Tierney visits Pakistan to assess Taliban threat

U.S. Rep. John F. Tierney completed his visit to Pakistan Tuesday where he learned the presence of Taliban extremists is growing, Al-Qaida operatives thrive along the country’s rugged frontier with Afghanistan, and a national election slated for the fall could lead to democratization rather than Talibanization, but only with support from free nations.Today, the congressman, a Salem Democrat newly named as chairman of the Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, was bound for Afghanistan as part of the same fact-finding mission, accompanied by three subcommittee members – U.S. Representatives George Miller, Betty McCollum and Patrick McHenry. Before departing Islamabad, he shared his observations with reporters by satellite phone.According to Tierney, thousands of people are teaching Jihad or holy war in Pakistan, and some of their disciples are responsible for the rash of bombings inside that country. Other incidents suggest the Taliban is strengthening as young women are attacked en route to school for their manner of dress, and music shops are closed, he said.”The people want more done by the government to stop that kind of Taliban extremism,” he said, adding that the upcoming elections could lead toward democratization, make the government more capable of fighting the Taliban, and help stabilize the frontier. “The stakes are high. I believe that if Pakistan is going Taliban, then it makes our fight harder in Afghanistan. It needs to be stopped and taken seriously.”During his trip, Tierney met with Pakistan President Gen. Pervez Musharraf and other key Pakistani government and military leaders, as well as with media, human rights and election watchdog groups. The agenda was dominated by discussion of how to ensure free and fair elections in the fall.”There are registration issues. People are being dropped from voter rolls. Others are disappearing,” said Tierney, explaining that the situation is made more complex by Musharraf’s role as both President and commanding general of the armed forces. “Some people think the President and the military are not being as strong as they could be against the Taliban, and that the resistance gives them reason to stay in power.”Tierney said President Musharraf insists his troops at the Afghan border are stopping the Taliban from entering the country, while Afghan President Hamid Karzai contends not enough is being done. Intelligence is sketchy, at best, with the number of Taliban operating in the region ranging from 600 to 10,000. Fighting near the border also has been reported in recent weeks, but nobody has a clear fix on what is causing it. One account describes a group of local fighters pursuing the Taliban, while another story has it that two Taliban groups are warring, and that one of them is government-backed, Tierney said.As the congressmen continue on their trip, the war in Iraq rages on, with more U.S. casualties reported on Tuesday, the same day President George Bush threatened to veto a congressional war budget because it purportedly lacks adequate funds.”The money is there through May and into June. President Bush has to become more familiar with the facts,” Tierney said.Meanwhile, the war against state-sponsored terrorism has been escalating on a second front in Afghanistan and apparently gaining support in Congress. Earlier this week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said U.S. troops should be redeployed to Afghanistan.”The Taliban is there, the people who are responsible for bombing the Towers and the Pentagon,” said Tierney, referring to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S. “Now we have to make it impossible for bin Laden and others to re-establish bases from which they can attack the western world. And Pakistan has to help with that effort.”But simply sending in the troops isn’t enough, the congressman warned.”You have to look at the entire situation – the narcotics, security, is the reconstruction team being as effective as they can be? The internationa

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