ISLAMABAD, Oct 31: President Gen Pervez Musharraf on Tuesday defended the overnight air strike on a madressah in Bajaur which killed 82 alleged terrorists as thousands in the country protested against the missile attack.
President Musharraf told an international gathering that anyone saying innocent people were killed in the air strike was lying.
“They were all militants. They were doing military training there. We were working on them for last six, seven days and we know who they were and what they were doing,” the president said at the opening of a seminar on security in South Asia.
Extra security measures were taken on the occasion in view of the tense situation created by Monday’s strike which the leader of opposition in National Assembly, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, has termed “an unpardonable act”.
President Musharraf told the diplomats and scholars attending the seminar that his strategy to deal with terrorism and extremism had four prongs: military force, political means to wean away people from militancy, strengthening administration and bringing tribal areas into mainstream through economic activity.
“But the military element will remain the foremost,” he said, adding: “We saw the physical manifestation of that yesterday.”
Ihtashamul Haq adds: Meanwhile, security officials briefed a group of journalists to establish that the air strike had to be carried out because the terrorists trained there were “about to be sent out on missions.”
“The trainers were in a hurry to push them into Afghanistan or Pakistan - one does not know exactly where,” the officials, requesting anonymity, told the journalists invited to share “the evidence” that those killed in Monday’s action were “terrorists”.
Infra-red images of the alleged terrorists screened by them showed men engaging in military drills.
When the journalists pointed out that no weapons could be seen in the images, the officials said that “training in planting explosives or suicide bombing” did not need weapons.
They rejected the allegation that the madressah was bombed “to please Nato” which blames the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan on supporters in Pakistan.
While promising “same response to any future attempt to use our soil for terrorist activities”, the officials countered the Nato allegations by asking why its forces could not interdict the Taliban crossing the border either way.
They said Maulana Liaqat’s madressah had been under observation since July and claimed the madressah had been frequented by Al Qaeda leaders, including Ayman al-Zawahiri, Abu al-Obaida al-Misri and Abu Farash, in the past.
They said that it was unusual for the madressah to remain open these days when others usually remained closed until 10 to 15 days after Eidul Fitr.
Asked why ground troops were not used to raid the madressah, the officials said: “The difficult terrain would not allow a successful ground operation.”
According to them, pro-Taliban elements in the area had links with Al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan’s Kunar province across the border.
Veteran Afghan Mujahideen leader Gulbadin Hekmatyar was also believed to be organising resistance to Nato-led forces — largely American — in that area, the officials said.
The Jamaat-i-Islami ‘has links’ with the Hekmatyar group from the days of US-backed jihad against Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, they recalled.
The security officials claimed to have “evidence” of the Jamaat’s current links with the Hekmatyar group but their civilian aides shrank when the journalists asked if any action was being contemplated against the party on that count.
“Harder evidence may lead to an action,” the civilians said.