Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Seventh Report


233.  As part of this inquiry we visited Pakistan on 9-11 May. In Islamabad we met President Pervez Musharraf, the then Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali, Foreign Minister Mian Khurshid Kasuri, the Governor of the North West Frontier Province, a number of Pakistani parliamentarians as well as human rights activists and journalists. We were also able to travel to Peshawar where we met the Chief Minister of the North West Frontier Province, the Corps Commander and a number of former members of the Taliban. In Peshawar we also visited a madrasa (religious school). Throughout our visit we held discussions with United Kingdom staff at the High Commission, and were most impressed with their work.

Co-operation in the war against terrorism

234.  Pakistan is a key ally in the war against terrorism. As the Committee heard during its visit to Pakistan in May 2004, Pakistan's geo-strategic neighbourhood is now at the forefront of the war against terrorism, making the country's co-operation in this war of critical importance. Not only were Pakistan's madrasas instrumental in creating the Taliban, but the tribal areas on either side of Pakistan's long and porous border with Afghanistan remain havens for extremist elements.

235.  President Musharraf condemned the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks against the US and offered Pakistan's full co-operation, saying that the "carnage" in the United States had raised the struggle against terrorism "to a new level" and that Pakistan "regard[s] terrorism as an evil that threatens the world community. All countries must join hands in this common cause".[313] Since then, Pakistan has provided invaluable assistance in the war against terrorism. Most notably, Pakistan has deployed more than 70,000 soldiers and militiamen in the tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan.[314] In March 2004, the Pakistani army launched a massive campaign against suspected militants in South Waziristan, where there are persistent reports that tribes are sheltering militants. In June, Pakistan arrested eight suspected members of al Qaeda in Karachi, including the nephew of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.[315]

236.  During his visit to Pakistan in March 2004, the Foreign Secretary welcomed the vital role that Pakistan is playing in the global fight against terrorism, noting that in "co-operation with the US, UK and others, the authorities here have arrested over 500 terrorist suspects since 11 September 2001—including al Qaeda leaders like Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, who is suspected of planning the attacks in New York".[316] On 16 June, President George Bush named Pakistan a major non-NATO ally in recognition of the country's contribution to the war against terrorism.[317] The move makes Pakistan eligible for enhanced aid and defence co-operation.

237.  However, there are concerns about certain aspects of Pakistan's co-operation in the war against terrorism. In particular, there appears to be a degree of frustration in some quarters in Afghanistan over the progress made in tackling extremists. For example, the much-publicised March operation in South Waziristan left over 120 people dead but did not result in the capture of any top al Qaeda operatives, despite rumours that Ayman al-Zawahiri, al Qaeda's deputy chief, had been captured.[318]

238.  The Committee heard from witnesses about the serious domestic constraints under which President Musharraf is operating. Some areas of the country are dominated by political and religious forces sympathetic to the Taliban and al Qaeda. On 30 March, the Foreign Secretary told us:

    It is a matter of record that there are political parties' individual leaders who are active in the federal administrative tribal area and in the North-West Frontier Province who have sympathies or associations with the Taliban. … Some of the leadership of the MMA [the opposition Muttahida Majjlis-e-Amal, United Council of Action] in the National Assembly of Pakistan have had longstanding associations with what they see as the better elements of the Taliban movement, so that is a matter of the party-political weather, if you like, in Pakistan, and President Musharraf and his colleagues have to deal with it.[319]

The MMA campaigned on an anti-US platform in the 2002 general election, winning a record number of seats in the North-West Frontier province and Balochistan, where there was particular anger at the US military intervention in Afghanistan.[320]

239.  We also heard from witnesses about the difficulties tackling the Taliban owing to tribal and ethnic sensitivities. Many of the foreigners present in the area have been there for many years, taking advantage of tribal hospitality. Similarly, there are strong sympathies for the Taliban among the Pushtun in Pakistan. Dr Samore, of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, told us that:

    Pakistan believes that its ability to attack the Taliban will be assisted if the Pushtun community in Afghanistan believes that it has a legitimate representation in the new government in Kabul… Obviously that is a domestic issue for Pakistan as well since there is a large Pushtun majority group in the north-west.[321]

