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Defending the Afghan border

Al-Qaida and other radical groups are terrorizing both Afghanistan and Pakistan out of their long common border.   NBC's Tom Brokaw reports.

Pakistani army units moved into the mountainous border areas with Afghanistan shortly after 9/11, but no army anywhere is large enough to cover this remote and hostile terrain.  How do you police this — or find someone here?

Osama bin Laden is thought to be here somewhere in the barren area along the southwestern Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

I asked Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf where he thought bin Laden is.  He said, “I really don’t know. I can’t be sure, but I presume he’s on the border.”

When asked if he thought bin Laden was moving around, he answered, “I think so, yes, he couldn’t be static.”

Did he think he was still in charge of al-Qaida?  “I don’t think so because he’s not in communication. We are very effective on that, and we are hearing and watching.  I don’t think he’s in command,” Musharraf answered.

As for other al-Qaida fighters, the Pakistan army is trying to deny them sanctuary by working with the local tribes who for centuries have controlled these towering mountains and steep valleys.

Afghanistan is just over the mountains, and this was a passageway for the Taliban and al-Qaida fighters.  But now the Pakistan army is persuaded it has secured the area with development, new roads, water, health and education.

The army is building roads, medical clinics, and schools and in this carefully managed tour for us, showing of small hydroelectric pumps. 

In exchange, the tribes are expected to cooperate. They’ve been told if anyone harbors a terrorist, everyone will be punished.

Gen. Shaukat Sultan Kahn is persuaded the system is working. “If at all they are harboring someone, then, there are very serious repercussions,” he said. “OK? Like the people have people holed up.  Their houses have been demolished. The repercussions are very serious.”

But the general’s tough guy style and hard sell don’t intimidate these tribal elders. They gathered for a jirga — their version of a town hall meeting — and said, in effect, “show me the money.”

A translator describes the conversation: “Until today, none of our demands have been fulfilled. We have been promised many times.  Like the day the governor came and made promises, nothing happened.”

And who knows how many terrorists have slipped out of the mountains and into the shadows of Peshawar, the rough town on the Pakistan side of the Khyber Pass?

Even in quiet times, Peshawar is a place where smugglers hole up — gun dealers and drug dealers thrive — and where terrorists can fade into the night. The Afghans have the same problem in their country. Terrorists coming out of the hills and into cities like Kabul and fading into the refugee population.