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Sunday, April 29, 2012

Special Report (USAMA BIN LADEN

Since bin Laden
A video released by Al-Sahab, the media wing of al-Qaeda last month shows Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and its ally Punjabi Taliban were behind the guerrilla terrorist attack on Pakistan Navy’s Mehran Base in Karachi on May 22 last. In the video, four TTP militants were shown recording their statements prior to the terrorist attack and said that their mission was meant to avenge the killing of Osama bin Laden.
Security agencies and analysts had predicted retaliatory attacks after bin Laden’s killing on May 2, 2011 in Abbotabad. As the so-called retaliation did not materalise at the scale predicted, many interpret that as regression in the al-Qaeda camp.
Conspiracies abound
Did the Pakistan military have a clue to bin Laden’s whereabouts, as the WikiLeaks would have you believe?
By Amir Mir
Although Pakistan Army has already rejected a WikiLeaks claim that bin Laden was in routine contact with several ISI officials while hiding in his Abbottabad compound, which was only a kilometre from the prestigious Kakul Military Academy, there is plenty of evidence to imply that some key officials in the Pakistani military and intelligence establishment indeed knew of his den, especially the former Army Chief, President General Pervez Musharraf. Osama’s widow Amal al Sadeh’s revelation instantly raised the million-dollar question: how did the world’s most wanted terrorist manage to spend nearly a decade in Pakistan without being detected by the intelligence agencies?

“As of now, there isn’t much support  for bin Laden or al-Qaeda” — Rahimullah Yusufzai, a senior journalist who also had the opportunity to interview
Osama bin Laden twice over in 1998 in Afghanistan
By Farah Zia
The News on Sunday: One year after bin Laden’s death, how safe is the world or the region?
Rahimullah Yusufzai: No, the world or the region is not safe; there still are problems. The Americans are saying the al-Qaeda remains a threat. Although the threat is diminished, they are still very cautious. That is the reason the US forces are still in Afghanistan; they will be staying there until 2014 and even after that. They have already signed a strategic partnership agreement with the Afghan government and it is possible they will have some military bases in Afghanistan, use special forces, deploy air power, drones and also have CIA agents. This is because they think there is still some threat from al-Qaeda and its allies including Taliban.  
Report awaited
Will the Abbottabad Commission meet with the same fate as many earlier commissions in the country
By Aoun Sahi
The Abbottabad Commission set up by the Prime Minister Yousuf Gillani on June 21, 2011, to investigate the events of May 2 is still struggling to come up with a report. It is already late by six months as per its deadline.
The commission is headed by Justice (retired) Javed Iqbal while Lt-General (retired) Nadeem Ahmed, ex-IG police Abbas Khan and former ambassador Ashraf Jehangir Qazi are its members. It has met a host of Pakistani army and civil officials, politicians, journalists, residents of Abbottabad and widows of bin Laden in more than 20 sessions. Justice Javed Iqbal told the media early December last year that the report would be completed by the end of the year. “We will strongly recommend that the Commission’s report be made public,” Justice Javed Iqbal had told the media
Al-Qaeda matters
The outfit remains a potent threat for global peace thriving on the Pak-Afghan tribal belt
By Amir Mir
As the first anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death approaches, it seems the dynamics of al-Qaeda-sponsored terror campaign in the Pak-Afghan border belt haven’t changed much and the situation for the US-led international community remains as precarious as ever. While Osama’s killing certainly struck a major blow to al-Qaeda and its jihadi affiliates in the Waziristan tribal region bordering Afghanistan, Pakistan continues to be a hotbed of Islamic extremism and militancy which have refused to die with bin Laden.

 



Editorial
What a year it has been. The raid and capture of Osama Bin Laden from an Abbottabad compound on May 2, 2011 and what transpired in the year after reads more like how the Pakistani state and society have evolved over the years. The incidents throughout the year show us a mirror image of ourselves. Our vulnerability and our chants of sovereignty offer a neat but sad contrast.
Was the Pakistani state (read military) indeed ignorant of his presence or was it colluding with the world’s most wanted terrorist? Or, was bin Laden getting support from somewhere to be able to survive so well in this country for so many years? At least there can’t be two views about the last observation.