240.  The risks associated with Pakistan's co-operation in the war against terrorism are indicated by the two assassination attempts against President Musharraf in December 2003, which have been linked with al Qaeda. In March 2004, a taped statement purportedly by Ayman al-Zawahiri accused the government of bowing to US pressure, betraying the 'Islamic resistance' in Afghanistan and putting the Pakistani army in a 'miserable state' by forcing it to fight fellow Muslims from the border tribes. The tape urged Pakistanis to overthrow the government.[322] Al Qaeda has also been linked with a number of attacks against Shia mosques in Pakistan, raising fears that it is trying to incite sectarian tension.[323]

241.  Pakistan is clearly vulnerable to accusations that the West is dictating its actions. During its visit to Pakistan the Committee was told by many interlocutors that the West should be patient with Pakistan given the domestic difficulties associated with co-operation. This is reflected in evidence from Dr Gary Samore, who told the Committee:

    President Musharraf cannot fight on all fronts at once. He has got to pick his battles. He is in great jeopardy, it seems to me, of antagonising his entire political base. If he makes a deal with India on Kashmir he angers the Punjabis, and if he makes a deal with the United States to crush the Taliban he angers the Pushtuns. Also, he does not want to take on the very small fraction of population that strongly supports the fundamentalists. He is a man in a very difficult position… [President Musharraf] is doing about as good as a Pakistani leader can do.[324]

242.  Nevertheless, Pakistani efforts in the war against terrorism could be helped by financial and technical assistance. Dr Zafar Cheema, of St Anthony's College, Oxford, told us that Pakistani success depends on the resources available, both in terms of finance and surveillance intelligence.[325] We also heard during our visit to Pakistan that the army has encountered unexpected problems in its operations against militants owing to their access to sophisticated equipment. This is reflected in the high number of casualties sustained by the Pakistani army.[326]

243.  We conclude that Pakistan is making a meaningful and welcome contribution to the war against terrorism. However, we also recognise the domestic difficulties faced by Pakistan and we are concerned that Pakistan and President Musharraf in particular are being targeted by al Qaeda as a result of their co-operation with the war against terrorism. We recommend that the Government make clear its appreciation for Pakistan's efforts and the courage of President Musharraf and consider what further assistance it can offer to assist these efforts.

Addressing the root causes of terrorism


244.  The number of madrasas (religious schools) in Pakistan grew markedly between 1988 and 2000 to fill the vacuum created by the country's inadequate school system. Estimates of the number of madrasas and their pupils vary hugely: the number of schools has been put at 10,000-40,000,[327] while estimates of the number of children attending these schools vary from 1-3 million.[328] The madrasas provide religious and some general education to children—mostly boys, many of them from poor families that have few other educational options. Many of these schools receive foreign funding. However, with many madrasas focussing exclusively on Koranic recitation (which is in Arabic—a language that the children do not understand), they fail to equip children with the means to earn a living in the modern world. Moreover, there are concerns about the links between some madrasas and militant recruitment.[329] The Committee heard from witnesses about the link between the madrasas and religious extremism, and in particular their role in creating the Taliban. Dr Cheema told the Committee that educational reform is required to "moderate" Pakistani society.[330] In particular he emphasised the need to bring religious education within the mainstream education system.

245.  In January 2002, President Musharraf made a televised address to the nation in which he "declared war" on religious extremism and pledged to reform Pakistani society. He highlighted the need to tackle the country's madrasas by registering them and controlling their funding and curricula.[331] The Pakistani government subsequently launched a programme of reform: madrasas are being offered funding for the purchase of teaching materials (including computers) in order to enable them to teach a broader curriculum. During his visit to Pakistan in March 2004, the Foreign Secretary visited a madrasa in Peshawar and later welcomed President Musharraf's efforts to tackle extremism and his call for reform of religious schools.[332] However, the Pakistan government has a long way to go. In March, the Foreign Secretary told us:

    The Pakistan Government recognise that there is a lot to do to change the nature of education by the madrasa and their approach to that is to build up the state-run schools which provide a more modern and a wider curriculum because if they do that, as one of my interlocutors said, then the parents will vote for it with their feet and will send their children to these modern schools rather than to the madrasa. For many parents, I am told, they send their children to the madrasa for want of anything else, so that seems to me to be the best way of dealing with it rather than engaging in a full-frontal assault on the schools themselves.[333]

246.  In addition to the slow pace of expansion of the mainstream school system, only limited progress has been made registering madrasas. "According to some reports, only 1 percent of the approximately 10,000 to 40,000 madrassahs are registered, and most of them operate without any government supervision."[334] One problem is that registration is voluntary. We also went to a madrasa in Peshawar during our visit to Pakistan, and were warmly welcomed there. However, we were concerned by aspects of what we saw. The madrasa offered little more than lessons in Koranic recitation, which were conducted in spartan and dilapidated conditions. The madrasa had refused government funding for improved facilities because such funding is conditional on teaching a broader curriculum.

