For centuries the wild Pakistani tribal area -- stretching 1,000 kilometres along the Afghan border -- has been lawless, violent and remote. Now, it is rapidly becoming a central front in the U.S.-led war on terror.
The harsh mountainous territory, which Pakistan doesn't control and is off limits to U.S. troops, has become a breeding ground for jihad and the chief training centre for al-Qaeda.
Just days before Pakistanis vote in a crucial election, their country is being threatened by a new generation of radicalized Islamist insurgents who have allied themselves with international terrorists.
Fighters in the tribal areas have been blamed for carrying out more than 60 suicide attacks in Pakistan in the last year, including the Dec. 27 assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. But fears are growing another high-profile attack could ignite the sort of chaos Islamic radicals thrive on.
But as al-Qaeda and the Taliban dispatch suicide bombers from the tribal belt to attack Pakistani security personnel and politicians, there are increasing indications Pakistan has become a safe haven for al-Qaeda and the ideological heartland for Islamist terrorists worldwide.
According to top U.S. security officials, South Waziristan, on the border with Afghanistan, is the new headquarters for al-Qaeda's global operations and forms the centre of a web of terror plots and assassination attempts that reaches into Europe and the United States.
Of course, in recent posts (Mushy's War, Part 4 of ? and Pakistan's Madrassas, Part 3) we have looked at why that is, haven't we?
In testimony before Congress last week, retired admiral Michael McConnell, the U.S. director of national intelligence, stressed al-Qaeda has "regenerated its core operational capabilities needed to conduct attacks."
"Al-Qaeda has been able to retain a safe haven in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) that provides the organization many of the advantages it once derived from its base across the border in Afghanistan, albeit on a smaller and less secure scale," he said.
"The FATA serves as a staging area for al-Qaeda's attacks in support of the Taliban in Afghanistan as well as a location for training new terrorist operatives, for attacks in Pakistan, the Middle East, Africa, Europe and the United States.
"The next attack on the United States will most likely be launched by al-Qaeda operating in the 'under-governed regions' of Pakistan," he added.
But, Pakistan can't find these guys to shut them down, and neither will Musharraf allow U.S. forces into Pakistan to look for them.
As we learned in the Talibanistan series (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3), many of the locals are not happy to have the Arab-Afghan mujahideen in their communities.
You would think the government in Islamabad could make some political points in these areas by getting rid of the militants, in the process preventing attacks on Western forces in Afghanistan and on Western targets at home?
But, no -- funny how that works out.
Judging from online videos and local reports from Pakistan, a study published yesterday in the CTC Sentinel, a publication of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, estimates "al-Qaeda is running as many as 29 training camps in the [FATA] region that are less elaborate than those found in Afghanistan in the 1990s."
But those camps funnel new recruits or "Lions of Islam" into the fight against NATO forces, including Canadians, in Afghanistan, and train potential terrorists from overseas to launch attacks.
Unlike the large military-style camps al-Qaeda used in Afghanistan before the 9/11 attacks, the new training in Pakistan's tribal areas is being done in small groups and is specially tailored to prepare Western recruits for attacks.
Sure. The ISI is smart, and doesn't want to get caught. They know that big camps are easily identifiable on "overhead" photography.
On Monday, the German news magazine Der Spiegel reported that officials in Germany's federal police believe four men in their 20s are being trained in Pakistan to conduct terror attacks in Germany.
Also on Monday, David Miliband, the British Foreign Secretary, while encouraging NATO to redouble its efforts in Afghanistan, noted that 70% of all terrorist incidents in Britain had their origins in Pakistan.
"70% of all terrorist incidents in Britain had their origins in Pakistan."
In the last six months, Danish, German and Spanish officials have all broken up alleged terror plots that are linked to Waziristan.
Last month in Barcelona, police claimed to have broken up a plot to attack Spain's transit system and in four neighbouring countries.
"In my opinion, the jihadi threat from Pakistan is the biggest emerging threat we are facing in Europe," said Judge Baltasar Garzon, Spain's top anti-terrorism magistrate.
"Pakistan is an ideological and training hotbed for jihadists, and they are being exported here."
I liked it better back when Pakistan was exporting textiles.