And, then the setting up of, yes you guessed it right, a judicial commission to probe the matter. What exactly was it set up for? To see what went wrong in our security wall that let the American gunship helicopters to land in Abbottabad, violating our sovereignty or to see who allowed bin Laden to exist so comfortably in the garrison city? Perhaps both, we vaguely know.
Except that a year since the event, the report has still not been made public. While the eyes of the outside world may still be set on the report, wondering why it’s still not out, the cynical people of this country somehow already know its worth.
Months before the OBL raid, the Pak-US relations were played out on the streets of Pakistan and on television screens in another uneasy episode that came to be associated with Raymond Davis. Then, too, we heard chants of sovereignty and American attitude to finally see an embarrassing closure of the case. But the mistrust that characterises the relations between the two countries seemed to be an unending saga. It continued with the Nato forces’ strike on a Pakistani military check-post on the Pak-Afghan border.
The rulers want the people of the country to believe that it’s now the turn of the politicians and the parliament to determine the rules of engagement with the US. Meanwhile, the country continues to bleed with acts of terrorism by jihadis that happen to be our own product and have a vague nexus with al-Qaeda whose leader was Osama bin Laden.


 
nexus
Since bin Laden
A video released by Al-Sahab, the media wing of al-Qaeda last month shows Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and its ally Punjabi Taliban were behind the guerrilla terrorist attack on Pakistan Navy’s Mehran Base in Karachi on May 22 last. In the video, four TTP militants were shown recording their statements prior to the terrorist attack and said that their mission was meant to avenge the killing of Osama bin Laden.
Security agencies and analysts had predicted retaliatory attacks after bin Laden’s killing on May 2, 2011 in Abbotabad. As the so-called retaliation did not materalise at the scale predicted, many interpret that as regression in the al-Qaeda camp.
Interestingly, a few weeks after bin Laden’s death when no major response had emerged from the terrorist outfit, a senior US analyst claimed that al-Qaeda would retaliate after the 40-day mourning period was over, as per the Islamic tradition. However, al-Qaeda’s brand of Islam does not believe in 40 days of mourning. When no retaliation came even after the stipulated period of time, the analyst declared the group was history.
Contrary to various assessments, the world has seen few revenge attacks from al-Qaeda. In Pakistan, five attacks were claimed by the Taliban as a response to bin Laden’s death. These include the May 2011 attacks on Frontier Constabulary (FC) headquarters in Shabqadar area of Charsadda district, US regional assistant security officers in Peshawar, CID police station in Karachi, and the September 2011 attack on Deputy Inspector General of FC in Quetta. The Mehran Base attack was the most devastating of the lot in which two PC3 Orion maritime patrol aircrafts were also destroyed. The initial suspect in the attack was not al-Qaeda and the media tried to find a foreign hand. The al-Qaeda video suggests otherwise. This was the attack which allegedly led to the killing of journalist Saleem Shahzad who had reported about al-Qaeda’s sleeper cells inside Mehran Base.
Although this attack fuelled apprehensions about further revenge attacks the last quarter of 2011 was comparatively peaceful in Pakistan. Security analysts attributed that to a number of factors, mainly the ongoing military campaign against militants in parts of the Federally Administrative Tribal Areas (FATA), increased surveillance by law enforcement agencies and the arrest of 4,219 suspected militants in 2011. The killing of key militants in US drone strikes in Fata was another factor but it was less effective than the one in 2010. Some security analysts also consider decentralization of the TTP and talks between militants and the state as important factors in the decline in violence. Al-Qaeda’s increasing concentration in Africa and the Arabian Peninsula was believed to be yet another reason.
Apart from these factors, the documents found from bin Laden’s compound reveal that he had already almost lost operational control over al-Qaeda and was dependent upon a courier for communication with his fellows. This could be one of the factors that led to decentralisation of al-Qaeda. Bin Laden’s importance for the militants was symbolic and his authority was supreme although he was not exercising it. He was the glue for al-Qaeda and its affiliates.
His successor, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, has failed to exert such sway. Al-Qaeda central command has loosened after bin Laden’s death. Ideology is the major bond which glues the al-Qaeda franchise. Its central command now depends on affiliates and allies, who often have only peripheral or ephemeral ties to either the core cadre or affiliated groups. These affiliates engage in an increasingly violent campaign of attacks across the Middle East and North Africa, where support for al-Qaeda remains fairly high, compared to Pakistan and other South and East Asian Muslim states. The number of attacks by al-Qaeda and its affiliates is on the rise even after bin Laden’s death, but these attacks are getting more communal and sectarian in nature and al-Qaeda has failed to launch a major terrorist attack in the US and Europe.
