The confusion, which prevailed in Pakistan following the arrest of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad (KSM), the allged kingpin of Al Qaeda, has now somewhat been cleared. Consequently, a more meaningful analysis is possible despite their being still many unanswered questions.
The confusion gave rise to two kinds of speculation:
- He was killed during the encounter in Karachi on September 11, 2002, during which Ramzi Binalshibh,
another Al Qaeda operative, was captured and hence there had been a wrong identification. This has been
proved wrong by his being handed over to US custody by the Pakistani officials.
- He was actually captured on September 11, but the Pakistani authorities had shown him as captured on
March 1, 2003, in order to soften any US anger due to their ambivalent stand on the Iraq issue.
This did not stand scrutiny. If this was really so, the Pakistanis would have stage-managed a raid at some other place near the Pakistan-Afghan border and shown him as arrested there.
They would not have shown him as arrested in Rawalpindi in an area where many serving and retired officers of the Army and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) live, which was bound to create a suspicion in the minds of the Americans about the complicity of military officials with KSM.
After studying the reports emanating from Pakistan, my assessment is that at the instance of American officials, the ISI raided the house of a leader of the women's wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI) in Rawalpindi hoping that the American information about the presence of KSM there would be wrong. To their shock, they found it was right and KSM was there. This is purely my assessment and I do not have any clinching evidence to prove it.
What next? The US media is full of reports about the valuable documents giving the names and telephone numbers of Al Qaeda sleepers in the US supposedly found at the place of arrest. Details of a follow-up action memorandum alleged to have been issued by the USA's Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have also been published. One should for the present treat these reports with reservation. These seem to be inspired leaks or plants to remove any suspicion in the minds of the American public about the real significance of the arrest in the war against terrorism.
The arrest and its sequel have corroborated what Indian officials and I have
been saying for months, namely, that:
- The surviving dregs of Al Qaeda, the Taliban and the other components of Osama bin Laden's (OBL)
International Islamic Front (ISI) escaped into Pakistan from Afghanistan in the beginning of last year
and have been given shelter there.
- While the dregs of the Taliban have taken shelter in the tribal areas of Balochistan, the North-West
Frontier Province (NWFP) and the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), those of Al Qaeda have spread
themselves out into the urban areas of Sindh and Punjab. The dregs of the Pakistani components of the
ISI have taken shelter in Karachi, the Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK) and the Northern Areas (NA).
- Reports received in August, 2002, indicated that bin Laden himself was undergoing treatment at the Binori madrasa of Karachi for a sharpnel injury sustained at Tora Bora.
These reports were not taken seriously by the Americans earlier. They apparently suspected them to be motivated Indian propaganda. It is hoped that at least now they would take them more seriously and step up pressure on Islamabad to take effective action against the dregs.
The speculation in Pakistan as to whether KSM was really arrested has petered out and has been replaced by equally frenzied speculation about the fate of OBL. Gen . Pervez Musharraf, who earlier used to pooh-pooh reports of his being alive and in Pakistan, now admits grudgingly that he is alive, but still denies that he is in Pakistani territory.
There is palpable nervousness in Pakistani official circles that he may ultimately be found in their territory, thereby adding to the suspicions of the Americans about their links with Al Qaeda.
Many in Pakistan are now convinced that the US net is closing in on OBL and that he cannot escape capture by the Americans, unless he commits suicide. Did OBL himself suspect that the US is close on his heels? Since November 12, 2002, a number of messages and statements attributed to OBL have been circulating in the Islamic world.
In one of them, he was quoted as expressing the fear (or hope?) that he might "martyr" himself this year and might end up in the belly of the eagle. Many Muslims had interpreted the expression "belly of the eagle" as a reference to the US. Some of them had also seen this as possibly a reference to a major terrorist attack planned against the US, in which he himself might be participating. Another possible interpretation is that his statement reflected his anxiety that he might not be able to evade capture for long.
The complicity of the JEI with Al Qaeda should be a matter of concern. Of all the Islamic political parties in Pakistan, the JEI has always been the most favoured by the military-intelligence establishment. Its leaders are perceived in Pakistan as the Army's blue-eyed Mullahs. While maintaining an overtly anti-establishment line, it has always covertly collaborated with the Army and the ISI.
Many Pakistani Army officers and nuclear scientists gravitate towards the JEI after their retirement. Worrisome examples are those of Lt. Gen. Hamid Gul and Lt. Gen. Javed Nasir, both former Directors-General of the ISI, and Mr.A.Q.Khan, the "father" of the Pakistani atomic bomb. It is likely that the women's wing leader of the JEI gave shelter to KSM at the instance of such retired officers who have been helping Al Qaeda and the Taliban escape decimation by the Americans.
The JEI's nexus with Al Qaeda is the tip of the iceberg of the nexus with the terrorists of at least some sections of the Army.
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Convdenor, Advisory Committee, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Chennai