Sunday, June 30, 2002, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Musharraf under pressure
Operation against Al Qaida intensifies
Adnan Adil

AS the border tension on the eastern front cooled off, President Pervez Musharraf’s government has come under pressure on the western borders with a renewed “Get Osama” campaign by the USA, and the killing of 10 Pakistani soldiers in South Waziristan on June 25. Unconfirmed reports suggest that the toll is higher as 24 soldiers had stormed the Al-Qaida’s alleged hideout.

This is the first time Pakistani soldiers have been killed in the hunt for Al Qaida. Observers say the army is likely to respond to the Waziristan killings in kind, a choice that could be wise militarily but dangerous politically for President Musharraf.

Currently, an intense operation against the Al Qaida is under way in Pakistan’s tribal areas, North Waziristan and South Waziristan, and large cities, like Lahore and Karachi. Three Arab NGO offices were raided in Peshawar on June 21 and the same day 14 Al Qaida suspects were arrested in Karachi. On June 23-24, police arrested at least 125 Qaida suspects from various localities in Lahore.

The ongoing operation began after President George Bush ordered his military commanders to “erase” Osama bin Laden by September 11. These orders came following the latest Al-Jazira tape of a bin Laden deputy, Suleman Abu Ghaith, saying Osama bin Laden was alive and that America should “fasten seat belts” for more terrorist attacks.

If Abu Ghaith is to be believed, bin Laden is still alive and active while 98 per cent of the top leadership of the terrorist outfit have escaped and are pursuing their activities. The organisation is reportedly being run now by middle ranking operatives who have fanned out all over the world and formed alliances with local militant organisations.

The largest spillover of Al Qaida activists has been into Pakistan because of its long porous border with Afghanistan. The Bin Laden organisation’s deep association with Deobandi sectarian and Kashmiri Jihadi organisations has come to surface during recent police investigations. Intelligence sources say Arab fighters are present in Pakistan’s tribal belt bordering Khost, Paktia and Paktika provinces of Afghanistan.

Police investigations have also revealed a close association between Al Qaida and Deobandi sectarian militant groups, Sipah-i-Sahba Pakistan and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. Two top sectarian leaders, Akram Lahori and Attaur Rehman alias Naeem Bokhari, have recently been arrested and are under interrogation for their alleged involvement in the recent spate of terrorist incidents like the bomb blast on June 14 the near US Consulate in Karachi.

Last week, Karachi police arrested four senior members of Al Qaida from the downtown, Kharadar, including a man identified only as Riyad, according to police sources. All of them were Arabs. The arrested sectarian leader, Akram Lahori, told the police that 700 Al Qaida members are in Karachi and 50 of them are highly educated and experts in various fields.

After this, the government has directed the provincial governments, the North West Frontier Province’s in particular, to ensure that all Arab nationals associated with non-government organisations in the province leave Pakistan immediately. The federal government has issued orders to the provinces to check the residency documents of all the Arabs working in their limits, especially with the NGOs.

Seeing the spreading out of Al Qaida in Pakistan’s cities, the FBI is now reportedly demanding full powers for conducting search and arrest operations anywhere in Pakistan. FBI’s ability to gather intelligence and use it in Pakistan was proved by the capture of Abu Zubaida in Faisalabad (in Punjab) in April.

The FBI has reportedly asked the Pakistan government to furnish it details of Pakistan’s intelligence and police network in Punjab. It wants to work closely with the Punjab Police in its hunt for Al Qaida members. Sources say US Central Command Chief Tommy Frank has asked Islamabad to allow the FBI to establish its offices in all the major cities of Pakistan to track down the Al Qaida militants, a demand which has not yet been accepted.

The CIA and the FBI have already been granted access to Pakistan’s telecommunication network including the landlines and cellular phones for monitoring the terrorists. The FBI is conducting joint operations with local law enforcement agencies to arrest the terrorists. Its personnel have also been associated with the interrogation of suspects.

On the other hand, the CENTCOM has for long been pressing for a joint Pak-US operation inside the tribal areas to hunt Bin Laden and his aides. Relatively small sized joint raids have been conducted inside North and South Waziristan.Back

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