Although bin Laden’s death has had significant impact on certain regions, especially West and North Africa, but it has not changed the security dynamics in Iraq and Pakistan, where al-Qaeda affiliates have returned to their previous agendas, which are primarily sectarian and anti-state.
A look at Pakistan’s security landscape confirms that. Most of the critical internal security threats are still there. The traditional hotspots of sectarian and anti-state violence in Pakistan are still active, indicating that structural violence may persist in the years to come. Security experts believe that sectarian violence would continue as a long-term challenge because there were now strong nexuses among sectarian groups, Taliban and al-Qaeda.
Although military operations and some state initiatives have contributed to blocking the flow of funds to the militants, they continue to devise new ways to generate money and have increased links with criminals with that aim. Terrorists are involved in abductions for ransom across Pakistan. Some reports also suggest that the terrorists are also aiding criminals in their activities. The writ of the state has partially been restored in parts of Fata, but the security situation remains volatile as militants dislodged from their strongholds manage to relocate to other parts of the region. The critical challenges in Balochistan and Karachi remain unaddressed.
Apart from these critical security challenges, bin Laden’s death also did not help reduce the level of the threat. Many tribal and Punjabi Taliban factions have transformed into al-Qaeda franchises, and a centrally controlled leadership may not contribute enough to restrain these home-grown militants from pursuing their agendas. Al-Qaeda ideology and training have made them more lethal. They are now strategically more diverse and their targets have also expanded beyond sectarian to anti-state and whenever they find favourable circumstance, they can turn into global jihadists. Although bin Laden had lost operational control of al-Qaeda, his purpose was served. The militants do not need a charismatic personality to keep them intact.
caption
Precisely what’s Pakistan’s security landscape like, post bin Laden
By Muhammad Amir Rana


For the world bin Laden may have been the number one terrorist on globe but for al-Qaeda sympathisers in Pakistan he was a hero. A year after his death, thousands of Islamists while protesting against American polices and War on Terror, term him as a hero of their Islamic world.
Aides of Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba and heading its welfare counterpart Jamaat-ud-Dawa, while protesting against NATO supplies through Pakistan, remind the US that this war is not finished with the death of Osama. “Bin laden was an innocent martyr and his sacrifice will strengthen jihad because it is not a war against terrorism but crusade war against Islam,” reads an article in a recent issue of Jarrar, a JuD publication, while highlighting the news of protests against NATO supply restoration. It said the Muslims would avenge the bin Laden killing.
The Jihadi and Islamic publications of JuD and Jaish-e-Muhammad and Karachi-based Zarb-e-Momin, have also paid tribute to bin Laden in their weekly Friday publications for the past one year.
The then Jaish-e-Muhammad publication Al-Qalam termed bin Laden a great hero and defender of Islam — “tiger of Islam”. “He fought till the last drop of blood and his mission would continue,” the paper said. Similarly, JuD publication Jarrar also gave special coverage to bin Laden and his mission and highlighted his profile and mission for Islam.
Posters about an essay and poetry contest eulogising Osama Bin Laden were quietly pasted on the walls of Pakistan’s largest university in the first month of his killing. The organisers, however, chose to remain anonymous, providing just an email id to send submissions and later the competition was held quietly.
JuD chief Hafiz Saeed, who has recently been put on a reward list of the most wanted terrorists by the US, also offered funeral in absentia and led many Friday prayers in Faisalabad, a city in central Punjab where a number of al-Qaeda leaders have been arrested in the past including Abu Zubaida, and paid homage to Osama declaring him as a “great hero” and “martyr” of Islam.
JuD, which managed rallies with hundreds of activists, in various cities of Punjab, also offered funeral prayer in absentia on May 3, led by Hafiz Saeed.
Maulana Tahir Ashrafi, in his publication Hurria termed bin Laden as a martyr and hero of Islamic jihadi movements in the world saying he had a three decades-long following in Pakistan, since the time of Afghan jihad and he would never die.
