parts don't meet international norms and Financial Action Task Force Recommendations, nor it has even handed implementation.

"The trend and sophistication of suicide bombings grew in Pakistan this year. The December 27 assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, in a suicide bombing after a political rally in Rawalpindi, was the most prominent suicide attack. Between 2002 and 2006, the Department recorded approximately 22 suicide attacks in the country, whereas in 2007 there were over 45 such attacks," the report said.

A number of these attacks targeted well-protected government sites and made use of coordinated and complex operations, such as the November 24 and September 4 suicide attacks in Rawalpindi, the report said. On October 18, the deadliest suicide attack in Pakistan's history took place against Bhutto's homecoming procession in Karachi, killing over 130, and injuring hundreds more, it adds.

In separate suicide attacks in Peshawar and Charsadda, extremists targeted Federal Minister for Political Affairs Amir Muqam in November, and former Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao in December and April; neither were killed, although there were other casualties.

Earlier this year, extremists took over the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in Islamabad for a number of months until they were ousted in July during a military operation. Extremists have also gained footholds in the settled areas bordering Fata, including Swat, Tank, and DI Khan.

The report said al-Qaeda's continued public calls for the overthrow of President Musharraf remained a threat to Pakistan, despite government efforts to eliminate al-Qaeda elements.

Pakistan continued to pursue al-Qaeda and its allies through nationwide police action and military operations in Fata and elsewhere.

Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba and other groups continued planning of attacks. In 2007, Kashmir-focused groups continued to support attacks in Afghanistan, and operatives trained by the groups continued to feature in al-Qaeda trans-national attack planning.

Sectarian violence claimed hundreds of lives this year and increased since 2006, according to data from the Institute for Conflict Management, the report said.

In November, more than 100 people were killed in Sunni-Shia fighting in Parachinar. In April, approximately 80 people were killed in Kurrum (in the Fata), when sectarian fighting broke out after a religious procession was attacked.

In 2006, President Musharraf and governmental agencies developed the Fata Sustainable Development Program (SDP) to accelerate economic and social development and strengthen political administration and security in the region, the report said.

The government created a Fata Development Authority and filled all of its executive positions in Nov 2006. Pakistan allocated $120 million in its FY-2007 budget for Fata development programme, with the bulk going to education and infrastructure projects, it said.

Although, Pakistan continued to work with the UNSCR 1267 Committee to freeze assets of individuals and groups identified as terrorist entities linked to al-Qaeda and the Taliban, several UN-sanctioned entities continued to operate in Pakistan.

In September, the long-awaited anti-money-laundering (AML) ordinance was adopted by a presidential decree. Unfortunately, parts of the ordinance did not meet international norms and Financial Action Task Force (FATF) recommendations, particularly in areas of designated offence categories and the statutory definition of money laundering.

The AML ordinance formally established a Financial Management Unit (FMU) to independently suspicious transactions.

According to the report, The State Bank of Pakistan required all informal money changers (or hawaladars) to register as authorised foreign exchange dealers and meet minimum capital requirements, although the enforcement was uneven.

The regulation had limited success in consolidating the national foreign exchange regime, subjecting it to more stringent regulation and accounting standards.

Despite the government efforts, unlicensed hawaladars still operated illegally in parts of the country (particularly in Peshawar and Karachi).

The informal and secretive nature of the unlicensed hawaladars made it difficult for regulators to effectively combat their operations. Most illicit funds were transacted through these unlicensed operators, it further said.

The United States and Pakistan engaged in a broad range of counter-terrorism cooperative efforts including border security and criminal investigations, as well as several long-term training projects. Pakistan is the third largest recipient of the US military and economic assistance.

Reuters adds: Nearly seven years after the Sept 11 attacks, al-Qaeda remains the biggest terrorist threat to the United States and its allies, the US State Department said in an annual report on Wednesday.

The country-by-country survey of terrorism trends and incidents in 2007 said al-Qaeda had used tribal areas of Pakistan to reconstitute some operational capabilities, replace killed or captured fighters and rebuild its leadership.

Al-Qaeda "utilises terrorism, as well as subversion, propaganda, and open warfare; it seeks weapons of mass destruction in order to inflict the maximum possible damage on anyone who stands in its way, including other Muslims and/or elders, women and children," said the report.

The number of terrorism attacks worldwide fell slightly in 2007 to 14,499, from 14,570 in 2006. A total of 72,066 people were killed, injured or kidnapped in 2007, down from 75,211 in the previous year, data from the US National Counter-terrorism Centre showed.

In the two theatres of US-led wars, terrorism incidents in Iraq fell to 6,212 last year from 6,628 in 2006, but in Afghanistan they rose to 1,127 from 969 in the previous year, data showed.

The report said Afghanistan had made progress fighting extremists, but "the Taliban-led insurgency remained strong and resilient in the South and East" with an undiminished ability to recruit foot soldiers from rural ethnic Pashtuns.

The list of designated state sponsors of terrorism -- Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan and Syria -- remained unchanged, despite efforts to remove North Korea from the blacklist through slow-moving nuclear disarmament negotiations with Pyongyang.

The report said Sudan continued to take significant steps to cooperate in anti-terrorism, but Cuba, Iran and Syria had not renounced terrorism or worked to combat terror groups.

"Iran and Syria routinely provided safe haven, substantial resources, and guidance to terrorist organizations," said the 312-page report.

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