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Friday, May 6, 2011

On Why Osama bin Laden's Presence in Pakistan does not Surprise - Part I

The world's most sought-after terrorist mastermind has been finally eliminated early morning on May 2 at Abbottabad, Pakistan. It should come as absolutely no surprise to even those who only cursorily follow events in Pakistan that Osama bin Laden was finally found safely ensconced, along with his family, in a Pakistani military town. For those who are still unconvinced, we will presently see the reasons as to why this is no surprise.

But, predictably, Pakistan is deliberately trying to weave a story, give a spin, obfuscate, confuse and generally muddy the affair. Gen. Kayani, whose previous assignement was to head the Inter Services Intelligence Directorate (ISID) has claimed that it would be 'unjust to cricize Pakistan for not locating Osama and his cohorts'. The Pakistani High Commissioner to the UK, His Excellencey Wajid Shams-ul Hasan claimed that the Pakistani armed forces were involved in the operation even as the Pakistani President Zardari admitted that it was a completetely US operation while CIA Chief, Leon Panetta said that Pakistan was not informed "because of fears that the details would leak and the mission could be compromised". The Pakistani Foreign Office hit out at the 'unauthorized and unilateral' US operation and rejected the theory that the US helicopters flew from the Ghazi Airbase at Tarbela. Prime Minister Gilani conveniently dismissed the 'hiding-in-plainsight theory' as "the failure of intelligence in the world, not just in Pakistan but in the United States as well". A senior military official briefing pressmen said, "We had been looking for him in no-go areas, unaware that he was living so close to an installation of ours. Yes, it is an intelligence failure". However, Pakistan's Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir, appearing in a BBC interview said that Pakistan played a vital role in the elimination of Osama bin Laden by sharing intelligence, contradicting his own Foreign Office's assertion a few hours earlier. A senior ISI official was quoted by BBC admitting to embarrassment owing to intelligence failure. All these are contradictory statements emanating from the very high offices of what constitute the Pakistani Government. Don't they show dysfunctionality or obfuscation or both ? There seems to be different answers to different audience from different people of the Government of Pakistan completely befuddling the whole world.

The Americans, for their part, have also got to answer many questions. Each passing day, new revelations add twist to 'Operation Geronimo'. The US Administration takes increasingly defensive tone on certain aspects of the operation as new pieces of information come to light. Even if one does not subscribe to the different conspiracy theories, there are many glaring gaps in what the US seems to be carefully releasing in installments about the entire operation.

The dust will take quite some time to settle down for a clearer picture to emerge. However, one thing is quite obvious even for those diehard apologists of Pakistan and that is that Osama bin Laden was simply a state guest of Pakistan at Abbottabad for a considerable period of time.

John Brennan, Assistant to the US President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, said that "it's inconceivable that bin Laden did not have a support system in the country that allowed him to remain there for an extended period of time". That 'support system' was nothing but the ISI. The ties between the ISI of Pakistan and Osama bin Laden go a long way back.

Apart from Osama bin Laden's involvement in the Afghan jihad due to his personal conviction, he was also a representative of the Saudi monarchy overseeing the recruitment, funding and generally acting as their eyes and ears. As a member of Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan-ul-Muslimeen), he naturally reposed faith in and closely interacted with Jama'at-e-Islami (JI) of Pakistan. It was not until early 1986 that Osama bin Laden permanently moved into the upmarket Hyatabad suburb of Peshawar in North Western Pakistan. By end of that year, he was collaborating closely with the ISI in building fortifications and underground structures at Tora Bora, an effort in which his Saudi Bin Laden company was completely involved. Later in April 1987, the Jaji battles erupted and this was the time Osama bin Laden and his mentor from his Jeddah days, Abdullah Azzam, began to drift apart over Osama's preferential treatment of the Arab fighters. Al Qaeda al Askariya (The Military Base) itself was born in Peshawar in August, 1988 though it remained dormant subsequently for a long time. Soon, other differences led to a break in Osama's relationships with Abdullah Azzam and by extension the Muslim Brotherhood, along with some other Egyptians. Osama and Azzam also favoured different Afghan mujahideen factions too, with the former supporting Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hizb-e-Islami (an ISI favourite) and the latter supporting 'The Lion of Panjshir' Ahmed Shah Masoud (an ISI enemy). Soon enough, Abdullah Azzam was branded as a takfir (an apostate) and was finally eliminated on November 24, 1989 in a car bomb explosion in Peshawar.

Soon, Osama returned to KSA but became a dissident Islamist when King Fahd ibn Abdul Aziz invited the Americans to defend the borders of the Kingdom against a rampaging Saddam Hussain and also evict him from occupied Kuwait. Osama bin Laden was one of those dissidents who saw anachronism in the King inviting infidel Crusader troops setting foot in the Holy land trying to defend the Sons and Daughters of Prophet Mohammed. To cut a long story short, the bin Laden family was eventually forced to disown Osama, he was stripped of his Saudi citizenship and was exiled to the Sudan where Osama had already developed some interests with the Islamist rular Hasan-al-Turabi. The dormant Al Qaeda of Peshawar was revived in Khartoum.