“Bin Laden is not the name of a person but a symbol of hatred and jihad against the infidels of the world. People come and go in this world but the ideologies, which are based on Allah and his Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), remain undefeated ever,” said Al-Qalam in another one of its issues.



 
Conspiracies abound
Did the Pakistan military have a clue to bin Laden’s whereabouts, as the WikiLeaks would have you believe?
By Amir Mir
Although Pakistan Army has already rejected a WikiLeaks claim that bin Laden was in routine contact with several ISI officials while hiding in his Abbottabad compound, which was only a kilometre from the prestigious Kakul Military Academy, there is plenty of evidence to imply that some key officials in the Pakistani military and intelligence establishment indeed knew of his den, especially the former Army Chief, President General Pervez Musharraf. Osama’s widow Amal al Sadeh’s revelation instantly raised the million-dollar question: how did the world’s most wanted terrorist manage to spend nearly a decade in Pakistan without being detected by the intelligence agencies?
But instead of answering these queries, the military authorities demolished the bin Laden compound on February 28, probably because it was an embarrassing reminder of their incompetence as well as their alleged complicity. It may be a coincidence, but the OBL compound was razed the day a US-based global intelligence firm (Stratfor) reported while citing WikiLeaks, that middle-to-senior-level officials in the Pakistani military and the ISI knew the arrangements made for bin Laden at his Abbottabad safe house.
“Mid-to-senior level ISI and Pak military, with one retired Pak military general, had knowledge of the OBL arrangements and safe house,” wrote Fred Burton, Stratfor’s vice-president for intelligence in an email message which was released by WikiLeaks to his company’s regional director for South Asia (Kamran Bokhari), soon after the May 2 Abbottabad raid. The email went on to say that the names and specific ranks of these generals were unknown to the writer, but added that the US intelligence may have had that information.
Burton, one of the world’s foremost experts on security, terrorists and terrorist groups, however, did not reveal his source, but did say that the source was based in Pakistan. Burton’s email did not name the officials involved, but added that the US could use the information as a bargaining chip in post-raid negotiations with Islamabad, which had rebuked Washington after the raid.
Stratfor, which provides analysis of world affairs to major global corporations, military officials and government agencies, was given access to classified information papers collected from bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound. The information leaked by WikiLeaks through Stratfor suggested that up to 12 officials in the ISI knew of the OBL safe house.
However, the Pakistani Army spokesman, Major General Athar Abbas, had refuted the Wikileaks claim about Osama’s alleged links with some ISI officials, terming it rubbish. Denying allegations about contacts between Pakistani intelligence officials and Osama, the Army spokesman said, “It is simply nonsense and mischievous and tantamount to kite-flying; farthest from the truth. The so-called leaks issued by a private US agency stem from nothing but baseless fabrication. These kinds of charges are not new. These leaks are actually old wine in new bottle.”
Yet, the army spokesman failed to take notice of a February 18, 2012 The Washington Post article (by David Ignatius), claiming that an architect regularly employed by the ISI worked on the compound in which Osama was sheltered for years in Abbottabad.
Quoting intelligence sources, the writer claimed that the architect was told that a highly placed VIP was coming to the compound. According to David Ignatius, any probe on Osama’s presence in Pakistan should focus on several issues, including how the al-Qaeda chief came to Abbottabad in 2005 and what Pakistani officials knew about his whereabouts.
The Washington Post article also added: “Current Army Chief General Ashfaq Kayani was ISI chief at the time, but the dominant figure was President Pervez Musharraf. The commander of the PMA (Pakistan Military Academy at Kakul) in Abbottabad from 2006 was Lt Gen Nadeem Taj, who succeeded Kayani as head of the ISI in 2007.”
Ignatius referred to former ISI chief General Ziauddin Butt’s claim that the Abbottabad complex was used by the Intelligence Bureau and noted that a report in the Pakistani press in December 2011 had quoted him as saying that Osama’s stay at Abbottabad was actually arranged by Brig. (r) Ijaz Shah, the head of the Intelligence Bureau during 2004-2008, on Musharraf’s orders. General Ziauddin Khawaja, also known as Ziauddin Butt, headed the ISI from 1997 to 1999.
General Ziauddin Butt repeated his claim in the Feb 2012 issue of Newsweek, in an online interview conducted by Bruce Riedel. Riedel quoted Lt Gen Butt as saying: “General Musharraf knew that Osama bin Laden was in Abbottabad and his IB chief Ijaz Shah had hired the bungalow for the fugitive al Qaeda leader.”
