Pakistan: Hello al-Qaeda, goodbye
America By Syed Saleem Shahzad
MIRANSHAH, North Waziristan - With a truce
between the Pakistani Taliban and Islamabad now in
place, the Pakistani government is in effect
reverting to its pre-September 11, 2001, position
in which it closed its eyes to militant groups
allied with al-Qaeda and clearly sided with the
Taliban in Afghanistan.
While the truce
has generated much attention, a more significant
development is an underhand deal between
pro-al-Qaeda elements and Pakistan in which key
al-Qaeda figures will either
be arrested or those already in custody will be
set free. This has the potential to sour
Islamabad's relations with Washington beyond the
point of no return.
On Tuesday, Pakistan
agreed to withdraw its forces from the restive
Waziristan tribal areas bordering Afghanistan in
return for a pledge from tribal leaders to stop
attacks by Pakistani Taliban across the border.
Most reports said that the stumbling block
toward signing this truce had been the release of
tribals from Pakistani custody. But most tribals
had already been released.
problem - and one that has been unreported - was
to keep Pakistan authorities' hands off members of
banned militant organizations connected with
Thus, for example, it has now
been agreed between militants and Islamabad that
Pakistan will not arrest two high-profile men on
the "most wanted" list that includes Osama bin
Laden, his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri and Taliban
leader Mullah Omar.
Saud Memon and Ibrahim
Choto are the only Pakistanis on this list, and
they will be left alone. Saud Memon was the owner
of the lot where US journalist Daniel Pearl was
tortured, executed and buried in January 2002 in
Karachi after being kidnapped by jihadis.
Pakistan has also agreed that many people
arrested by law-enforcement agencies in Pakistan
will be released from jail.
this includes Ghulam Mustafa, who was detained by
Pakistani authorities late last year. Mustafa is
reckoned as al-Qaeda's chief in Pakistan. (See Al-Qaeda's man who knows too
much, Asia Times Online, January 5. As
predicted in that article, Mustafa did indeed
disappear into a "black hole" and was never
formally charged, let alone handed over to the
Asia Times Online contacts expect
Mustafa to be released in the next few days. He
was once close to bin Laden and has intimate
knowledge of al-Qaeda's logistics, its financing
and its nexus with the military in Pakistan.
Militants at large "Now they
[Pakistani authorities] have accepted us as true
representatives of the mujahideen," Wazir Khan
told Asia Times Online at a religious congregation
in Miranshah. "Now we are no longer criminals, but
part and parcel of every deal. Even the
authorities have given tacit approval that they
would not have any objections if I and other
fellows who were termed as wanted took part in
Wazir Khan was once a
high-profile go-between for bin Laden and one of
his closest Waziristan contacts. He was right up
there on the "wanted" list. Now he can move around
in the open. "The situation is diametrically
changed," he said.
From a personal point
of view, things have changed for Wazir Khan and
others like him, but in the bigger picture things
have also changed diametrically.
the leading light in the United States' "war on
terror" and a "most important" non-North Atlantic
Treaty Organization ally, is returning to the
heady times of before September 11 when it could
dabble without restraint in regional affairs, and
this at a time when Afghanistan is boiling.
"The post-September 11 situation [in
Pakistan] was draconian," a prominent militant
told Asia Times Online on condition of anonymity.
"All jihadi organizations were informed in advance
how they would be [severely] dealt with in the
future and that they had better carve out an
alternative low-profile strategy. But some people
could not stop themselves from unnecessary
adventures and created problems for the
establishment. This gave the US the chance to
intervene in Pakistan, and over 700 al-Qaeda
mujahideen were arrested.
situation changed again ... we know the state of
Pakistan is important for the Pakistan army, but
certainly we know that the army would never
completely compromise on Islam."
between Islamabad and the Pakistani Taliban in
Waziristan has been a bitter pill for Washington
to swallow, although Pakistan's pledge to allow
foreign troops based in Afghanistan hot pursuit
into a limited area in Pakistan softens the blow a
Islamabad's overriding concern,
though, is to earn some breathing space
domestically, as well as get Uncle Sam off its
The situation in Waziristan was
becoming unmanageable - it's already virtually a
separate state - and trouble is ongoing in restive
Balochistan province, especially since the killing
at the hands of Pakistani security forces of
nationalist leader Nawab Akbar Bugti. Fractious
opposition political parties have shown rare unity
in attacking the government of President General
Pervez Musharraf on the issue.
Redrawing the map An article by
retired US Major Ralph Peters titled "Blood
borders" published in the Armed Forces Journal
last month has given Pakistan some food for
thought over manipulating the geopolitical game on
its own terms and conditions.
formerly assigned to the Office of the Deputy
Chief of Staff for Intelligence, where he was
responsible for future warfare, argues that
borders in the Middle East and Africa are "the
most arbitrary and distorted" in the world and
Four countries -
Pakistan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Turkey - are
singled out for major readjustments. Pakistan and
Saudi Arabia are also defined as "unnatural
Though the US State Department
was quick to deny that such ideas had anything to
do with US policymaking, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia
and Turkey read much between the lines of talk of
restructuring their boundaries.
Peters' proposals was the need to establish "an
independent Kurdish state" that would "stretch
from Diyarbakir [eastern Turkey] through Tabriz
[Iran], which would be the most pro-Western state
between Bulgaria and Japan".
Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz recently visited
Turkey and then Lebanon, where he announced that
his country would not send any peacekeeping troops
to the latter. Ankara then said that if
peacekeeping forces tried to disarm Hezbollah,
Turkey would pull out of the peace mission. These
decisions are the result of back-channel diplomacy
among Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Pakistan.
Across Pakistan's border in Afghanistan,
the Taliban have control of most of the southwest
of the country, from where Mullah Omar is expected
soon to announce the revival of the Islamic
Emirate of Afghanistan - the name of the country
before the Taliban were driven out in 2001. Once
the proclamation is made, a big push toward the
capital Kabul will begin.
The sounds of
jail doors opening in Pakistan will jar with the
United States, as will Islamabad adopting a more
independent foreign policy and, crucially,
aligning itself with the resurgent Taliban in
Afghanistan, which once again could become a
Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau
Chief. He can be reached at