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Pakistan demolishing homes uncooperative towns { January 31 2004 }

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Published Saturday, January 31, 2004

Pakistan Adopting a Tough Old Tactic to Flush Out Qaeda

New York Times

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Jan. 30 At the start of the month, Pakistan massed several thousand troops in and around the town of Wana, near the country's mountainous border with Afghanistan. Using a harsh century-old British method, officials handed local tribal elders a list and issued an ultimatum.

If 72 men wanted for sheltering Al Qaeda were not produced, they said, the Pakistani Army would punish the tribe as a group, demolishing houses, withdrawing funds and even detaining tribe members.

Several days later, several thousand tribal elders held a jirga, or council, and agreed to raise a force of their own to find the wanted men. In the last two weeks, the tribes have handed over 42 of them. Tribal members, meanwhile, have bulldozed and dynamited the homes of eight men who refused to surrender.

The most wanted fugitives, including foreign Qaeda members, remain at large, although as an added incentive, Pakistani officials have promised not to hand over any fugitive Pakistanis to the United States.

American officials declined to comment on the policy, but Pakistani officials hope the British method, combined with the American-financed building of roads and schools, will show results.

"There is this age-old system of collective responsibility," said Lt. Gen. Syed Iftikhar Hussain Shah, the governor of Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province and a key supporter of the new approach. "Tribes are supposed to help the government."

Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, the tribal areas that span both sides of the border have proved to be a redoubt for Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters.

Osama bin Laden is believed to be hiding somewhere in the area's inaccessible crags. Insurgents have used the border area, home to smugglers and guerrillas for centuries, as a base to carry out cross-border attacks that have killed or wounded dozens of American soldiers.

Responding to American pressure, Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, deployed soldiers in the tribal areas for the first time in the country's history in the spring of 2002. That provoked bitter protests from hard-line Islamic political parties that won sweeping support in and around the tribal areas in elections that October.

All told, Pakistani soldiers and police officers have captured more than 500 suspected Qaeda members, most of them low-level fighters caught fleeing Afghanistan in 2002.

More than 70,000 Pakistani soldiers are now deployed in the tribal areas, but over the last year capturing fighters has proved more difficult. Suspected Taliban fighters have killed six Pakistani soldiers carrying out raids in the tribal areas since August. Two Pakistanis were killed by American fire on the border. A senior Pakistani intelligence official said Pakistan has had no reports since 2002 that Mr. bin Laden has been in South Waziristan, the tribal agency whose main town is Wana.

Pakistani officials said they would never allow American forces into Pakistan, but conceded that they had been under intense American pressure to act in the tribal areas. They said they hoped the new approach would prove fruitful. There is little expectation that the tribes would abruptly hand over Mr. bin Laden. Instead,the hope is to gradually make the area less hospitable for the Qaeda leader and his backers.

Mr. bin Laden is believed to have strong popular support in the tribal areas, the most religiously conservative and isolated part of Pakistan. The virulent fundamentalism in the tribal areas, which are governed directly by Pakistan's federal government, is the product of decades of government neglect and the anti-Soviet jihad of the 1980's, according to Pakistani analysis.

The United States indirectly helped pay for hundreds of hard-line religious schools that produced anti-Soviet fighters. Today, the same schools appear to produce anti-American fighters.

Malik Ajmal Wazir, 35, a leader of the Zalikhel tribe, said in a telephone interview from the tribal areas on Friday that the tribes were addressing the problem and that American forces would face resistance. "Our tribes will rise against them," he said. "We don't like the Americans, and there will be a fight."

The religious schools and clerics are one of the main sources of information for the 3.1 million residents of the area, where the literacy rate is 25 percent for men and 3 percent for women and public schools are few. Seventy percent of the tribal areas are not easily accessible by road.

Pakistan bars foreign journalists from entering the tribal areas without a military escort. Military officials said no journalists would be taken to Wana until the current operation concluded.

Mark Lyall Grant, the British ambassador to Pakistan, said the British empire sent 11 expeditions into Waziristan in the early 1900's in an effort to subdue them. Criminals had repeatedly kidnapped British colonialists, fled to the impenetrable border areas and demanded ransom. In one famous case, the saga of a schoolgirl kidnapped and taken into the tribal areas played out across London's front pages, embarrassing colonial administrators.

But all 11 expeditions failed to subdue the areas, he said. The British decided instead to take advantage of an existing tribal custom that held an entire tribe responsible for the actions of one of its members. Tribes were ordered to find kidnappers themselves, or face collective punishment. "It's kind of striking to see how Pakistan today is using tactics that the British used 100 years ago," Mr. Lyall Grant said.

Tribal elders said they would rather sort out matters themselves than have outsiders search their communities and homes. In an interview in Islamabad, Maulana Abdul Malik, 43, a leader of the Jalikhel tribe and a member of Pakistan's Parliament from Wana, said he had urged other tribal leaders to hand over the men.

But he insisted that Mr. bin Laden and his supporters were not on the Pakistani side of the border. He also displayed the perceptions of the United States that exist in much of the tribal areas. He said that "only God knows" who carried out the September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States and that "hundreds of thousands of people" died in the subsequent American bombing of Afghanistan. "Americans should spread a message of love," he said, "and stop slaughtering humanity."

The senior Pakistani intelligence official said that at least 70 low-level Qaeda members were hiding in South Waziristan, but that he did not believe Mr. bin Laden and his senior aides were on the Pakistani side of the border.

Other Pakistani officials said their raids were handicapped by a severe shortage of helicopters. They asked the United States to send military equipment to Pakistan, not troops. Local tribesmen spot ground convoys from miles away, they said, and warn the wanted men, who flee.

The governor said he hoped new aid flowing into the area would reduce sympathies for Taliban and Al Qaeda. He said the government had increased the development budget for the tribal areas by 400 percent, to $67 million. If significant increases are made for several years, he said, the tribal areas will finally receive government financing on a par with other parts of the country.

There is also international help. Norway is building 350 schools, he said. Japan and the United States are spending $2 million on refurbishing existing primary schools. And the United States is paying $10 million for new roads.

Pakistani officials said they would wait to see how many of the wanted men were handed over, particularly foreigners. Depending on the results, they will shower the area with money, or soldiers.

Last modified: January 31. 2004 12:00AM

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