A four-star general, who was the first head of the Army’s Strategic Plans Division which controls the nuclear weapons, Ziauddin claimed that Ijaz Shah was responsible for setting up bin Laden in Abbottabad, ensuring his safety and keeping him hidden from the outside world. On the other hand, Musharraf has refuted having any knowledge about Osama living in Pakistan during his tenure.
However, well-informed intelligence circles in the garrison town of Rawalpindi concede that the vital information about the bin Laden compound was actually provided to the Americans by none other than a senior ISI official — a Brigadier — who is now settled in the US, having claimed US$ 25m reward from the State Department’s Rewards for Justice program. The Brigadier, who has already been granted American citizenship along with his family, had reportedly persuaded Dr Shakil Afridi, a Pakistani physician, to conduct a fake polio campaign in the Bilal Town area of Abbottabad to help the US Central Intelligence Agency hunt down Osama. The doctor under trial has already been declared a national criminal by a Pakistani Judicial Commission, which is probing the US raid in Abbottabad.
According to the Pakistani intelligence circles, the Americans actually came to know of the fugitive al-Qaeda chief’s location in the third quarter of 2010, after the Brigadier left Pakistan and approached an American Embassy abroad. The CIA subsequently set up a safe house in Abbottabad to monitor the OBL compound, eventually concluding that some high value target was hiding there, along with an extended Arab family. And, the May 2 raid was conducted only after the Americans got hold of reliable intelligence about the identity of the high-value target, ultimately killing the fugitive al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.
caption
Standing guard over facts. Photo by Rahat Dar



q&a
“As of now, there isn’t much support
for bin Laden or al-Qaeda”

— Rahimullah Yusufzai, a senior journalist who also had the opportunity to interview
Osama bin Laden twice over in 1998 in Afghanistan
By Farah Zia
The News on Sunday: One year after bin Laden’s death, how safe is the world or the region?
Rahimullah Yusufzai: No, the world or the region is not safe; there still are problems. The Americans are saying the al-Qaeda remains a threat. Although the threat is diminished, they are still very cautious. That is the reason the US forces are still in Afghanistan; they will be staying there until 2014 and even after that. They have already signed a strategic partnership agreement with the Afghan government and it is possible they will have some military bases in Afghanistan, use special forces, deploy air power, drones and also have CIA agents. This is because they think there is still some threat from al-Qaeda and its allies including Taliban.
Apart from Afghanistan, they are also worried about al-Qaeda’s influence in the Middle East, Yemen, Iraq and certain African countries. Bin laden was a founder, financier and the spirit behind al-Qaeda but we have seen a younger generation of fighters joining al-Qaeda, especially from Arab countries.
So al-Qaeda will have some relevance even though the Arab Spring has affected it probably more than the military operations.
TNS: So you do buy the thesis that al-Qaeda has become irrelevant because of the Arab Spring?
RY: I think people now have other options; they can bring about change through peaceful means (though force had to be used in Libya and Yemen). When you can change rulers, kings and dictators, and form your own government, there will be less incentive to join al-Qaeda. But there will always be a hard core — certain people who will want to use force because the Americans are using force. There will still be reasons for people to join al-Qaeda. It will not finish; it will remain present in some form.
TNS: How do you look at the phenomenon of Pakistanisation of al-Qaeda viz. the nexus between it and TTP or the Punjabi Taliban?
RY: Al-Qaeda is now more dependent on the TTP than the Afghan Taliban. As long as the Afghan Taliban were in power in Afghanistan, al-Qaeda was headquartered there. Bin Laden and his colleagues were able to live there and were protected by the Afghan Taliban. But that changed after they lost power and their own leadership was displaced; al-Qaeda could no longer stay safe in Afghanistan and hence shifted to Pakistan. So the relation between Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaeda has become strong and its relation with Afghan Taliban has become weak. After the death of bin Laden Afghan, leaders like Mullah Omar are not as close to al-Qaeda leaders like Ayman al-Zwahiri as they were to bin Laden.
Al-Qaeda because of its presence in Pakistan and because of its links with Pakistani Taliban is a bigger threat in Pakistan than it is in Afghanistan now.
