TOM BEARDEN: Since June, Pakistani officials have arrested more than 20 al-Qaida terror suspects. Among those seized: Pakistani computer engineer Mohammad Naeem Noor Khan. E-mails and documents found on Khan's computers led the United States to issue a terror alert last week for a possible al-Qaida attack on financial institutions in New York, New Jersey and Washington, D.C.
Khan's information also led authorities to arrest a dozen terror suspects in Britain last Wednesday, including one believed to have been plotting an attack on Heathrow Airport. And another top al-Qaida suspect, Tanzanian Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, was arrested in eastern Pakistan. Ghailani is wanted by the U.S. government for his role in the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in East Africa.
Last month, when the 9/11 commission released its report, the commissioners said that the western part of Pakistan and along the Afghan border remained a top hideout for terrorists. The commissioners recommended that the U.S. pay closer attention to Pakistan. They said sustaining the current scale of aid to Pakistan, the United States should support Pakistan's government in its struggle against extremists with the comprehensive effort that extends from military aid to support for better education.
Over the past month, Pakistani security forces have stepped up their offensive along the border with Afghanistan to root out al-Qaida fighters and the local tribesmen sheltering them. The aggressive pursuit of terrorists has been spearheaded by Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf, the army general who seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999. Despite growing opposition in his country, two assassination attempts on his life last December, and a failed attempt to kill his prime minister designate two weeks ago, Musharraf has been a key U.S. ally since the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
PRESIDENT PERVEZ MUSHARRAF: We have cooperated closely in the global fight against terrorism, and we stand determined to rid the world of this menace. We abhor terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. There is no cause that can be justified or promoted through terrorist acts, and Pakistan is moving against terrorism in its own national interest.
TOM BEARDEN: During a visit to Pakistan in march, Secretary of State Colin Powell announced plans to make Pakistan a major non-NATO ally, making it eligible to buy more sophisticated U.S. weapons. That decision was made despite the Pakistani government's admission two months before that its top nuclear scientist had sold nuclear secrets to Iran, North Korea, and Libya. The U.S. government has long been urging the Pakistanis to do more. The U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzhad appeared on the NewsHour in November.
ZALMAY KHALIZHAD: Pakistan is a partner in the war against terrorism. It has been helpful in hunting down al-Qaida members in Pakistan. It can do even more on that, but with regard to the Taliban, Pakistani territory has been used as a sanctuary by the Taliban. I look forward to working with the Pakistanis, as others are in the U.S. government, that the use of Pakistani territory as a sanctuary by the Taliban must end.
TOM BEARDEN: Meanwhile, on the Afghanistan side of the Pakistani frontier, U.S. soldiers continue the search for fugitive al-Qaida leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri and Taliban leader Mullah Omar.
MARGARET WARNER: Is Pakistan cracking down on al-Qaida, providing a haven, or both? To explore that, we turn to Steve Coll, managing editor of the Washington Post, and author of "Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001." He's a former South Asia bureau chief for the Post. Husain Haqqani, a former advisor to three previous Pakistani prime ministers. He's now a syndicated columnist and a visiting fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. And Stephen Cohen, who dealt with South Asia on the State Department's policy planning staff in the Reagan administration; he is now a senior fellow at the Brookings institution. His latest book is called "The Idea of Pakistan." Welcome to you all.
Husain Haqqani, what do you think explains the recent rash of arrests of top al-Qaida figures in Pakistan?
HUSAIN HAQQANI: Pakistan needs to prove to the United States that it is an ally in the war against terrorism. There is a pattern to this. Pakistan joined war against terrorism as a matter of convenience, not as a matter of commitment.
Until 9/11, Pakistan was backing the Taliban regime and by extension, al-Qaida. Pakistan has waged a war against India in Kashmir with the help of Islamic militants, and there is no way of knowing when a militant, who is waging war in Kashmir or in Afghanistan as a Taliban fighter is actually somebody who is potentially an al-Qaida fighter or a supporter as well.
And there is a lot of people in Pakistan who feel sympathy for al-Qaida. So the government of Pakistan every now and then has to prove, because of all the support they get from the United States, Pakistan gets $84 million a month in payments for the costs Pakistan is incurring in the Operation Enduring Freedom. They get $1.7 billion from the financial institutions backed by the U.S. and they get $700 million per annum as bilateral assistance.
MARGARET WARNER: But the fact, Stephen Cohen, that there have been these arrests presupposes that there are a lot of senior al-Qaida figures in Pakistan. Several international newspapers were running stories this weekend saying things like al-Qaida using Pakistan as key staging post three years after 9/11. Is that still true?
