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Footprints Of Terror

The footprints of virtually every major act of international terrorism in the world in recent years pass inevitably through Pakistan making it the crucial link in the inexorable growth of global terror.

Footprints Of Terror
Footprints Of Terror

On March 1, 2003, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, one of the prime planners of the 9/11 attacks on the US, was arrested in Rawalpindi. The next day, he was handed over to US authorities, who had been pursuing him at least since his 1995 involvement in the abortive 'Operation Bojinka' conspiracy to simultaneously blow up 12 American civilian airliners over the Pacific, in which he collaborated with his relative, Ramzi Yousef, who is currently serving a life sentence in America for the 1993 attack on the World Trade Centre.

With a US $ 25 million reward on his head, this self proclaimed 'head of Al Qaeda's Military Committee' and close associate of Osama bin Laden is certainly a major catch for the Americans. Within the context of the global war against terror, however, this is just another very small step forward.

To understand why, it is useful to look at some other incidents over the past weeks in Pakistan. On February 28, in the latest in a long series of sectarian killings, three persons from the minority Shia community were killed by unidentified attackers in Karachi. On the same day, two policemen guarding the American Consulate in Karachi were killed, when an unidentified gunman opened fire on the police picket near the consulate building. Five other police personnel and a civilian passer-by were also injured in this incident.

On February 22, nine persons from the minority Shia community, including a seven year old boy, were killed, and seven others wounded by three motorcycle borne gunmen outside an Imambargah (mosque) in Karachi. On February 16, former legislator and Muttahida Quomi Mahaz - Altaf Hussain (MQM-A) central leader Khalid bin Waleed was shot dead and his associate and official gunman injured, again in Karachi.

Sheikh Mohammad's arrest has integral links with these acts of terror, and the organisations that executed them. One of the primary organisations responsible for the targeted killings of minority groups and their leaders in Karachi is the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), and it was after two members of this group were arrested and interrogated on information provided by some Shias from Gilgit in the Northern Areas that another LeJ terrorist was traced out in Quetta.

It was this third LeJ operative who eventually disclosed that Sheikh Mohammad had been hiding out with him, but had escaped just before the raid. It was on his information that the residence of Ahmed Abdul Qadoos was raided in Rawalpindi, and Sheikh Mohammad was arrested. Sheikh Mohammad has had an extended association with the LeJ.

Sheikh Mohammad's arrest, the succession of sectarian killings in Karachi, and the attacks on the US consulate are renewed evidence that terrorism is alive and well in Pakistan. These events need to be placed in the context of President Musharraf's rather strident denials of Al Qaeda presence in the country, and claims that terrorists were not being allowed to operate from Pakistani soil. Sheikh Mohammad's arrest, indeed, validates assertions that the Al Qaeda has substantially regrouped and relocated in Pakistan, and has been facilitated in this by a number of political and militant actors closely linked to state agencies.

The arrest of Ahmed Abdul Qadoos, who is the son of a local Jamaat-e-Islami leader, and his quick defence by the Jamaat, bears this pattern out. The Jamaat is a major political force in the present establishment, and has long been an inspiration for a number of extremist militant affiliates.

President Musharraf's showcase arrests of the leaders of banned terrorist groups, their subsequent release, and the continued operation of these groups under new names needs to be immediately revaluated, and pressure must be brought to bear on Pakistan to place effective curbs on the operation of these groups and connected individuals.

It should be noted here that virtually all the groups supposedly 'banned' by Pakistan as terrorist organisations are now allowed to function with impunity under new names. Thus, for example, the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) now operates as the 'Pasban-e-Ahle-Hadith'; the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) is 'Al Furqan'; the Markaz-ad-Dawa-wal-Irsahd is 'Jamaat-ad-Dawa'; the Tehrik-e-Jafaria Pakistan (TJP) is the 'Tehrik-e-Islami'.

Within the current circumstances in Pakistan, consequently, where the state actively tolerates, or even encourages and supports, certain patterns of terrorism, it is not possible to effectively control others. There is an ethos of terrorism, and this has enormously facilitated the relocation of the Al Qaeda in this country. It is useful to notice, also, that the footprints of virtually every major act of international terrorism in the world in recent years pass inevitably through this country, and it is precisely this 'ethos of terrorism' that makes it the crucial link in the inexorable growth of global terror.

There are many who believe that Sheikh Mohammad's arrest constitutes a 'major blow' to bin Laden and the Al Qaeda. At one level, this is certainly the case: the loss of a top operative inevitably inflicts some damage on the operational capabilities of an organisation. But such losses are far from crippling - as the death of Mohammad Atef and the arrests of Abu Zubaidah and Ramzi Binalshibh have already demonstrated.

Indeed, with the tens of thousands who have been trained by the Taliban - Al Qaeda - Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) combine in camps along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border for over a decade, the 'sacrifice' of a few operatives is not only easily absorbed, it is a necessary input in the development of the organisation.

The fact is, the Al Qaeda and the Islamist terrorist Internationale has immensely evolved since 9/11. A continuing succession of terrorist strikes, including a string of incidents in Pakistan, the attacks in Bali and Mombasa, as well as continuous pre-emptive arrests across Europe and America are testimony to the crystallization of a truly decentralized, hydra-headed operation which will continue to flourish as long as it retains its seeding grounds and safe havens in nation states where the culture of violence and the ideologies of terror are supported by the state structure and a powerful social and political establishment. 

The author is Executive Director, Institute for Conflict Management and Editor, South Asia Intelligence Review of the South Asia Terrorism Portal, courtesy which this article appears here.

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