TNS: Beyond their physical presence and protection, what about the convergence of interests between al-Qaeda and Taliban?
RY: Because of its dependence on Pakistani militants, it is not really such a big force that it can dictate terms to the TTP; rather it’s the other way round. As for the TTP, it is now mainly fighting in Pakistan; it is not even sending many fighters to Afghanistan. It does have ambitions to launch attacks in the West; it has been making claims and there were some links too, like in the case of Faisal Shahzad. But these were just rare instances. So the TTP may be thinking that links with al-Qaeda can help it in launching attacks elsewhere in the world, especially in the West but that is not happening.
There aren’t many al-Qaeda people left here in Pakistan but those who are, are not totally depending on the TTP structure. They also have their own personal links. So there are different relationships between some al-Qaeda agents and some TTP elements or jihadis or even some Islamic parties. In some cases al-Qaeda people were living with Jamaat-i-Islami members.
TNS: As a journalist, what is your sense, whether Pakistan’s military was in the knowledge of his whereabouts, considering the statements of some former generals etc.?
RY: I don’t believe that the Pakistani army or intelligence agencies were aware of his presence in Abbottabad in that house. Maybe they had general information that he could be somewhere in Pakistan. If the army had wanted to protect him, it could have put him up in one of its many garrisons; why put him outside where there could be a raid by the Americans.
Bin Laden had declared war against Pakistani state and al-Qaeda had issued statements asking Pakistani people to revolt against their government and army. There was no love lost between the two. They were in rival camps. So there was no incentive for Pakistan to protect him. I believe, and I know it from my personal contacts, that Pakistani military would always have wished that he was not found in Pakistan or that he was captured and killed across the border because it would have caused problems for it in the long run.
TNS: And, it seems it did. How, in your view, has the killing of OBL in Pakistan affected the Pak-US relations?
RY: Although the Americans are not publicly saying that Pakistan government or military was involved in giving him protection here, they are saying he had a support system. Somebody somewhere knew his whereabouts and was helping him. It’s quite possible because he could not have lived at so many places in Pakistan and then Abbottabad with his families, without some local support system.
Pak-US relations have always been very uncertain and distrustful. This was one more instance that added to the lack of trust. What was a big achievement for the Americans was a big embarrassment for Pakistan. It is easy to see the kind of impact this would have on the relationship between the two countries. The Americans have always been suspicious about Pakistan and its military establishment.
But I do think that certain people in the Pakistani establishment were informed at the eleventh hour that the Americans have entered Pakistan on gunship helicopters and that they were after a high-value target and that Pakistanis should not come in their way. It could have been just three four people including the president, the army chief and the ISI chief. The Americans could not have taken such a huge risk. It was only ten years after Tora Bora that the Americans were finally getting some good intelligence about bin laden. They had bombed Tora Bora but had missed him. Now they did not want to miss an opportunity. That is why Obama said the chances [of success] were 60/40 but they still went ahead and raided this house.
TNS: Were you surprised to know that bin Laden was hiding here?
RY: No, I was not surprised at all because where else could he have gone. This region was familiar to him; he had lived here, built friendships, supported people, given them money. So this was the place where he would be trying to hide and seek refuge. Also, so many al-Qaeda people had been captured from Pakistan before him and it was understandable that he would also be in Pakistan.
Then his biggest supporters and protectors, the Afghan Taliban, were no longer in power and themselves were in hiding in Pakistan. How could bin Laden stay in Afghanistan? He had to be in this country and he had to be in a city. Most of the important al-Qaeda figures had been captured from the Pakistani cities. It’s easier to hide in bigger places; they need a support system — electricity, computers, they need to stay in touch with al-Qaeda cells all over the place and finally they have families living with them. It is difficult for rich people to live in caves or remote places.
TNS: What about the proceedings in the Abbottabad Commission? What direction have they taken, and if and when its report comes, will it satisfy everyone?
RY: The Abbottabad Commission has taken quite long; almost a year. They’ve met everybody. But overall, the history of commissions in this country is such that people have their reservations about the report being made public or its recommendations being implemented, and also whether the commission will tell the whole story about what happened. I don’t think we will be able to know the full story even after the report is out. Security and political compulsions will also come into play. That’s why I don’t have much hope that we will know more than what we already do.
