London Asharq Al-Awsat- John Anthony Gastright, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs, has revealed a comprehensive development plan for the border strip that separates Pakistan and Afghanistan as part of the war on terror. Gastright told Asharq al-Awsat in an interview conducted at the British embassy in London that the comprehensive development plan has political, economic, and military aspects and seeks to besiege the terrorist leaders of Al-Qaeda who are hiding in that area. He explained that Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf carried with him during his recent visit to Washington a comprehensive plan encompassing all aspects to develop the area that also comprises Baluchistan and Waziristan in cooperation with the tribal leaders in the border strip. The Pakistani army had redeployed in the border areas between 2002 and 2003 to reorganize these areas and bring them under the control of the central government to prevent them from becoming a haven for the terrorists.
Gastright explained that the development plan will cost some $750 million over five years. The United States and allied forces operating in Afghanistan will finance it after getting the approval of the Congress. The international community has also been asked to finance the plan. The plan calls on the local tribal chiefs to cooperate with the government in exchange for development efforts and improvement of local subsistence means. The US official praised the vital and important role Pakistan has been playing in the war on terror since the downfall of the Taliban Movement at the end of 2001, affirming that both countries are determined to pursue this cooperation. Pakistani President Musharraf and Afghan President Karzai reemphasized this cooperation by agreeing in Washington to step up joint efforts against terrorism. They attributed the differences in their viewpoints to frustration for the failure to achieve immediate results and to the presence of Afghan refugees in Pakistan. The US official explained that Al-Qaeda is a common enemy of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the allied forces operating in Afghanistan. He said that Pakistan currently deploys around 70,000 troops on the borders within the framework of the war on terror and against Al-Qaeda and Taliban elements. Gastright said he personally lost one of his best friends in the attack by the American Airlines plane that was kidnapped and crashed against the Pentagon on 11 September 2001.
Gastright said he believes Osama Bin Laden is hiding somewhere on the Pakistani-Afghan borders, adding that he, however, does not have any specific information on this issue. Gastright said that he visited South Asia last July and that the Taliban activities have been declining following the deployment of the NATO and US forces in all parts of Afghanistan. He explained the current activities by Taliban by saying that they are now in areas where no authority is being exercised and because some of the Taliban leaders believe that the NATO forces do not enjoy the strong willpower to fight and that the leaders quickly saw that this was not true in the wake of many clashes.
Gastright added that the NATO forces’ deployment has never been so strong since 2001, for there are some 22,000 US troops, 4,500 British troops, 2,500 Canadian forces and an equal number of Dutch forces in addition to Romanian and Australian forces, all of which wage regular battles with Taliban and al-Qaeda.
Gastright said that Pakistan has paid a prohibitive price when it assumed a basic role in the war on terror, the latest being the suicide attack at the beginning of this month that killed 42 recruits in military training center in northwestern Pakistan. The attack was most probably a reply to avenge the missile raid on an Al-Qaeda training center. Gastright also spoke about the escalation of the Taliban militias attacks over the past year but noted that the international forces had deployed in all parts of Afghanistan. It is worth mentioning that most of Al-Qaeda leaders who are currently imprisoned in Guantanamo such as Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, the third in command in Al-Qaeda had been arrested on Pakistani territory. The Pakistani authorities arrested Muhammad on 1 March 2003 and the US investigators consider him the mastermind of the 11 September 2001 attacks. Also Abu-Zubaydah, from Palestinian origin was arrested in Pakistan on 28 March 2002 and he was one of the close aides of Osama Bin Laden. Ramzi Bin al-Shibah, a Yemeni was arrested in Pakistan on 11 September 2002. He was a member of the Hamburg network and is believed to be one of the coordinators of the 11 September attacks. Abu-Faraj al-Libi, believed to have become the third man in Al-Qaeda after the arrest of Khalid Sheikh Muhammad was also arrested in Pakistan in 2005. Muhammad was the most wanted man in Pakistan because he was suspected of participation in mounting two assassination attempts against President Pervez Musharraf. Ahmad Khalfan Jilani, a Tanzanian, was also arrested in Pakistan on 25 July 2004. He is suspected of participation in the attacks on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Gastright said that the Afghan forces will have 70,000 soldiers and officers after five years while the police force will have 40,000 officers and soldiers and this will enhance further the chances of security and stability in Afghanistan. He said that the forces of his country will remain in Afghanistan so long as there is a need for their presence to impose law and order and stability after 30 years of wars and the control of Taliban fundamentalist movement. He added: We are committed to helping Afghanistan and we will continue to work with the Afghans so long as they want us to remain there. He added that one can say that the situation in Afghanistan is like starting to reform a state from scratch because Afghanistan after the downfall of the fundamentalist movement direly needed development and reform in the education sector after Taliban banned women from going to schools. It also needed assistance in the field of economy, combating drugs, public health, and the construction of roads and bridges that were demolished during the war. He added that Afghanistan is a country that has mineral and oil resources and that getting rid of terrorism will hold a promising future for it. Gastright said the United States is determined to bring Osama Bin Laden to trial because he is responsible for the death of thousands of victims, including his close friend who was killed in the plane that crashed against the Pentagon on 11 September 2001. He added that the United States seeks to have better communications with the Islamic World and tries to help the Muslim people achieve a better life.