A large conflict may be looming as terrorists expand their control in Pakistan. Militants who once primarily controlled the lawless tribal belt on the Afghan/Pakistan border region are now in control of vast portions of Northern Pakistan.

The increased influence of the Islamic radicals was highlighted this week by intense fighting between local gunmen and government troops. The government said about 180 people have been killed, mostly militants, in violence including bombings, abductions and shootouts.

Taliban and al-Qaida were pushed back after the U.S. and its Afghan allies toppled the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in late 2001. Today, residents say Arabs, Uzbeks and Tajiks have rejoined the ranks of the local radicals, mostly Pashtuns, the same ethnic group as the Taliban across the border in Afghanistan.

Terrorists now control Swat, which is a 4,000 square mile province in Northern Pakistan. Pro-Taliban cleric Maulana Fazlullah has set up a virtual mini-state in Swat, a province of 4,000 square miles. He uses an FM radio station to help spread fundamentalist Islam in an area once known to tourists as the “Switzerland of Asia” for its stunning, snow-covered mountains.

Fazlullah and his followers have imposed strict Sharia law in Swat just as the Taliban did in Afghanistan. They have bombed girls schools and blown up video and CD shops. They drilled holes into the face of a 20-foot- tall stone Buddha, obliterating the features of the 1,300-year-old sculpture.

One of the biggest problems the Pakistani government faces is corruption within the military, Police, and intelligence service. Many within these organizations are at the very least sympathetic or at the worst actively assisting the terrorists.

Sooner or later the U.S. military is going to have to go into Northern Pakistan and clean out the terrorists. They now have a base of operations there just as they did in Afghanistan. If President Bush is serious about denying a safe haven for terrorists to plan attacks from then something must be done.

I believe President Musharraf is trying to help us as much as he can. The extremists are as much a threat to him and his government as they are to the West. I think it speaks volumes that Musharraf doesn’t have a single Pakistani in his personal security detail. He uses third country mercenaries with no personal or political ties to Pakistan.

At this moment there is no greater threat to the U.S. and its interests than extremist elements within Pakistan. If President Bush chooses to ignore this gathering danger or allows politics to get in the way, he is doing so at our peril.

-Chris Jones
The Hot Joints

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