Radical Pakistani Lawmakers Vow to Block al Qaeda Hunt In Tribal Area

By T.C. Malhotra | July 7, 2008 | 8:12 PM EDT

New Delhi (CNSNews.com) - Recent political developments in Pakistan may make it all the more difficult for the United States to track down and arrest wanted terror suspects who are believed to be hiding in border areas of Pakistan.

Islamists leading the new parliament in Pakistan's northwest border province have vowed to block the manhunt for al Qaeda in their tribal-dominated region, where the U.S. military believes hundreds of the extremists are hiding.

"We have opposed the [Pakistani] government's pro-U.S. policies, particularly operations in which Pakistan receives assistance from the United States, and we shall maintain our opposition," said Akram Durrani, the man most likely to become the chief minister of North West Frontier Province (NWFP).

"We will neither allow our land to be used for terrorist activities, nor will we allow any operation - particularly one involving the FBI agents. People who voted for the MMA [Durrani's political base] voted against such actions," he said, a day after the NWFP parliament was sworn in.

Durrani also vowed to throw U.S. troops off Pakistani airbases, which they have been using as part of the war in Afghanistan; and to expel FBI experts who have been tipping off and guiding Pakistani troops in their effort to flush out al Qaeda fighters.

Two provincial assemblies - NWFP and Punjab province - were sworn in on Tuesday, with Durrani's MMA set to form a government in the NWFP. The pro-Musharraf Pakistan Muslim League Quaid-e-Azam (PML-QA) will take power in Punjab.

Even before they were sworn in, MMA legislators stood up to offer prayers for Aimal Kasi, a Pakistani, who was executed on November 14, 2002, in Virginia, for the murder of two U.S. Central Intelligence Agency employees outside the CIA headquarters in McLean, Va., in 1993.

Kasi, who was buried in his hometown of Quetta last week, has become a hero to many. Kasi's death was also mourned by thousands in a stadium in his native Quetta. Press reports described Kasi's funeral as the largest one in living memory. The entire city shut down for the event with shops closed and black flags waving from rooftops.

The newly formed Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) is a group of six parties, and it came to power largely because of campaign pledges to expel U.S. troops and intelligence agents who are helping to track down terrorist fugitives in Pakistan.

Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf has allowed U.S. forces to use some of Pakistan's airbases and other military facilities during the post-Sept. 11 campaign against terrorism. But Islamic leaders have strongly condemned Musharraf's stance.

American troops are hunting for members of the Taliban regime and the al Qaeda network in border areas of Pakistan. Media reports say that most of the 422-plus al Qaeda suspects captured in Pakistan in the past 12 months were captured in the border region.

The MMA's gains raised concern in the West that its six-party alliance, which includes fiery pro-Taliban clerics, could undermine Islamabad's support for the U.S.-led war on terror in Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan.

Indian analysts say there is little the MMA could do to hamper the U.S. pursuit of targets along the Afghan-Pakistan border, but enormous political and popular pressure could be generated in the street, making the ongoing campaign all the more difficult.

Ajai Sahni of the Institution of Conflict Management in New Delhi said, "The entire counter-terrorism campaign and the 'hunt for Al Qaeda' is entirely executed by the Pakistani army and its intelligence wing, the ISI, both under direct presidential control.

"Under the circumstances, the state government cannot directly withhold or obstruct operations. More significantly, the FATA areas, where most of the operations are taking place, are virtually outside the control of the NWFP state government, and are, at best, very loosely controlled by the federal government as well", he said.

"President Musharraf may find it difficult to ignore the pressure on specific issues, such as the operations against the al Qaeda," said Raghu Chandra, a researcher at Jawahar Lal Nehru University in New Delhi.

"Except for controlling the police, all they (MMA government) can do is bring social changes like forcing bureaucrats to attend prayers," Indian defense analyst, M.K. Laul said.