How Al Qaeda seeks to buy Chinese arms
Islamic warriors, Chinese weapons, Pakistani spies, and American money. It was the formula that defeated the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in 1989.Skip to next paragraph
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Pakistani intelligence agents received millions of dollars from America's Central Intelligence Agency to buy Chinese guns. Pakistan then gave these weapons to Afghan guerrillas and to a foreign legion of holy warriors from all over the Islamic world, who defeated the Soviet Army in 1989.
Now, Afghanistan's top military and intelligence officials say this same Pakistani-Chinese weapons channel is being used for a very different purpose: to destabilize the new Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai, and to challenge the US military in the deserts and airspace of Afghanistan.
"China is a strategic friend of Pakistan, and they are capable of bringing such kind of weapons to Pakistan anytime so they can be used against our government," says Engineer Ali, chief of Afghanistan's intelligence agency, KHAD. "China does not want to create problems for us," he adds, "but the Pakistanis can deceive China. They can tell China that the weapons will be used for its own domestic purposes, but then use them for international terrorism."
An Afghan intelligence report, cited by the Monitor on Aug. 9, says that Al Qaeda has regrouped in Pakistan and is attempting to purchase Chinese antiaircraft weapons. These Afghan charges are straining the already fragile relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan, two key members of America's antiterrorism coalition.
At a press conference this week in Islamabad, Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf flatly denied that Pakistan was supporting Al Qaeda, and said instead that Al Qaeda had regrouped within Afghanistan "because of the weakness of the central transitional government in Kabul."
In response, Afghan Defense Minister Muhammad Fahim on Wednesday fumed that General Musharraf's charges were "false and baseless," and said that Al Qaeda had regrouped within the Pashtun tribal areas that both Afghanistan and Pakistan claim.
Afghan intelligence officials admit that they only have reports that Al Qaeda is attempting to buy Chinese antiaircraft weapons. The sale, they say, has not taken place. And China vigorously denies Afghan claims that it's indirectly arming Al Qaeda. American and Afghan strategists agree it would be counterproductive for China to have any sort of arms-supplying relationship with Islamic radicals. China has its own longstanding Islamist militant tensions in the western province of Xinjiang, which borders Afghanistan.
But senior Afghan military sources including those who fought during the anti-Soviet jihad say that Pakistan's close military relationship with China continues to facilitate the flow of weapons into the region, and that could turn the tide of the war inside Afghanistan. In addition, they say, rogue agents within Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency may be funneling these weapons to Islamists without the knowledge or approval of either China or Pakistan's own president.
"The people in the ISI today are the same people who created the Al Qaeda and the Taliban," says Gen. Mohammad Aslam Masoud, chairman of the National Defense and Security Commission in the Afghan president's office. "They will definitely try to buy missiles from China. I don't know if China is that stupid to give these weapons to them, but Pakistan can buy the missiles for themselves and give them to the terrorists."