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Last Updated: Friday, 11 August 2006, 21:50 GMT 22:50 UK
Pakistan's key role in terror arrests
By Zaffar Abbas
BBC News, Islamabad

Pakistan Airport Security officer on guard at Jinnah International Airport in Karachi
Pakistan has stepped up security at its own airports

Within hours of Thursday's arrests in Britain of those involved in an alleged plot to hijack and blow-up passenger planes over the Atlantic, Pakistan's name had started to be linked to the events.

Certainly, it is not the first time a link has been established between religious militancy in a foreign land and the extremist groups operating in Pakistan.

But this time around, the way Pakistan's name has figured in the whole episode has been a matter of pride for many in the government.

The difference this time is that there has also been a high level of co-operation between the British and Pakistani security and intelligence services, leading to arrests in the two countries.

Mixed feelings

Senior Pakistani officials say that this co-operation has been in place since last year's suicide attacks in London.

This has helped in identifying groups and people who could possibly be using young British Muslims of Pakistani descent to carry out suicide missions.

Officials admit that, during the process, the Pakistani intelligence authorities have learnt to withhold information - only leaking details that in their view are necessary or are not going to jeopardise ongoing investigations.

Pakistani newspapers with details of Britain's terror plot arrests on sale in Karachi
Pakistan's role in the "war on terror" has drawn some criticism at home

Therefore, some observers say, there is a strong possibility that the specific information about the identities of those arrested in Pakistan may have first come out from London or Washington.

Pakistan's role has been acknowledged by the British home secretary and other leaders.

President Pervez Musharraf received praise from President George W Bush after senior al-Qaeda figures such as Khaled Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah were arrested and handed over to the US on previous occasions.

But at home, there have been mixed feelings about how President Musharraf and his team have been handling the entire issue of the so-called war on terror.

In the absence of specific information, many of the government's actions are seen as attempts to please the West rather than the people at home.

The continuing military operation against suspected Taleban fighters and their local supporters in the tribal region near the Afghan border has also affected President Musharraf's popularity in the country.

Contentious issues

Despite such criticism, President Musharraf seems determined to pursue the policy of curtailing or eliminating Islamic extremism from Pakistan.

He says it is not being done at the behest of the US or Britain as, he says, it is in Pakistan's own interest.

And in some ways this policy has also become part of his political battle for survival in the wake of growing opposition in the country.

With the president's own election, and that of a new parliament, a little over one year away, the opposition parties have started to get their act together.

There are strong indications that the liberal and Islamic groups may form a joint front to take on the Pakistani military ruler in the coming year.

Analysts say that, in such a situation, President Musharraf may have to look for further support from the West.

But in order to do so, he may have to satisfy them that he is doing the best he can to eliminate the remnants of al-Qaeda from the country.

Still, questions are being asked about the Pakistani Islamic groups that may be fanning trouble in Britain and elsewhere, and the Islamic seminaries or madrassas that have remained the source of extremism both within and outside Pakistan.

The latest episode may have earned President Musharraf some praise, but there are many in the West who still question his sincerity in combating the Taleban, if not al-Qaeda.

And this may remain a contentious issue as long as links are found between the Pakistan-based groups and militants operating in other countries, or if the insurgency continues in neighbouring Afghanistan.


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