TNS: Is Osama bin Laden a hero for a majority of Pakistanis?
RY: There was a time when he was popular and a hero to many people because he had declared jihad against the US. I remember that new-born boys were named after him. That was a different period. There was no violence in Pakistan and people had not seen the fallout of his jihad against the US. But as people started suffering in Pakistan due to violence and acts of terrorism, the support for al-Qaeda and Osama dropped. I don’t think a vast majority of people consider him a hero at this point in time.
I don’t think he has emerged as a hero even after his death. Maybe this will change. If the US does not change its policy of supporting Israel and dictators in Muslim countries, if the Muslim countries continue to be the B-teams or agents of the US in future even after the establishment of democratic governments, a time may come when people will say that Osama bin Laden was right. You can’t bring a change through peaceful means. But that’s about the future. Right now, I don’t think there is much support for al-Qaeda or bin Laden or their line of thinking.
 
 


Report awaited
Will the Abbottabad Commission meet with the same fate as many earlier commissions in the country
By Aoun Sahi
The Abbottabad Commission set up by the Prime Minister Yousuf Gillani on June 21, 2011, to investigate the events of May 2 is still struggling to come up with a report. It is already late by six months as per its deadline.
The commission is headed by Justice (retired) Javed Iqbal while Lt-General (retired) Nadeem Ahmed, ex-IG police Abbas Khan and former ambassador Ashraf Jehangir Qazi are its members. It has met a host of Pakistani army and civil officials, politicians, journalists, residents of Abbottabad and widows of bin Laden in more than 20 sessions. Justice Javed Iqbal told the media early December last year that the report would be completed by the end of the year. “We will strongly recommend that the Commission’s report be made public,” Justice Javed Iqbal had told the media.
There could be many reasons why the report is delayed so much. “It focused more time on investigating whether Pakistan is responsible for helping the US find bin Laden in Abbottabad rather than finding out who brought him to Abbottabad,” said a source who is privy to the proceedings of the commission.
“They focused more on Husain Haqqani and Dr Shakeel Afridi instead of answering the suspicions of the West that al-Qaeda chief had a support network. Somebody at some level had knowledge of bin Laden’s presence in Pakistan and it is the job of the commission to fix responsibility but I do not think it would do that,” he said.
Those who have been investigated agree with the observation of the official. “I think the commission knows the answers to most of the questions it asked me,” says defence analyst Dr Ayesha Siddiqa, who was interrogated by the commission in December, 2011.
“I think the commission was actually formed for counter-perspective on bin Laden,” she says. “The commission had interrogated 115 people by December but could not come up with tangible evidence to support the presence of bin Laden in Abbottabad and the support system. Interestingly, it had interviewed his widows by then but there was no clarity among the members whether he was living there or not.”
“Irrespective of what the US says, I have absolutely not an iota of doubt on this, that no government in Pakistan, no military in Pakistan, no intelligence organisation in Pakistan would do such a stupid thing,” General (retired) Nadeem Ahmed told the Australian Broadcasting Corp in an interview on July 19, 2011. This interview raised question of impartiality of the commission.
The interrogation report of the youngest widow of bin Laden (a copy available with TNS) prepared by the Islamabad police in January this year clearly mentions that bin Laden travelled to different parts of Pakistan with his family after 9/11 before he finally settled down in the Abbottabad compound. This is a major concern of the West.
Senior journalist Saleem Safi believes that the raid was conducted with the consent of Pakistan. “I registered my reservations in the Abbottabad Commission about the official policy and unanswered questions. The government claimed that this operation was conducted without its knowledge and permission. My question is if this is true then why did President Obama call Zardari; why did Hillary Clinton thank the Pakistani government in her first statement?” he says.
He also mentions how Mansoor Ijaz’s claims gave birth to new questions about May 2. “I protested that the likes of Mansoor Ijaz must not be portrayed as heroes as this would create serious complications for security and national institutions. But this was done to achieve a limited objective — to get rid of Husain Haqqani,” he says.
Now the responsibility of the Abbottabad Commission has increased. “All we can do is to appeal to the commission to reveal the real facts to help reduce the confusion which could lead to a collision of the institutions, and to help improve the country’s global image. They should come up with the report as soon as possible,” says Safi.
