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Pakistan's terror hunt goes on

From CNN Islamabad Bureau Chief Ash-har Quraishi


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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- Two years after becoming a frontline state in the war on terror, Pakistan keeps a close eye out for remnants of the Taliban, al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.

Officials say the terrorist network is undoubtedly weaker since the start of the anti-terrorism campaign, but Pakistan's former intelligence chief Hamid Gul says it was a total failure in strategy on the part of the Americans.

"They (Americans) should have asked Pakistan to continue our contacts with the Taliban," he told CNN. "We would have found OBL (Osama bin Laden)."

"But now it is very difficult. It is like searching for a needle in a haystack," he added.

Even with bin Laden eluding capture, there have been successes.

Pakistan has handed over more than 500 suspected terrorists to the United States, and arrested key al Qaeda operatives like Ramzi Bin al Shibh, a would-be 9/11 hijacker who was captured after a dramatic shootout in the streets of Karachi.

The biggest catch of all is the suspected mastermind of the September 11 attacks, Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, who was picked up earlier this year in Rawalpindi.

But a major focus of the hunt for al Qaeda and bin Laden himself is on Pakistan's lawless tribal areas -- treacherous, inaccessible terrain where smuggling and the gun trade are the main sources of income.

The Pakistani military has secured the last of seven passes along the border of such areas. Their objective: to seal off all major routes that could be used by remnant Taliban or al Qaeda fighters.

Their presence is unprecedented because the fiercely independent tribesmen living there have not allowed anyone -- not even the Pakistani government -- to share control of their areas in more than a century.

Today, more than 70,000 Pakistani troops are posted on the border, but an obvious vulnerability remains with the absence of military night patrols.

Pakistani Army commander Jan Mohammad Aurakzai said all the possible routes are being manned, but he concedes that if someone chooses to go through the border at night, there might be a chance.

"But as a matter of procedure, we do not operate at night," he said.

To make up for those holes in the net, the United States has helped Pakistan set up a state-of-the-art database system at all major airports and border crossings. They are now equipped with software and cameras aimed at catching terrorists.

"The government and the president have gone out of their way to assist the U.S. and the international coalition in this," Interior Secretary Tasneem Noorani said.

"I think the international coalition needs to acknowledge it more."

But for now, Islamabad is banking on its partnership with Washington and investing in its future.

The cooperation has created an elite intelligence and security force -- the Special Investigations Group.

The FBI is training about 50 Pakistani officers to identify and investigate terrorists and their activities.

The first recruits will graduate later this month.


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