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Why Pakistan Is Launch Pad for Anti-US Terrorists

Visit by US secretary of state on Sunday will focus on the threat.

American Secretary of State Madeleine Albright arrives in Pakistan on Sunday amid renewed US concerns about Pakistan's ability to prevent terrorist attacks against Americans.

This Islamic nation, a struggling democracy widely seen as a regional conduit for terrorists, drugs, weapons, and radical Islamists, has tried to work with Washington. But a number of recent incidents, including Wednesday's killings of four Americans in Karachi, has thrown doubt on Pakistan's ability to deal with American concerns.

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Officials in both countries admit that much of the "lawless frontier" mentality that exists in Pakistan grew out of Western support for guerrillas fighting the Soviet Union in neighboring Afghanistan in the 1980s. Pakistan was the staging area for Western money and arms funneled to the guerrillas. The corruption and black market economy that grew around those activities remains difficult to uproot.

The Karachi shootings are only the most recent in a series of terrorist incidents targeting US citizens and interests at home and abroad. Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, one of the two defendants convicted Wednesday in New York for the February 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center was hiding in Pakistan when he was captured. And Mir Aimal Kasi, a Pakistani national, who was convicted in a US court Monday for killing two CIA employees outside the agency's headquarters in 1993, fled home to Pakistan following the shootings.

Pakistani officials point out that they went out on limb to extradite both Mr. Kasi and Mr. Yousef to the United States, despite widespread criticism at home that they circumvented Pakistan's Constitution to do so.

Many Pakistanis complain bitterly that their government kowtows to the US. One joke holds that three A's matter in Pakistani politics: Allah, Army, and America.

The US would also like to see greater Pakistani efforts to stem the flow of illegal drugs that flow through the country on their way to Europe and the US, mainly from Afghanistan, where the United Nations Drug Control Program estimates that 240 tons of heroin originated in 1995.

American officials also point out that Wednesday's killings were the second time that US citizens have been targeted in Karachi in recent years. In March 1995, two US consulate employees were killed, and a third man injured, when unknown gunmen ambushed their van. No arrests have yet been made.

For Pakistan, the latest killings have triggered fresh anxiety over a possible escalation in anti-American sentiment.

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But senior government officials say that anti-US sentiment is far more muted than in neighboring Iran where slogans such as "death of America" have made prominent newspaper headlines in the past.

Ikram Sehgal, a Karachi-based businessmen and regular newspaper columnist told the Monitor yesterday, "If we wanted to mend fences with the United States, we have to go after [anti-US] militant groups in a big way. US-Pakistan relations will be damaged to an extent due to the killings."

BUT senior government officials say that decisive action is difficult, since there is often grass-roots support for violence against US targets. As an example, they cite the hundreds of Islamic religious schools that sprang up across the country during the Afghan war, including many where children as young as 12 are being trained in the use of weapons, in preparation for fighting an Islamic jihad or holy war.

Wednesday's killings in Karachi have also sparked anxieties over the future of US and other foreign investments in Pakistan and the country's economic outlook. Unemployment has grown in the past two years as part of a persistent economic downturn.

Following Wednesday's killings, opinion is divided over the extent they will affect future business business growth.

While some businessmen say foreign companies already in Pakistan will continue their operations regardless of the security fears, others say those fears will slow the entry of prospective new investors.

Ali Jamil, head of corporate finance at Karachi's Jehangir Siddiqui brokerage - one of the largest brokerage houses says: "The investment outlook is going to be dampened. Nobody would want to come here as long as the security situation doesn't improve."

Pakistan also has another reason for wanting to assuage US concerns. Five years ago, the government paid $476 million for 26 F-16 fighter jets. But the US Congress has banned the sale under the Pressler Amendment, which imposed trade sanctions for Pakistan's alleged clandestine nuclear arms program.

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