From Khartoum, Osama orchstrated bomb attacks on Saudi Arabia, targetting the Americans. The first was the bomb attack on the National Guard training centre in capital Riyadh that killed five Americans. In an effort to get rid of the 'Terrorist State' tag that the US had slapped on the Sudan, that country was now prepared to tackle Osama bin Laden. It was thus, Osama was made to flee Khartoum and land in Afghanistan, the only country that was willing to take him. It is inconceivable that Mullah Omar took this decision unilaterally without consulting the ISI whose officers were stationed at Kandahar advising the ragtag Taliban who were not well-versed with the nuances of international relationship or geopolitical or geostrategic implications of their actions. Let us remember that Sultan Amir Tarar (more popularly known as Col. Imam) was the Pakistani Consul in Herat and earlier Mazar-i-Sharif. Ever since Mullah Omar was asked by the ISI to release the truck convoy led by Col. Imam that had been held hostage by a warlord and which finally led to the seizure of Kandahar itself by the Taliban, the two of them had developed excellent and close relationship. Thus it was in May, 1996 that Osama bin Laden arrived in Jalalabad. Within a month, there was a huge truck bomb attack on American servicemen living in Khobar Towers complex at Al Khobar on the East Coast of KSA where a huge airforce base is located at nearby Dhahran. It killed 19 Americans and injured over 400 persons. Osama's hand had also been suspected in the Mogadishu killing of 18 American soldiers who were part of the UN Peacekeeping team in October, 1993.

Later, in October 1996, Mullah Omar invited Osama bin Laden to Kandahar. It was in August 1998 that Osama bin Laden bombed the American embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania. In retaliation, President Clinton authorized cruise missile attacks on Osama's hideout in Afghanistan on August 20. But, Osama bin Laden escaped just in time. The '9/11 Commission Report', the official US report of the events leading up to the September 11, 2001 attacks, says the following, "Since the missiles headed for Afghanistan had had to cross Pakistan, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs was sent to meet with Pakistan’s army chief of staff to assure him the missiles were not coming from India. Officials in Washington speculated that one or another Pakistani official might have sent a warning to the Taliban or Bin Ladin."

Osama did not restrict himself to Afghanistan, but interfered in the internal affairs of Pakistan through the ISI. A former director of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) of Pakistan, Malik Mumtaz, has charged Osama with funding the ISI to destabilize Ms. Benazir Bhutto's government in what is usually referred to as 'Operation Midnight Jackal'. He pointed to a conspiracy by COAS Aslam Beg, former ISI chief General (r) Asad Durrani, Brigadier (r) Imtiaz and Major (r) Amir. Gen. Aslam Beg, the Army Chief, decided to dislodge the Prime Minister, Ms. Benazir Bhutto, because he felt that the government’s policies did not synchronize with the objectives of the military. This was later reinforced by the then former Intelligence Bureau (IB)chief, Brig (Retd.) Imtiaz who admitted in a TV interview on August 27, 2009 that Gen. Aslam Beg launched Op. Midnight Jackal because he did not like the Afghan policies of Ms. Benazir Bhutto. Ms. Benazir Bhutto too has referred to Gen. Aslam Beg's dislike of her Afghan policies in her memoirs. For his part, the wahhabi Osama bin Laden could not countenance a woman leading an Islamic country such as Pakistan. Apart from funding the ISI, Osama bin Laden also funded political parties in Pakistan. A former ISI official, Sq. Ldr. Khalid Khwaja (recently assasinated by the Taliban) has said that he personally arranged several meetings between Osama and Pakistan Muslim League's (PML) Chief (now, PML-N) Nawaz Sharif where the latter demanded money from Osama. Khwaja also claimed that he acted as a courier carrying money from Osama bin Laden to Nawaz Sharif. JI Chief, Qazi Hussein Ahmed, later corroborated the story saying that Nawaz Sharif met Osama bin Laden several times and got money from him to topple Ms. Bhutto's government. Ms. Bhutto also revealed in her memoirs that during her tenure (1988-1990), some Arab militant leaders and Pakistani Generals had planned to start a war against the US in association with Osama bin Laden but she vetoed it. The reference to Generals could not have been to anybody other than Gen. Aslam Beg, COAS and Lt. Gen. Hamid Gul, ISI Chief. So, one can conclude easily that the contacts between the ISI and Osama were deep and long.

Osama maintained close cooperation with the royalty of the UAE even much later when he had been driven away from the Sudan due to pressure from the USA and the Saudi monarchy after he was stripped of the Saudi citizenship. He arranged the houbara bustard hunting trips for the UAE royalty in the deserts of Balochistan and adjoining Afghan areas. Under this garb, he received arms, vehicles, communication equipment etc. while he exported heroin on behalf of the narcotics gang of Afghanistan and Pakistan using the planes of the royalty.

