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Pakistan, "Terror's Frontline"

CBS News' British partner network Sky News is doing a series of reports from Pakistan this week which is well worth a look. It shows some parts of the country that aren't often seen by Western eyes, and raises some very troubling questions.

It started with anchor Jeremy Thompson's interview of President Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of former Pakistani political powerhouse Benazir Bhutto. He lacks the political experience and media savvy of his late wife, who was assassinated.

Thompson points out in his write-up of the interview that Zardari often seems to contradict himself.

Thompson specifically points out how the president has repeatedly declared the fight against Islamic extremism in Pakistan a domestic problem, and chided the West for trying to interfere. In the same interview, Zardari says Pakistan can't win the fight without more money from Britain and the U.S.: "We haven't received a dollar. Until then we don't have the tools to fight."

More troubling, to my mind, was Zardari's adamant denial that a significant part of his country was firmly under the control of Taliban militants. He insisted that the Islamic extremists did not have free-run of the picturesque Swat Valley, and that Islamic "Sharia" law was not the law of the land.

Either Mr. Zardari knows something the residents of Swat don't know, or he is sadly disillusioned, or just lying.

Sky correspondent Stuart Ramsay was reporting from Swat on Monday, and the rare video his crew captured showed quite clearly that masked Taliban foot soldiers were the only official presence on the streets in Swat's main town.

The militants are seen doling out the Taliban's version of justice; publicly lashing suspected drug users and dealers in the streets as others watched. Residents who spoke to Ramsay said they were happy the Taliban was in control… that it was an improvement. They laughed when told of Zardari's insistence that the militant group was not the de-facto administration in Swat.

Smiling, Zardari claimed in the interview that the media was simply misrepresenting the struggle to control Swat, and that his security forces were in control.

His failure to understand the reality on the ground in his own country, or to admit it, is worrying enough given that most intelligence officials cite nuclear-armed Pakistan as the likely home of al Qaeda and Taliban leadership. But the problem is not, as Zardari suggested, a domestic one.

Sky's Alex Crawford reported Tuesday that assorted Pakistani and Western authorities had told her more than 20 young men living in Britain have been identified as possible terrorists with training experience in Pakistani camps.

Crawford's sources said the men, who range in age from 17 to 23, have been monitored by Pakistani authorities as they travelled through Pakistan, training in camps alongside al Qaeda and Taliban militants, then returned home. The men's activities caused "sufficient suspicion" for Pakistan's intelligence agency to believe they pose a "potential danger" to the U.K.

Thousands of young Britons have family roots in Pakistan, and can easily travel between the two countries. Many of the men under surveillance have told authorities they were in Pakistan to study or visit relatives.

A senior British intelligence official cautioned CBS News not to take Sky's revelation as a sign of any new or imminent threat.

"I very much doubt there is anything new here - probably more about Pakistan being able to say they are cooperating when we all know the truth is rather more complicated," he said, adding that the report "says nothing about when these people were in Pakistan or when they returned - this could literally be years old."

But one Pakistani source told Crawford: "We know the number of British Pakistanis engaged in what we would call suspicious activities is much higher — probably in the hundreds — but, to be frank, this isn't a Pakistani priority."

"The intelligence services here have much bigger things to worry about and these guys haven't committed any crime on Pakistani soil."

Her source was right, in a way. Pakistani officials have plenty to worry about.

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