Islamabad: Uzbek militants have been using the high-security airport of the Pakistani capital as a transit point to reach the Taliban stronghold of Waziristan region, considered a safe haven for al Qaeda leadership, where at least 5,000 Uzbek fighters are believed to be present.
Habibullah Khan Khattak, additional chief secretary of the tribal areas, told a parliamentary standing committee yesterday that the strength of Uzbek fighters in North and South Waziristan tribal agencies is "not less than 5,000".
He said their movements were not restricted to the tribal belt as they also travelled to Balochistan province.
Muhammad Ibrahim Khan, a member of the Senate or Upper House of Parliament from the Jamaat-e-Islami, told The News daily that his party had "received information from North Waziristan that the Uzbek militants land at Islamabad airport (and) take a taxi to reach Mirali where they have a strong presence".
Khan said officials in the secretariat for the Federally Administered Tribal Areas "also know this".
A senior unnamed official in the Secretariat too confirmed to the newspaper that militants use Islamabad airport to enter Pakistan and then travel to Waziristan.
Though most militants used routes along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, air routes are also used by the rebels, the official said.
The official "scoffed" at the measures adopted by the Federal Investigation Agency to screen travellers at the airport and said immigration procedures were "too lax" to prevent militants from using air routes.
The official also said "many Uzbeks" were living in Islamabad`s suburbs and many of them had been arrested in these areas.
FIA spokesman Hussain Asghar said no abnormal activity at the Islamabad airport has been brought to his organisation’s notice.
"Whoever comes through the airport remains under security watch. The foreigners` data, the length of their (stay) and locations they (intend to) visit are recorded by immigration officials," he said.
"We put our people on alert in the event of their abnormal stay or their involvement in suspicious activities. Indian nationals stay at the top of our security watch, followed by those from Central Asian states," Asghar said.
Uzbek militants are members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which was formed in 1998. The group operated from bases in Tajikistan and Taliban-controlled Afghanistan before fleeing to Pakistan after US-led forces launched their campaign in Afghanistan.
The IMU has set up training camps in Waziristan and has been linked to groups fighting Pakistani security forces and crossing over to Afghanistan.