Al-Qaeda matters
The outfit remains a potent threat for global peace thriving on the Pak-Afghan tribal belt
By Amir Mir
As the first anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death approaches, it seems the dynamics of al-Qaeda-sponsored terror campaign in the Pak-Afghan border belt haven’t changed much and the situation for the US-led international community remains as precarious as ever. While Osama’s killing certainly struck a major blow to al-Qaeda and its jihadi affiliates in the Waziristan tribal region bordering Afghanistan, Pakistan continues to be a hotbed of Islamic extremism and militancy which have refused to die with bin Laden.
The killing of the world’s most sought after terrorist on May 2, 2011 was undoubtedly a huge success for the Americans because his continuing existence a decade since the 9/11 attacks in the United States was encouraging al-Qaeda and Taliban linked extremists. However, a year after his death, the terrorist group bin Laden had founded in 1988 to overthrow the US-dominated world order, continues to pose a grave threat to the world as it keeps surviving and thriving on the Pak-Afghan tribal belt.
Before Osama’s death, international terrorism experts were focused only on the dangers being posed by the growing ‘Talibanisation of Pakistan’. But in the aftermath of his killing, these experts are paying extra attention to the bigger risks being posed by the ‘Pakistanisation of al-Qaeda’. Since Bush’s declaration of war against global terrorism in September 2001, the US and its allies have claimed to have killed or captured more than 75 percent of senior al-Qaeda leaders. But the frequency of terrorist attacks worldwide being attributed to the international terrorist group has increased considerably, as compared to the pre-9/11. The current spate of high-intensity terrorist attacks, even after Osama’s death, make obvious the fact that al-Qaeda’s core elements are still resilient and his outfit is cultivating stronger operational connections which radiate outwards from their hideouts in the Pakistani tribal belt to affiliates scattered throughout the Middle East, North Africa and Europe.
Therefore, a year after the death of its founder at the hands of the Americans, al-Qaeda not only remains in business in its traditional stronghold in the Waziristan tribal region but has clearly advanced to the urban areas of Pakistan.
The most worrying aspect of the prevalent situation remains the growing belief of the Obama administration that if there is one country that matters the most to the future of al-Qaeda, it is none other than Pakistan. The US administration has already claimed that the al-Qaeda chief Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri was hiding in Pakistan’s tribal areas, adding that the United States would like to see Pakistanis target him. Out of al-Qaeda network’s top 20 leaders listed after the 9/11 attacks, Zawahiri is the only one to have survived the decade-long US-led war against terrorism and is now leading the outfit as Osama’s successor.
In fact, terrorism experts say, long before Osama’s death, al-Qaeda had adapted itself to survive and operate without him, ensuring that the threat his terror network poses will live well beyond his demise. Even though Osama’s physical elimination had delivered a demoralising blow to al-Qaeda, the truth is that his terrorist outfit is still active and kicking. This is mainly due to the fact that the present-day al-Qaeda is a de-centralised and compartmentalised organisation which no longer falls within the classical definition of a terror group as such. Al-Qaeda is no more a cohesive organisation with a lucid structure and has splintered over the years, giving rise to lots of other groups, both inside and outside Pakistan.
There are different jihadi factions in different regions which are slackly affiliated with al-Qaeda; for instance, the Hakimullah Mehsud-led Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which is a conglomerate of anti-state jihadi groups operating from the country’s border belt with Afghanistan. Ideological ties bind al-Qaeda and the Tehrik-e-Taliban to throw out international forces from Afghanistan. The meteoric rise of the Pakistani Taliban militia especially after the 9/11 episode has literally pushed the Pakistani state to the brink of a civil war, claiming over 35,000 precious human lives in terrorism-related incidents between 2001 and 2011.
The international community keeps portraying Pakistan as a breeding ground for Taliban militia and a sanctuary for the fugitive al-Qaeda leaders who have already established large bases in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan and are carrying out cross-border ambushes against the US-led Allied Forces from their camps in the mountainous region. The common belief that al-Qaeda is getting stronger even after Osama’s death is evident from the fact that many of the key Pakistani jihadi groups, which are both anti-American and anti-state, have already joined hands with al-Qaeda to let loose a reign of terror across Pakistan.
Therefore, despite the physical elimination of al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden, his terrorist outfit remains a potent threat for global peace because it keeps blooming and thriving on the Pak-Afghan tribal belt.

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