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Commentary: Pakistan's prestidigitators

By ARNAUD DE BORCHGRAVE, UPI Editor at Large   |   Sept. 11, 2012 at 5:52 AM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, Sept. 11 (UPI) -- Dr. A.Q. Khan, the father of Pakistan's nuclear bomb, notoriously anti-American and arguably the most popular man among 200 million Pakistanis, is the head of a recently launched political party dedicated to boosting him to the presidency.

Abdul Qadeer Khan, the Dr. Strangelove ("How I Learned to stop Worrying and Love the Bomb") of Pakistan, recently created his own political party, Tehreek-e-Tahafuz Pakistan (TTP), closely linked to another TTP, Tehrik-e-Taliban.

A.Q., as he is universally known, organized a global black market network that contributed nuclear weapons knowhow to Iran, North Korea and Libya. Former President Pervez Musharraf put A.Q. under house arrest where he remained until Musharraf was deposed in 2008.

To avoid prison, Musharraf ordered A.Q. to recant his misdeeds on Pakistani TV. Khan did so in English, not in Urdu. And no sooner freed after Musharraf left for self-imposed exile in London than A.Q. recanted his confession.

U.S. diplomatic efforts and repeated requests from the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna to question A.Q. were repeatedly rebuffed. Pakistani spokesmen have said time and again that A.Q.'s network was dismantled and that he was no longer a threat.

Now A.Q.'s back and a major threat to U.S. and NATO objectives in Afghanistan. There is no peace in Afghanistan without Pakistan and now there is no peace in Afghanistan with Pakistan.

It is no longer inconceivable that Khan may be Pakistan's next president or prime minister. This, in turn, could magnify anti-U.S. and anti-NATO sentiment in Afghanistan.

A.Q. is appealing to the youth vote; 65 percent of 200 million Pakistanis are under 30 -- and for the most part deeply religious. Sons of abject poverty, whose parents cannot afford modest public school fees, some 500,000 teenagers a year graduate from madrassas, religious schools where only one discipline is taught: the ability to recite the entire Koran in Arabic.

Religious messages are also heavily larded with anti-U.S., anti-Indian and anti-Israeli propaganda and disinformation.

A.Q. is advising youth "to stop wasting time watching useless current affairs programs that are simply regurgitating messages from corrupt political entities."

A.Q. is also in league with Taliban/Pakistan and Taliban/Afghanistan, once rivals but now rallying to the powerful anti-U.S. voice of Hamid Gul, a former director of Pakistan's all-powerful Inter-Services Intelligence and self-appointed Svengali.

Among Khan's more recent followers one also finds Imran Khan (no relation), the immensely popular cricket legend and a growing anti-U.S. voice in a daily chorus of anti-American disinformation that stretches credulity.

Curiously, Imran Khan is backing Pakistan's religious extremists who, in turn, are backing a restoration of Afghan Taliban chief Mullah Omar as a way of ending the Afghan war.

Imran's latest dream is to lead a vibrant Islamic caliphate with the help of the Pakistani branch of Taliban.

Former President Nawaz Sharif, who was overthrown by Musharraf in a bloodless coup in 1999 and spent 10 years in exile in Saudi Arabia, also covets a return topsides. His main advantage over Imran-the-cricket-legend is the declared support of the Wahabi Shariah clergy.

Sharif also enjoys a close relationship with Gul, the master political chess player who also led Imran Khan into politics 15 years ago.

Meanwhile, army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani is the de facto leader of Pakistan as all the other would-be presidents and prime ministers maneuver to improve their standing, competing in anti-U.S. rhetoric.

It is hard to escape the conclusion that a coalition of America-baiters is hardening behind Gul and A.Q. Khan, the two most potent anti-U.S. voices.

Denunciations of U.S. drone attacks in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas on the Afghan border keep a large coalition of anti-American voices together.

Staying close to army control is the Pakistan Peoples Party of the late Benazir Bhutto, whose husband Asif Ali Zardari is the virtually powerless president of the country. Last April, he became the first president of Pakistan to visit India – for one day, which included a visit to a Muslim shrine.

India continues to press Pakistan to bring to justice the terrorists who attacked Mumbai targets in 2008 -- but there isn't anything Zardari can do about it. He himself spent 11 years in Pakistani prisons for illicit financial transactions -- though nothing was ever proved.

The Mumbai attacks were pinned on the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, founded by Hafiz Saeed who described the $10 million U.S. bounty on his head as "ridiculous and misguided."

The three-day rampage by 10 gunmen in November 2008 left 165 people dead. Nine of the attacking terrorists were also killed.

Saeed travels frequently all over Pakistan from his base in Lahore. But he changed the name of his group to Jamaat-ud-Dawa. The United States has designated both LeT and JuD as foreign terrorist organizations.

After the Mumbai attacks and Indian accusations, Hafiz Saeed and his top lieutenants were arrested -- and then released for lack of evidence. Now he roams Pakistan with impunity as a free man.

The U.S. State Department also says that Saeed continues "to spread ideology advocating terrorism as well as virulent anti-American rhetoric."

Dr. A.Q. Khan has clearly emerged as Pakistan's most respected and admired political figure. "Incompetent rulers have destroyed our country," he said recently. "And it's high time for youth to stand up for our country and elect candidates with an honest background."

A.Q. also said he would consider either former President Nawaz Sharif or Imran Khan as worthy candidates to replace "incompetent rulers who have destroyed our country."

One long-time observer of the Pakistani political scene said privately: "The evil nexus is assuming awesome dimensions in league with all major branded and banned extremist terrorist networks. This is no Vietnam. It is bigger than all combined threats to the remaining moderate world."

© 2012 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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