Times Square attack adds pressure on Pakistan, though US ties seen unlikely to sufferBy Chris Brummitt, AP
Friday, May 7, 2010
Pressure on Pakistan amid fresh terror links
ISLAMABAD — Alleged links between the Times Square plot and extremist networks are adding to perceptions of Pakistan as a global exporter of terror and increasing pressure on its military to crack down on extremists along the Afghan border.
While Saturday’s failed car bombing in New York could complicate improving ties between the United States and Pakistan, Washington’s need for Islamabad’s help in ending the war in Afghanistan is likely to limit any long-term fallout.
Pakistan has promised to cooperate with the investigation and has detained at least four people with alleged connections to the sole suspect so far — Faisal Shahzad, a 30-year-old Pakistani-American who has reportedly told U.S. investigators he had visited Waziristan, a largely militant-controlled region close to Afghanistan.
American officials have been quoted as saying they believe the Pakistani Taliban, which is based in Waziristan and has hitherto attacked Pakistani targets — not the U.S. homeland — had a role in the plot, either in funding or motivating and training.
Successive failed plots in Europe and the United States since the 9/11 attacks have been traced back to the border region, many involving first- or second-generation Pakistani or other Muslim immigrants to the West.
Shahzad evidently visited Pakistan and had family and friends here, but many questions remain about the extent of his militant links in the country and whether they — rather than his experiences in America — were the major factor in his transformation from suburban respectability to alleged terrorist.
Many experts doubt a significant role for the Pakistani Taliban, noting the amateurish nature of the bomb as well as the group’s past practice of claiming responsibility for attacks in the United States it had nothing to do with.
Still, the reported connections are already proving uncomfortable for Pakistan’s military, which has been resisting calls to move forcefully into all parts of Waziristan because it does not want to antagonize powerful militant groups there that have so far attacked only targets in Afghanistan, not Pakistani cities.
This week, the Pakistani army said it did not believe the Pakistani Taliban played a role and that it was too early to say whether Shahzad had visited Waziristan.
Prior to the botched attack, Obama administration officials had been praising Pakistani army efforts in the northwest, which have included a comprehensive operation in South Waziristan. They had expressed sympathy with the army’s stated reasons against moving into the north this year, namely a lack of troops and the need to consolidate gains elsewhere.
That may be more difficult to keep up if it turns out the plot was hatched and mastermind from within the region.
“This guy failed, but how many more are tied to Pakistan?” said Kamran Bokhari, an analyst with STRATFOR, a private security think tank in Austin, Texas. “It puts pressure on Pakistan at a time when they thought things with the Americans were going well.”
Also likely to come under fresh scrutiny is Pakistan’s reluctance to fully crack down on militant groups based outside of the northwest. Those detained over the Times Square incident are allegedly activists of Jaish-e-Mohammad, a group that was created by the Pakistan security agencies to battle Indian-rule in the Kashmir region. It and related organizations continue to operate fairly openly.
Still, the U.S. has been careful not to antagonize Pakistan as it assigns blame for the Times Square plot.
The U.S. recognizes that Pakistan will likely have a major role in negotiating with elements of the Taliban to end the war in Afghanistan and ensuring stability — and a pro-American government — there when the United States finally withdraws.
Shaun Gregory, an expert on Pakistani security at the University of Bradford in Britain, said he believed this was now the main issue for the Obama administration and it had accepted it was unlikely to see major movement against Afghan Taliban factions sheltering on the Pakistan side of the border.
“Because of the bigger geostrategic concerns, this kind of thing (the Times Square attempted bombing) is just noise, it is marginal,” he said. “The key pressure is here to get the American troops out of Afghanistan. The hawks (in Washington) will bang drums, but I can’t see that translating into a big offensive in Pakistan.”