247.  As well as having to contend with opposition to what is seen as government 'interference' in religious teaching, the Education Ministry faces administrative and funding difficulties. The Committee heard from witnesses that non-governmental organisations working on education projects among Afghan refugees in Pakistan have had difficulties getting funding.[335] This is particularly worrying given the fact that this community had difficulties getting funding in the 1980s and 1990s, prompting Afghan families to send their sons to Madrasas, with the result that some of them went on to become members of the Taliban.[336]

248.  We are concerned that insufficient progress has been made on reforming Pakistan's education system. The situation is urgent given the need to combat the dangerous nexus of poverty and extremism. We recommend that the Government give its full support to Pakistan's efforts to reform the education system, including providing financial and administrative assistance.


249.  Another cause for concern relates to the remote tribal areas of Pakistan along the border with Afghanistan. Central government control is weak in these areas, which are governed by traditional tribal law. We heard during our visit to Pakistan that for the last 50 years the region has lived according to its own rules, which include a system of collective responsibility and conflict resolution through a council of elders (jirga).

250.  The tribal areas are also extremely poor:

While we were in Pakistan we were told that the female literacy rate in the FATA is just 3%. The real figure is likely to be even lower given the measure of literacy used.

251.  The inaccessibility of the tribal areas combined with their poor socio-economic conditions make them a haven for members of the Taliban and al Qaeda. We heard during our visit to Pakistan that many of the foreigners present in the tribal areas have large sums of money, which enable them to buy support and shelter. However, some locals are motivated by religious sympathies; witnesses told us that there is significant support for the Taliban in the tribal areas.[338]

313   'Pakistan vows to help U.S. 'punish' attackers', CNN, 13 September 2001. Back

314   'Waziristan: Bin Laden's hiding place?', BBC, 3 April 2004. Back

315   'Pakistan expects more arrests in al-Qaeda operation', Financial Times, 15 June 2004. Back

316   Remarks by Jack Straw, 'Pakistan and Britain: A Strong Partnership for a Safer World', University of Peshawar, Pakistan, 5 March 2004, available at: Back

317   Memorandum for the Secretary of State, Presidential Determination No. 2004-37, 16 June 2004, available at: Back

318   'U.S. general questions Pakistan's terror effort', International Herald Tribune, 4 May 2004, and 'US Afghan envoy angers Pakistan', BBC, 6 April 2004. Back

319   Q137 Back

320   'Pakistan's defiant tribesmen', BBC, 19 March 2004. Back

321   Q52 [Samore] Back

322   'Pakistan Denounces Tape Calling For Revolt, Islamic Parties Protest President's Military Action', Washington Post, 27 March 2004; and 'Excerpts: 'Al-Qaeda tape' urges Pakistan revolt', BBC, 25 March 2004. Back

323   'Pakistan expects more arrests in al-Qaeda operation', Financial Times, 15 June 2004. Back

324   Qq55-56 Back

325   Q53 [Cheema] Back

326   During the mid-March operation in South Waziristan around 60 Pakistani soldiers arebelieved to have been killed. See 'Scepticism greets Pakistan 'success'', BBC, 30 March 2004. Back

327   'Pakistan's future and U.S policy options', Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, March 2004, p 16. Back

328   'Pakistan's future and U.S policy options', Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, March 2004, p 16. While we were in Pakistan we were told that 1 million children attend madrasas. Back

329   'Pakistan's future and U.S policy options', Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, March 2004, p 16. Back

330   Q55 [Cheema] Back

331   "Musharraf declares war on extremism", BBC, 12 January 2002. Back

332   Remarks by Jack Straw, 'Pakistan and Britain: A Strong Partnership for a Safer World', University of Peshawar, Pakistan, 5 March 2004, available at: Back

333   Q139 Back

334   'Pakistan's future and U.S policy options', Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, March 2004, p 16. Back

335   Q97 [Clark] Back

336   ibid Back

337   'ADB Preparing Project to Develop Federally Administered Tribal Areas in Pakistan', Asian Development Bank press release, 18 February 2004. Back

338   Q81 [Marsden] Back

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