June 05, 2020
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Gunning For Musharraf

What accounts for the virulently anti-Pervez Musharraf message, purported to have been issued by Ayman Al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian No.2 to Osama bin Laden in his Al Qaeda and IIF?

Gunning For Musharraf

A virulently anti-Pervez Musharraf message, purported to have been issued by Ayman Al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian No.2 to Osama bin Laden in his Al Qaeda and  International Islamic Front (IIF), was disseminated by the Al Jazeera TV station of Qatar on March 25, 2004. Sections of the US media have claimed that US intelligence officials believe that the voice in the tape appears to be that of al-Zawahiri and, hence, the tape is probably genuine.

It is not yet known how the TV station came to be in possession of the audio tape. The tapes of bin Laden and al-Zawahiri disseminated by it in the past were stated to have been received from unidentified sources in Pakistan.

The dissemination of the message has coincided with the operation to smoke out the dregs of Al Qaeda allegedly hiding in the South Waziristan area of the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan undertaken by the Pakistani security forces, with the help of the US intelligence agencies, during the last two weeks.

The high-profile operation, one of whose main objectives was to catch al-Zawahiri who was projected by Pakistani Army officials as hiding in that area, has till now proved to be an embarrassing fiasco for the Pakistan Army. It has inflamed the anti-US and anti-Musharraf anger  of not only the tribals of the frontier region, but also of the fundamentalist Muslims in other parts of Pakistan, leading to widespread, but not uncontrollable  public demonstrations against Musharraf and accusations of his letting himself be used by the US for making Muslims kill Muslims and Pakistanis kill Pakistanis.

Initial reports that al-Zawahiri was hiding in that area have not been proved to be correct so far. Pakistani Army authorities originally claimed to have captured about 100 terrorists, many of them foreigners suspected to be from Al Qaeda, but subsequent reports indicate that the arrested persons were largely local Pashtun tribals along with a handful of Chechens and Uzbecks, who had been living in that area for many years with their local wives. The Army sources, which originally characterised the arrested persons as terrorists, are now describing them as miscreants.

The local tribals have not only managed to frustrate the search of the security forces for foreigners allegedly hiding in that area, but have also managed to inflict heavy human casualties and equipment damage on the security forces in ambushes and frontal clashes. Since March 18, at least  70 Pakistani security forces personnel have been killed by the tribals, with eight of them captured in an ambush and executed at point-blank range after having been held hostage for some days. They were allegedly executed after the Army turned down the demand of the tribals for the release of the 100 tribals earlier arrested by the Army under suspicion of their being foreigners.

Faced with the determined resistance of the armed tribals, the Army has practically halted its combing operations in the interior areas of South Waziristan and has taken up defensive positions fearing more attacks by the tribals and what is described as their Al Qaeda supporters.

While it is not clear when  Al-Zawahiri's latest message was recorded, the virulence of its attack on Musharraf indicates that it was probably recorded after reports started appearing in the US and Pakistani media about the intensification of the hunt for bin Laden, Al-Zawahiri and their supporters by the US and Pakistani forces through co-ordinated, but separate operations in the areas adjoining the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

The tirade against Musharraf seeks to exploit the current anti-Musharraf anger amongst fundamentalist elements in Pakistan over three issues, namely, action against A.Q.Khan, the so-called father of Pakistan's atomic bomb under US pressure for nuclear proliferation, the restrictions allegedly imposed by Musharraf on the jihadi organisations operating against India in its Jammu & Kashmir from Pakistani territory and co-operation with the US in its hunt for bin Laden and other Al Qaeda dregs in the tribal areas.

It contains separate appeals for revolt against Musharraf addressed to the people, the Army and the Ulema (the religious clerics). Unlike the past messages of al-Zawahiri, which related to many countries, the latest one is Pakistan specific and Musharraf specific.

This is the second anti-Musharraf message, said to be by al-Zawahiri, disseminated by Al Jazeera. The earlier  one was disseminated on September 10, 2003, but it was not as virulent as the latest one. Both the messages contain direct attacks on India and the Hindus also.

Since Al Qaeda dregs led by bin Laden and Al-Zawahiri escaped into Pakistan from Afghanistan and took shelter in different cities and areas in 2002, video and audio messages as well as printed messages purported to have been issued by bin Laden and al-Zawahiri have been circulating in Pakistan. The messages of 2002 were free of any criticism of Musharraf and Pakistan.

An audio  message purported to be of bin Laden,broadcast by Al Jazeera on February 11, 2002, contained the first criticism of Pakistan by bin Laden. It said:  "We also stress to honest Muslims that they should move, incite, and mobilize the [Islamic] nation, amid such grave events and hot atmosphere so as to liberate themselves from those unjust and renegade ruling regimes, which are enslaved by the United States.  They should also do so to establish the rule of God on earth.  The most qualified regions for liberation are Jordan, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, the land of the two holy mosques [Saudi Arabia], and Yemen. "

The message, however, did not attack Musharraf by name. In fact,  all messages attributed to bin Laden till now have been free of personal attacks on Musharraf. The appearance of anti-Musharraf tirade in al-Zawahiri's messages since September 10,2003, leads one to suspect that the two may no longer be in touch with each other and may be hiding in different areas, without being able to co-ordinate their propaganda.

Another significant factor noticed is that whereas bin Laden's messages are generally free of any factual mistakes, such mistakes do occur in the messages of Al-Zawahiri. A message on the Iraq war attributed to him and disseminated by Al Jazeera on May 21, 2003, referred to Norway as one of the collaborators of the US in Iraq, whereas  this was not so. It had said: "Do not allow the Americans, the British, the Australians, the Norwegians, and the other crusaders who killed your brothers in Iraq to live in your countries, enjoy their resources, and wreak havoc on them. "

Similarly, the latest message of al-Zawahiri contains a noticeable factual mistake regarding the Baluchi tribals. It says: "The Pashtun tribes - which are free and lofty and which conquered India and defeated the British and the Russians - have given and still give the biggest support for the mujahidin in Afghanistan. They were assisted in this honourable duty by the dear and kind Baluch tribes, which had sent heroes to support Islam."

This is not correct. The Baluchi tribes did not support the Afghan Mujahideen during their war against the Soviet troops. Rather, they supported the pro-Moscow Government of Najibullah. Many of the Baluchi tribals and their leaders, to escape military action against them launched by the Pakistan Army, had taken shelter in Afghanistan where they were sustained by the Najibullah Government. They returned to Pakistan after the collapse of the Najibullah Government in Kabul in April,1992.

The Baluchis are presently not collaborating with the dregs of Al Qaeda and the Taliban who have taken shelter in Balochistan. It is the Pashtun residents of Balochistan, many of them illegal migrants from Afghanistan, who have been collaborating with Al Qaeda and the Taliban and giving them shelter.

Why such factual mistakes in al-Zawahiri's messages? Why the differences in nuances and emphasis in the messages of bin Laden and al-Zawahiri? Two conclusions are possible. Either the messages are not genuine. Or, if genuine, they are being disseminated by them from different places where they are not able to consult and co-ordinate with each other.

B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, and, presently, Director, Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai, and Disringuished Fellow and Convenor, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Chennai Chapter.

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