STEPHEN COHEN: That is still true in that there are al-Qaida operations being run from Pakistan but I think more troublesome is the fact that al-Qaida as an organization has a close resonance to the Pakistani middle and upper classes. Not to say the Pakistani middle classes and upper classes are al-Qaida, but socially, culturally, politically, their ideology relays a lot of support for al-Qaida in Pakistan; that's primarily because of the breakdown of the Pakistani state over the past 20 years, not because Pakistanis are inherently radical.
And secondly, I'd add one point to what Husain Haqqani has said in that Pakistan is deeply concerned that the relationship with the U.S. will end once the al-Qaida problem goes away. Then they know we'll cut them off at the knees and there is an incentive in Pakistan both to satisfy our concern about rounding up al-Qaida but also to keep the relationship going.
MARGARET WARNER: Steve Coll, tell us a little more about these figures that were rounded up and I'm thinking of Khan; I'm thinking of Ghailani. Is there a strong connection here? How important are they as al-Qaida figures and what does it tell you that they were all in Pakistan?
STEVE COLL: Well, I think we are still wrestling with fragments on the outside. But from the fragments we can evaluate, there's a couple of interesting aspects of this network or this cell.
One is that it seems to be more closely connected with the old pre-9/11 al-Qaida leadership than many of the regional sort of franchised al-Qaida networks that we've seen since Sept. 11. We've got apparently a nephew of Mohammed in the group; you've got in Ghailani somebody who participated in the '98 attacks on U.S. embassies in Africa and attacks orchestrated directly by bin Laden and company in Afghanistan. So this is a group that seems pretty well connected to the old al-Qaida leadership.
It is intriguing for that reason perhaps it can provide some new avenues to hunt for that leadership. As to why they are in Pakistan, I think the two previous speakers have said it well. Pakistan is a very important locus for al-Qaida today. With the loss of sanctuary in Afghanistan, leaders from that era and new organizations and splinter groups have found shelter in Pakistan's cities and in the infrastructure of Islamic radicalism that the Pakistani army built up to prosecute its wars in Kashmir and to some extent in southern Afghanistan.
MARGARET WARNER: So, in other words, Husain Haqqani, for instance, the two top leaders that we've talked about, Khan and Ghailani, they were not captured along these lawless tribal areas along the Afghan border; they were captured in Lahore and a city nearby. Do you agree with Steve Coll that their presence is not only tolerated by many elements of the local population but by local authorities?
HUSAIN HAQQANI: Absolutely. For example, Ghailani who was an African was caught in a town called Gujarat. I have been to Gujarat, and I'm from Karachi, and I was seen as an outsider in that city by the way I spoke the local language there. This man obviously does not speak the local language, has a physiognomy that is totally different from that of the people that live there. It is like somebody showing up in Boise, Idaho and not being recognized as an outsider.
I think that the infrastructure of terror that Steve referred to is a very significant one. The Pakistani intelligence services and within the Pakistani military, there are definitely elements. It is easy for General Musharraf to say before 9/11 was a different matter and now because of bad economic and other interests through the United States it is a different matter but try to put yourself in the position of the average foot soldier who was told before 9/11 that this was a matter of religion, that this was a matter of faith, that he will go to heaven for supporting the Jihadis. Now he is being told to change that belief system. That change does not come that quickly.
MARGARET WARNER: So, Stephen Cohen, do you if you had to put it on a scale of one to 100 in terms of how aggressive the Musharraf government is going after both al-Qaida leaders like this who are living in the city and this operation, military operation they have on the border, where would you put them on that continuum?
STEPHEN COHEN: I don't think anybody really knows, even the Pakistanis themselves may not know how effective they could be. Most of the intelligence that they've used has been picked up originally by American sources and passed on to the Pakistanis. We know that. The Pakistanis have pursued this sometimes vigorously, sometimes not vigorously but they've often simply released the people that we've identified or they've identified and with them, you know, back out on the streets again. So I think I'd give them on a scale of one to a hundred, maybe a seventy if that.
MARGARET WARNER: Steve Coll, does it appear to be more intense now and if so why?
STEVE COLL: I think somewhat more intense and if so because Musharraf himself has been the subject of these assassination attempts, which appear, based on the evidence available, to the outside, appear that they're orchestrated in part with cooperation from people in his own security apparatus. The assassination attempts seem to have gotten his attention and he has seemed to be more aggressive since they occurred in attacking the domestic networks that he had previously left in abeyance.
