Date: 29 Dec 2007


Title: Jihad comes to Mush’s door

Author: B. Raman

Publication: The Pioneer

Date: December 29, 2007.

Jihad comes to Mush's door

B Raman

Since 9/11, there has been hardly any jihadi terrorist strike anywhere in the world in which there was no Pakistani connection. Since 2002, there has been hardly any jihadi terrorist strike in Pakistani territory in which there was no connection of the General Headquarters (GHQ) of the Pakistan Army. By GHQ, one does not mean the entire Army, but certain elements in the GHQ.

The first wake-up call about the presence of sleeper cells of Al Qaeda in Rawalpindi came in March 2003 when Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who allegedly orchestrated the 9/11 terrorist strikes in the US, was found living in the house of a woman's wing office-bearer of the Jamaat-e-Islami in Rawalpindi. She had relatives in the Army, including an officer of a Signal Regiment.

The second wake-up call came after the two attempts to assassinate President Pervez Musharraf in Rawalpindi in December 2003. The Pakistani authorities have not so far taken their people into confidence regarding the details of the two plots. All that they have admitted is that four junior officers of the Army and six of the Air Force were allegedly involved.

One of the Army officers, Islamuddin, was court-martialled and sentenced to death even before the investigation was complete. Another Army officer, Hawaldar Younis, was sentenced to 10 years rigorous imprisonment. Much to the discomfiture of the authorities, one of the Air Force officers, a civilian, who was being held in custody in an Air Force station, managed to escape.

There are still many unanswered questions about the conspiracy to kill Mr Musharraf. Who took the initiative in planning this conspiracy? The arrested junior officers of the Army and the Air Force, or the leaders of jihadi organisations? When was the conspiracy hatched? How did Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Intelligence Directorates-General of the Army and the Air Force remain unaware of this conspiracy despite the fact that the conspirators had allegedly held some of their preparatory meetings in their living quarters in cantonments and Air Force stations? Was there a complicity of some in the intelligence establishment itself? If so, at what level? Why was the Government unable to identify those in the intelligence establishment involved in the conspiracy? Was there an involvement of the Hizbut-Tehrir?

These questions re-surfaced in the wake of the arrest of Abu Faraj al-Libi of Al Qaeda and the re-arrest of the civilian employee of the Air Force involved in the conspiracy, who had managed to escape from custody in November 2004, while under interrogation. That there were apprehensions in the minds of those close to Mr Musharraf over the role of sections of the intelligence establishment in the entire conspiracy and over the failure of the investigating agencies to unravel the entire conspiracy became evident from an interview given by Aamir Liaqat Hussain, the then Minister of State for Religious Affairs, to The Daily Times on May 5, 2005.

Well-informed sources in Pakistan say that apart from the failure of the intelligence establishment to identify and weed out the pro-jihadi elements in the armed forces and the intelligence establishment, another cause for serious concern is the continuing failure of the intelligence establishment to identify all the Pakistani leaders of the highly secretive Hizbut-Tehrir and its supporters in the forces and arrest them.

The Hizbut-Tehrir ideology and operational methods were imported into Pakistan from the UK by its supporters in the Pakistani community there in 2000. In five years it has been able to make considerable progress, not only in setting up its organisational infrastructure but also in recruiting dedicated members, including from the armed forces. No other jihadi organisation has been able to attract as many supporters from the armed forces. 

There are two alarming aspects of the security situation in Pakistan. The first is the upsurge in acts of suicide terrorism directed against security and intelligence personnel and their establishments. These give clear evidence of the penetration of pro-Al Qaeda jihadi elements inside the armed forces, the intelligence agencies and the police. The second is the inability or unwillingness of the police to vigorously investigate these incidents, including the attempt to kill Benazir Bhutto in Karachi on October 18.

Nobody knows definitively till today who are responsible for these suicide attacks - tribal followers of Baitullah Mehsud of South Waziristan or those of Maulana Fazlullah of Swat Valley or Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the anti-Shia sectarian organisation, or Al Qaeda, or the angry students of the two madarsas run by Lal Masjid in Islamabad. 

I do not believe Mr Musharraf had prior knowledge of the plot to kill Benazir Bhutto in Rawalpindi. But he has to be held responsible for failing to provide effective physical security to her. He and his officers kept disregarding her growing fears about threats to her security. He failed to ensure a vigorous investigation of the first attempt to kill her at Karachi on October 18.

The infiltration of traditional fundamentalist political parties into the GHQ started under Gen Zia-ul-Haq. Since Mr Musharraf took over, there has been an infiltration of Al Qaeda into the Pakistani Armed Forces and into their sanctum sanctorum in Rawalpindi. These elements are against Mr Musharraf too, but they were much more against Benazir Bhutto because she was a woman and had been saying openly that she would allow the US to hunt for Osama bin Laden in Pakistani territory and the International Atomic Energy Agency at Vienna to interrogate AQ Khan, the nuclear scientist.

They have succeeded in killing her. They will now step up their efforts to eliminate Mr Musharraf. Whoever was responsible for killing her could not have done it without inside complicity. If Al Qaeda already has sleeper cells in the GHQ, there is an equal danger that it already has sleeper cells inside Pakistan's nuclear establishment too.

Mr Musharraf is either knowingly dishonest or is living in a makebelieve world of his own, unaware of the ground realities. Only a few days before Benazir Bhutto's assassination, he was bragging to officer trainees in the Defence Services Staff College in Quetta that he had defeated the terrorists outside the tribal belt and would soon be defeating them inside the tribal belt, too!

It is high time he and his patrons in the US realise that Al Qaeda is not just in the tribal belt. It is right under his nose in Rawalpindi.