Irresistible lure of Pakistan as nursery of global jihad

When Faisal Shahzad was arrested over the New York car bomb attempt, he joined a growing list of Western terror suspects inspired, trained or sponsored by extremists in Pakistan.

Peshawar: When Faisal Shahzad was arrested
over the New York car bomb attempt, he joined a growing list
of Western terror suspects inspired, trained or sponsored by
extremists in Pakistan.

The son of an affluent air force commander, Shahzad was
brought up in Pakistan but educated in the United States,
where he got a job, settled his young family into suburbia and
acquired citizenship.

But the American dream appeared to go badly wrong.
Returning from a visit to Pakistan, he told US immigration
officials he went to see his parents.

After his arrest on last Monday over the attempt to set
off a car bomb in Times Square, he allegedly confessed to
being trained in Pakistan to make bombs.

Pakistan is yet to confirm a link between Shahzad and a
specific militant faction, but investigators are poring over
who exactly he visited and where he went during a months-long
stay in his homeland.

While the details are opaque, radicalised youth have long
felt an irresistible pull to Pakistan as a nursery of modern
jihad. The country`s orderlands with Afghanistan have been
branded the headquarters of al Qaeda.

Osama bin Laden`s ideology of global jihad against the
United States and its allies, rooted in the mountains of the
Afghan-Pakistani border, has inspired myriad offshoot groups
and galvanised alienated youth.

"Jihadi elements are coming here from all over the world
because they can cross the border and can enter Afghanistan,"
Malik Naveed Khan, police chief of Pakistan`s Khyber
Pakhtunkhwa northwestern province, said to a news agency.

"The mountains along the Afghan border are best shelter
for them."

Accidents of history and geography have made the 27,200
square kilometres of Pakistan`s tribal belt, which lies beyond
any government control, a hotbed of Pakistani, Afghan and
foreign militants.

Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United States sowed the
seeds by sponsoring Afghans to fight against the Soviets in
the 1980s. The war put huge pressure on the Soviet Union but
spawned jihadist groups and al Qaeda.

"Pakistan allowed every Tom, Dick and Harry from all over
the world to settle down in Peshawar, in the tribal areas,"
said Imtiaz Gul, whose book on the tribal belt, "The Most
Dangerous Place", is to be published next month.

"They found a place where nobody questioned what they
were doing and this continued all through these three
decades," he added.

The 1980s ushered in a major state-sponsored Islamisation
of Pakistani society. The military and intelligence agencies
supported hardline groups as an instrument of domestic and
foreign policy towards Afghanistan and Kashmir.

After the September 11, 2001 attacks, the US-led invasion
of Afghanistan pushed the Taliban and al Qaeda into the tribal
belt, where mountains, thick forest and lawlessness provided
the perfect haven.

Although much of the radical Islamic backlash against US
policies is rooted in the Middle East, analysts say Pakistan,
with its free media and political system, is a more fertile
breeding ground than Arab police states.

"It is a country where you can find the purpose of your
life.... The message, unfortunately, going out is that you can
come and survive and thrive here," said Gul, who heads the
Centre for Research and Security Studies think tank.

Five Americans are currently on trial in Pakistan for
allegedly plotting to carry out a terrorist attack.

David Headley, the American son of a former Pakistani
diplomat, has pleaded guilty before a court in the United
States to surveying targets for the Pakistani militant group
Lashkar-e-Taiba ahead of the 2008 attacks in Mumbai.

Britain says the majority of its terror plots originate
in Pakistan.

The mastermind of the 2005 bombings in London, and two of
the four Britons who blew themselves up on the city`s
transport system, visited Pakistan.

Sophisticated transport links make it easy to travel to
Karachi, Lahore or Peshawar, where young people can meet
political leaders or clerics who can put them in touch with

A police investigator in Karachi, where Shahzad is
believed to have spent time, said there were "many" madrassas
and mosques in the city where educated people were being
indoctrinated and manipulated.

"In Karachi, in Lahore, in Peshawar, you have Islamic
clergy that preaches radicalism. So it is easy access that
makes Pakistan an attractive place," said security and
political analyst Hasan Askari.

"Out of those youths, only a very small number, maybe one
or two per cent would adopt violence," said Askari.


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