The Pakistan army is in a really complicated position here. They have to manage their relationship with the United States, they have got to manage their position in domestic politics, and they think they also have to preserve their options regionally, which means not tearing down the radical networks that it used to challenge India and to prosecute their politics in Afghanistan. So I think Musharraf sees himself as doing this in a sort of fine tuning way but the trouble is that when it comes to Jihadist violence, it is very difficult to manage it in such a finely tuned way.
MARGARET WARNER: And, Steve Coll, staying with you for a minute, as I'm sure you're aware, there have been publications, I'm thinking of the New Republic, the Economist I think this week have quoted unnamed sources as saying there is special pressure coming from the Bush administration in advance of the November election to have some high profile arrests, to announce these arrests. Have you all at the Post looked into this? Do you have any evidence that this is the case? Or is this the sort of normal election year conspiracy theories about October surprises that we've certainly seen before?
STEVE COLL: We don't have any independent confirmation of those particular reports, but nor do we have any special reason to doubt them. I mean, in some sense, it's obvious that both elites are aware political calendar in the United States and the significance of terrorism in the current election campaign. And certainly the Pakistan army is aware of the American calendar and its role as a partner with the Bush administration in the hunt for al-Qaida leaders.
I do think speculating a bit that the army on the whole is satisfied with the status quo, particularly in its relationship with the United States, though it has some of the anxieties that Steve Cohen referred to earlier. And so on the whole, while also managing their other interests, domestic politics and regional interests, I think that they would look to try to cooperate this summer as best they can.
MARGARET WARNER: Husain Haqqani, you said earlier when we started that you felt, this kind of goes in cycles, that every once in awhile the Pakistani government wants to persuade the U.S. government that they're doing everything they can. Do you think that is all we are seeing right now or do you think there are other elements, either the fact of the assassination attempts, Musharraf and/or political calculations?
HUSAIN HAQQANI: The last assassination attempts on General Musharraf were in December. So why should it happen seven months later? It hasn't been a consistent pattern. The pattern we do see is that whenever there is another reason for the world to start worrying about Pakistan, for example, the nuclear issue -- Pakistan was selling weapons technology to North Korea, Iran and Libya -- or at least some Pakistanis were calling for the government-- you don't want that to be the main story. The easiest way to wag the dog then is to find somebody that you can present to the world.
Now I'm not saying it is being done cynically or deliberately with that purpose that is definitely one of the purposes. Two of the gentlemen, Pakistani gentlemen who today's report say they have been arrested have been arrested three times before and released, so there is obviously of course al-Qaida hard core Arab al-Qaida elements that are responsible for previous attacks, pre-9/11 attacks and who have been identified by the Americans, the Pakistanis cannot bluff in their cases. But I think there is an element of politics and I think we should come to terms with it.
MARGARET WARNER: Stephen Cohen, how big a price domestically does Musharraf play when he does crackdown?
STEPHEN COHEN: He doesn't pay a great price. He's got to do it because I think the elites of Pakistan understand he has got to play ball with the United States; otherwise we'll simply drop them and turn to someplace, somebody else which I think would be a bad mistake. I think he has no alternative except to go forward with this, but they are very concerned that we will leave them, we'll leave them in the lurch and abandon Pakistan. And I think we do have a long-term interest in Pakistan, a short-term interest in rounding up al-Qaida but a long-term interest in preventing Pakistan from becoming another Iran or radical state with nuclear weapons.
MARGARET WARNER: Briefly, do you see evidence that the United States is doing what the 9/11 commission report suggested, which is thinking long range and doing things --
STEPHEN COHEN: I see no evidence of that whatsoever. The size of the aid program in terms of the education and related issues is very small compared to what the need is.
MARGARET WARNER: Steve Coll, same final question to you: Do you see evidence that the U.S. government, the current administration, is addressing long-range issues that help make Pakistan a hotbed still for Islamic extremism?
STEVE COLL: They've invested virtually all of their partnership with the government of Pakistan in a partnership with the army, focused on counterterrorism operations and to a lesser extent, on nuclear proliferation and some effort to try to get things under control in Afghanistan. The agenda that Steve refers to, social development, economic development, yes there are some elements of the aid package that addressed those issues, but on trade and other priorities that the Pakistan government has the Bush administration has been less attentive and less focused on those questions.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Steve Coll, Stephen Cohen and Husain Haqqani, thank you all three.