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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story


The war on terror threatens Pakistan

By Anthony Davis

Stakes Who wants what in Afghanistan

Camps Training ground for terrorists

Striking Back How did U.S. missiles get from the Arabian sea to landlocked Afghanistan?

IN APRIL 1986 several elite battalions of Soviet commandos fought their way into the complex of guerrilla base camps at Zhawar Kili, wedged hard against the Pakistan border, southwest of the Afghan town of Khost. They battled for three weeks and suffered hundreds of casualties. Twelve years and a generation of military technology later, the United States achieved much more in minutes, putting not a man at risk. But the missile attacks last week were just the beginning of what U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright called a "long-term battle" against terrorism. In this war, the death toll among the innocent and the guilty will surely rise.

At 10 p.m. on Aug. 20, a lethal blitz of some 60 Tomahawk cruise missiles fired from warships in the Arabian Sea slammed into camps scattered across the arid slopes and rocky ravines of Zhawar, obliterating mud-and-stone barracks, armories and store rooms in a burst of incandescent fire-balls. "There were four explosions," said a Pakistani border guard stationed near one camp. "Each time the sky and land lit up like it was day, as if the sun had come out unexpectedly."

The attack, planned in retaliation for the Aug. 7 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, struck with pin-point accuracy at what one senior U.S. intelligence official described as "the largest Sunni terrorist training facility in the world." It targeted the organizational infrastructure of the man Washington has accused of masterminding that terror - exiled Saudi Islamist Osama bin Laden who, according to the Americans, had directed his followers at least twice to kill U.S. President Bill Clinton and was planning other attacks against American citizens. At least 28 died in the airstrike, including six Arabs, six Kashmiris and eight Pakistanis. Some estimates were higher: as many as 50 dead and 60 wounded.

At the same time, some four thousand kilometers and two time-zones away, another salvo of missiles struck at a facility in the suburbs of the Sudanese capital Khartoum. By U.S. reckoning, the al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant, funded and controlled by the 42-year-old bin Laden, had produced a chemical that is a key component in nerve agent VX. Furious Sudanese officials say it was manufacturing a range of medicines.

The efficacy of the attacks in Afghanistan was challenged too. Despite reports that bin Laden and his top lieutenants might have planned a meeting at the Afghan camp the evening of Aug. 20, neither he nor his senior aides were in the vicinity when the missiles struck. Indeed, according to Taliban Minister of Frontier Affairs, Jalaluddin Haqqani (who built much of the core infrastructure at Zhawar in the early 1980s): "Osama was not even within a 500-kilometer radius of the attack."

Moreover, as one Pakistan-based analyst familiar with Afghanistan's invariably basic military installations put it: "Most of the training facilities in camps like this can be duplicated elsewhere in a matter of weeks." The cruise missiles actually hit several camps, of which only one - the Harakatul Jihad Islami - was directly controlled by bin Laden and set up to train Arabs. Of the other sites, at least two were operated by two Pakistani organizations to train Kashmiris and Pakistanis to fight in Kashmir.

Bin Laden has denied any role in the embassy bombings, but he quickly swore vengeance. His first statement warning of a battle against U.S. interests worldwide came through a confidant, Ayman al-Zawahri. "The war has just started," he told a Pakistani newspaper. "The Americans should wait for the answer." While later expressing displeasure with bin Laden's public statements, Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar also said: "We will never hand over Osama bin Laden to anyone."

Clinton made clear that the attacks were directed against terror, not against Islam. But much of the Muslim world is angry. Only Indonesian President B.J. Habibie said: "I very much deplore the attacks. But they were not anti-Islam." On the Friday after the raid, demonstrations took place outside the vacant American Embassy in Kabul, while in eastern Jalalabad U.N. offices were ransacked by an unruly mob. Two members of the U.N. Special Mission for Afghanistan were shot while driving on a Kabul street; one later died. A few days later, an organization calling itself Muslims Against Global Oppression claimed responsibility for the Aug. 25 bomb explosion in Cape Town, South Africa that killed one and injured at least 25.

The deep political fissures blown open by the Tomahawks are now clear. In the U.S., 80% of respondents polled by ABC News immediately after the strikes voiced support for the sudden and unilateral action. Congress and much of the media - in no mood to indulge a president wounded by confessions of sexual impropriety - also backed the attacks. In Europe, Britain's Tony Blair and Germany's Helmut Kohl gave unequivocal support for the most destructive counter-strike against a non-state terrorist target the world has yet witnessed.