The ISI did everything to strengthen Osama's hands within Pakistan. The context here should be understood. The Pakistan-US relationship, never rollicking to start with, came under much strain in the decade of the 90s, leading to the usual criticism of how the US always treated them as a condom. This is normal in a transaction-based relationship as it always existed between these two countries. But, by claiming so, Pakistan tries to hide its major contribution to such a situation. After the US withdrawal from the Afghan theatre with the successful conclusion of the Geneva Accord, the US woke up to two of the three horrors it had created in Pakistan. The first was the total support to Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme, the second was the the question of drug proliferation and the third was the jihadi terrorism. Thus, suddenly the US imposed sanctions on Pakistan invoking the Pressler Amendment of 1985 leading to bitterness among Pakistanis. With the drying up of huge funds after c. 1989, the Pakistani Army tied up with its proteń£e Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and other warlords to grow opium, refine heroin and smuggle it from Helmand through Balochistan and Iran to Turkey and beyond. It was therefore no wonder when the ISI refused to help the US in recollecting the Stinger man-portable air defence systems (MANPADS) which it loaned to the mujahideen in c. 1986 from them , who were now using them to protect the heroin convoys against attacks. The ISI was using its NLC (National Logistics Cell), created to transport arms and ammunition to the mujahideen during the Afghan jihad, to transport the heroin out of Afghanistan and Pakistan thus defeating the US efforts to curb the drug menace and that too after receiving millions of dollars for opium poppy eradication. A 1993 CIA report came to the conclusion that Pakistan itself was a narco-state. Thus, in c. 1993, Pakistan came close to being branded as a narco-terrorist-state.

In an interview to The Washington Post on September 12, 1994, ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif admitted that the then COAS Gen. Aslam Beg and ISI Chief Lt. Gen. Asad Durrani had suggested using drugs to support covert ISI operations. Nawaz Sharif said, "Both Beg and Durrani insisted that Pakistan's name would not be cited at any place because the whole operation would be carried out by trustworthy third parties". Durrani then went on to list "a series of covert military operations in desperate need of money," recalled Nawaz Sharif. Such reckless behaviour by Pakistan's top Army officers is quite possible when we recall what the same Gen. Aslam Beg told Nawaz Sharif in the presence of an Iranian military official that Pakistan must sell nuclear weapons technology to Iran for USD 12 Billion. Ms. Benazir Bhutto has recalled how she was promised Srinagar if only she authorized the Kargil plan. A similar promise was given to Mohammed Ali Jinnah way back in 1947 of being able to be in Srinagar for the Eid on October 26. One can therefore easily deduce how Osama and the ISI would have collaborated on the narcotics trade.

After the military coup of October 12, 1999, Pakistan became even more isolated in the world. The country was expelled from the Commonwealth. The US-Pakistan relationship had already nosedived after the betrayal by Pakistan in the issue of the cruise missile attacks against Osama bin Laden for the 1998 bombing of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. More embarrassing to Pakistan was that those who were killed in the cruise missile attack turned out to be Pakistanis belonging to Fazlur Rehman Khalil's Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM). Fazlur Rehman Khalil is currently under the protection of the ISI and was even used by the Government in negotiating a truce with the Ghazi brothers of Lal Masjid during the 2007 incidents.

The US used the military coup against a democratically elected Nawaz Sharif government as a ruse to pile up pressure on Pakistan. By this time, Pakistan was the only country to support the Taliban effectively as Saudi Arabia, and at its instigation the UAE, had become cold to them following the refuge given to Osama bin Laden in Kandahar. In the IC-814 hijacking episode, the US came close to branding Pakistan as a 'State Sponsor of Terrorism'. It was therefore only with great difficulty and a lot of humiliation that Gen. Musharraf could make Pres. Clinton visit Pakistan for five hours while he stayed in arch-rival India for five days in March 2000. The US was issuing periodical warnings to the Pakistanis about its support to the Taliban, but Gen. Musharraf and his Corps Commanders, blinded by their hatred for India and therefore not willing to lose the 'strategic depth' of Afghanistan remained immune. It was in this context that in order to retaliate against enormous US pressure, the ISI sponsored the Deobandi conference in Peshawar in April 2001 where support was pledged to the Taliban. The Dar-ul-Uloom Haqqania madrassah in Peshawar organized a meeting which was attended, among others, by Gen. Hamid Gul, former Director General (DG) of ISI and Gen. Mirza Aslam Beg, former COAS, wherein a declaration was made to defend Osama bin Laden and attack the Western countries as a sacred duty of Muslims. Just to balance its support for various factions, the ISI allowed the LeT to hold similar rally in Lahore a couple of weeks later.

(To Be Continued . . . )


  1. Nice article Sir. Waiting for the next one...

  2. look ,since the US trainer has left Pakistan , there is no suicide bomb attacks

  3. only american and India making it dangerous ,have you seen the brutality at afpak border, who killed several security personal in check post