Is Al Qaeda in Pakistan?
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, talking about Al Qaeda, said in Lahore on Thursday that she found it “hard to believe that nobody in your government knows where they are and couldn’t get them if they really wanted to”. She added: “As far as we know, they are in Pakistan”. The stock answer from Pakistan of course is: “If you have any hard information about where the top leaders of Al Qaeda are, tell us, and we will get them for you”.
This has gone on for a long time. The argument between the US-NATO forces in Afghanistan on the one side and the Pakistani authorities on the other could not be conclusive, and so the formulation both accepted on the issue is: Al Qaeda leaders are somewhere on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan. This absolves both sides of the charge of not taking on the terrorists on the territories they control (sic!). But this is a logically untenable formulation.
Al Qaeda and its leaders could not locate themselves on the Durand Line as a line drawn on ground. If Osama bin Laden were to stand on it he would either fall on the Pakistani side or the Afghan side. The only conclusion one can draw is that there is obfuscation here and a measure of “passing the buck” by two parties not fully in control of things. There is a possibility that there is also an insufficiency of intent to take on Al Qaeda and finish it off. Meanwhile Osama bin Laden teeters on the Durand Line.
Circumstantial evidence is unending. Drone attacks regularly kill foreigners who can only be interpreted as Al Qaeda adjuncts. On the Pakistani side, there is a tendency to divide the terrorists into three categories: the Afghan Taliban who are good, the Pakistani Taliban who are bad, and the “foreigners” sheltered by some Pakistani Taliban who are bad too. These categories are patently false as is often proved by printed notices issued by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) naming Osama bin Laden and Mullah Umar as its patrons.
Pakistan can hardly know what is going on in the areas it has lost control of. Its intelligence was always weak in the tribal areas but it tapered off in 2001 after Pakistan decided to join the US in its war against terrorism. The strategic ambivalence practised by General Musharraf actually gave rise to rumours that the intelligence agencies were playing both sides and that retired officers were involved in implementing this strategy even as Pakistan caught the largest number of Al Qaeda terrorists found anywhere in the world and handed them over to the US.
The world outside knows more about the activities of Al Qaeda in Pakistan than do Pakistanis. Most of them believe that Al Qaeda doesn’t exist and that Osama bin Laden is in an American jail even as America manufactures excuses to invade Islamic nations. The news that the passport of Said Bahaji, a prominent member of the Hamburg cell that carried out the 9/11 attacks, was found in South Waziristan has been carried in the Pakistani press after appending “so-called” before Hamburg.
Pakistan never had much of a clue about what Al Qaeda was doing in Pakistan. Ramzi bin al-Shibh, the 20th attacker who could not make it to the US, was caught in Karachi after American investigators located him. Abu Zubayda was only reluctantly confronted and caught by the local police in Faisalabad on the “pointation” of US investigators. Since Al Qaeda stayed close to the jihadis, and since the jihadis were kosher, they had a free run of Pakistan. Today, Pakistanis certainly don’t hate Al Qaeda as much as they hate the US.
The distraction is actually spread by the state institutions. The people are shown two enemies: the US and India. Interior Minister Rehman Malik, who is usually quite factual, hints that the “bad” Taliban are being financed and armed by the US and India. His condemnation of Al Qaeda falls on deaf ears because of the logic he destroys every time he speaks like that: why should Al Qaeda be condemned if the suicide-bombers are being bought and sent out with Indian and American money? At times Al Qaeda must be put off by the fact that Pakistanis deny it the credit of having carried out the 9/11 attacks. * (Daily Times)
In the following op-ed, Tanvir Qaiser Shahid suggests that despite being threatened by the Taliban, committed and honest Pakistani journalists will not refrain from revealing the true ugly face of terrorists. He offers the example of Veronica Guerin as a model of bravery and integrity in journalism (very different from Pakistani yellow journalists such as Shahid Masood, Hamid Mir, Ansar Abbasi, Javed Chaudhry and Irfan Siddiqi).