But across much of Asia and beyond, the attacks have raised worries about America's use of violence as a first resort. Russian President Boris Yeltsin said: "My attitude is indeed negative as it would be to any act of terrorism, military interference, failure to solve a problem through talks. I am outraged." Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohamad asked: "How are we to know it was done in self-defense when there is no one to determine that?" Thai leader Chuan Leekpai said he is concerned about the possibility of terrorist retaliation. Just a month ago, U.S. authorities in Bangkok were alerted to a suspected plot to bomb the embassy. Soon afterward, a group of Pakistanis who had overstayed their visas were deported, reportedly with the help of America's Federal Bureau of Investigation.

In South Asia, U.S. diplomats' ability to persuade nuclear-armed India and Pakistan to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty has been undermined. Indeed, in Pakistan, which has consistently supported the Taliban in their bid to control Afghanistan, Washington is facing a dangerous and possibly long-lasting popular backlash. Orthodox religious groups seized the opportunity to threaten America. And, as was intended, the fury on the streets pushed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's embattled administration onto the defensive. Protests flared in Karachi and Islamabad. In the border town of Peshawar, an angry crowd of some 20,000 locals, Afghans and Arabs chanting "Osama is alive! Death to America!" clashed with police.

The head of one of the groups that lost men at Zhawar vowed to avenge their deaths. And Fazlur Rahman, chief of an organization that champions a Taliban-style revolution in Pakistan, promptly accused Islamabad of assisting in the U.S. attacks. He said the administration's "patriotism has become doubtful," and the government was itself a "security risk." Both U.S. and Pakistani officials have denied cooperating in any way. The U.S. had, though, taken the precaution of dispatching a top general to Islamabad to meet with senior military officials and, if necessary, allay fears that Pakistan was under attack from India.

Islamabad scrambled to find a safe way to placate its enraged citizens without alienating an important ally. Pakistan did deport to Kenya a main suspect in the Nairobi embassy bombing. But within hours of the missile attack it had lodged protests with the U.N. Security Council over violations of its airspace, undetected at the time, and the infringement of the territorial integrity of Afghanistan and Sudan. The country's new foreign minister, Sartaj Aziz, expressed "indignation over the attacks no matter what justifications are given." The government later revealed that an unexploded missile had landed in the southwestern province of Baluchistan.

The mounting wave of anti-American anger prompted an unprecedented pull-back of Western aid workers, businessmen and even tourists from Pakistan's outlying cities and notoriously volatile Karachi. Pakistani officials quoted in the local press said that it might be a long time before Americans could live and work normally in Pakistan. "The most powerful army and the world's most dangerous terrorist organizations have declared war against each other," one Pakistani intelligence official was reported to have said. "We fear that this war will be fought in and around this region."

How will the U.S. bring bin Laden to justice? American newspapers reported that a grand jury had charged bin Laden with terrorism, providing a legal basis for his capture and eventual trial in the U.S. But the answer really "depends on whether the Americans address the problem of bin Laden and the bases in isolation," says William Maley, an Afghanistan specialist at the University of New South Wales. "Or whether they are prepared to address the question of the support he's getting from the Taliban and the support the Taliban are getting from the Pakistanis."

That's something America so far has been very reluctant to do. Now the Taliban are set to institute what its leaders call the world's first "truly Islamic state." As Maley argues: "This is the moment for the U.S. to move heaven and earth to cut off Pakistani support for the Taliban." The alternative is hardly attractive: continued sanctuary for bin Laden, the possible emergence of a new and altogether unpredictable order in Afghanistan and a potentially more radical Pakistan.

But neither Clinton, nor Sharif, may have the leverage to weaken the links between bin Laden, the Taliban and Pakistan's military. Sharif's already precarious and increasingly impoverished government is under mounting pressure from a reinvigorated religious right. And the powerful Pakistani armed forces believes it is on the verge of a hard-fought Taliban victory. Osama bin Laden may enjoy Afghan hospitality for a while yet.

This edition's table of contents | Asiaweek home



U.S. secretary of state says China should be 'tolerant'

Philippine government denies Estrada's claim to presidency

Faith, madness, magic mix at sacred Hindu festival

Land mine explosion kills 11 Sri Lankan soldiers

Japan claims StarLink found in U.S. corn sample

Thai party announces first coalition partner


COVER: President Joseph Estrada gives in to the chanting crowds on the streets of Manila and agrees to make room for his Vice President

THAILAND: Twin teenage warriors turn themselves in to Bangkok officials

CHINA: Despite official vilification, hip Chinese dig Lamaist culture

PHOTO ESSAY: Estrada Calls Snap Election

WEB-ONLY INTERVIEW: Jimmy Lai on feeling lucky -- and why he's committed to the island state


COVER: The DoCoMo generation - Japan's leading mobile phone company goes global

Bandwidth Boom: Racing to wire - how underseas cable systems may yet fall short

TAIWAN: Party intrigues add to Chen Shui-bian's woes

JAPAN: Japan's ruling party crushes a rebel at a cost

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans need to have more babies. But success breeds selfishness

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