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Pakistan's Jihad-Friendly Army By: Kaushik Kapisthalam
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, June 10, 2004

Amidst the media hype here over the Iraq prison scandal and the Presidential election campaign, alarming developments in Pakistan have slipped under America’s radar. For starters, on May 27, 2004, Pakistan’s President Gen. Pervez Musharraf disclosed in an interview with the Pakistan based Geo-TV network that a few “low level” Pakistani Air Force and Army soldiers had conspired with a Pakistani Al Qaeda mastermind in the two attempts to assassinate him late last year.

On December 14, 2003, attackers exploded a bomb on a bridge in Rawalpindi, near the capital Islamabad, moments after Musharraf's car passed over it. There was another attack on Christmas day, 2003, just a few hundreds yards from the site of the first bombing, where suicide bombers tried to ram Musharraf's motorcade with explosive-laden vehicles, narrowly missing him but killing 16 other people, mostly policemen. In both instances, the attackers had pinpoint knowledge of when Musharraf’s convoy was going to pass through the designated “kill zone.

In a June 4, 2004interview with Pakistan’s ARY TV, Gen. Musharraf confirmed press reports that the man orchestrating the assassination attempts on him was an Al Qaeda mastermind named Amjad Farooqi. Musharraf said that Farooqi was also the architect of the conspiracy to kidnap and kill American journalist Daniel Pearl and had ties to Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, a top aide of Osama bin Laden. Musharraf added that Pakistani authorities are on Farooqi’s tail but the Al Qaeda mastermind has so far eluded arrest. Other reports say that Farooqi uses aliases like Imtiaz Siddiqui, Hyder and Hussain Mansur.  

While Musharraf apologists may use this information to point out how the General is “courageous” for standing up to terrorists despite attempts on his life, the real story here is whether the threats to Musharraf may in fact be the denouement to his long-running unwillingness to fully crackdown on Al Qaeda linked Pakistani terrorist groups, especially the ones involved in the murder of Daniel Pearl.  After sifting through the various news reports coming out of Pakistan since Pearl’s murder, the following facts can be ascertained.


Following Daniel Pearl’s kidnapping, Pakistani authorities claimed that they “arrested” a terrorist named Omar Sheikh who, they claimed, was behind the abduction. In fact, Sheikh had actually turned himself in to a retired Pakistani Interservices Intelligence Agency (ISI) official named Brigadier Ejaz Shah, who was reportedly his “handler” when Sheikh was an all purpose dirty tricks man for the ISI. The timeline of events indicates that Pearl was most likely murdered when Sheikh was in Brigadier Shah’s custody.


Pakistani authorities quickly tried and convicted Omar Sheikh for Pearl’s murder and later put the blame for the actual videotaped beheading of Pearl on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was in American custody by that time. With that, the Pakistanis hoped to close the chapter. The reasons the Pakistanis to tried to put a lid on the Pearl killing episode is clear – every terrorist involved in the plot seemed to have a link with Pakistani intelligence agencies. But the story simply wouldn’t die.


Pakistani journalist Massoud Ansari recently reported that contrary to the Pakistan government’s claims, Omar Sheikh probably never planned to kill Pearl. In fact, he may have planned to release Pearl after receiving a ransom payment. But the operation went awry when some Arabs came in and took charge of the situation, and ultimately killed the American journalist. The men involved in the videotaped Pearl slaughter were identified as Amjad Farooqi, Fazal Karim, Ali Khan and Qari Asad, all hardened terrorists belonging to the Pakistani group Jaish-e-Mohammed, which has close Al Qaeda ties.


Ansari also reported that in the recent months, Pakistani authorities had arrested four men involved in the Pearl killing, including Ali Khan and Fazal Karim, who were guarding the house where Pearl was held hostage. All the arrested men fingered Farooqi and his Kuwaiti cohorts as the real murderers. It is to be noted that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed himself is a Kuwaiti born person of Pakistani heritage. Despite this, Pakistani authorities refused to charge the men in the Pearl murder case because it would lead to a retrial and acquittal of Omar Sheikh. According their statements, Sheikh merely emailed Pearl and set up the meeting with the kidnappers. He did not even meet Pearl in person.


It is obvious why Pakistani authorities are petrified at the thought of Omar Sheikh being acquitted. In March 2002, US authorities unsealed an indictment of Sheikh that charged him with the kidnapping of an American tourist named Bela Nuss, while Sheikh was doing the ISI’s bidding in India in 1994. Sheikh is also a British national, which means that Pakistan would have no reason not to extradite him if he is not in prison. Pakistani journalist Kamran Khan quoted insiders as saying that Omar Sheikh rattled Pakistani officials during his trial by disclosing his group’s role in many terrorist attacks, such as the December 2001 attack on India’s parliament. Kahn mentioned that ISI members had facilitated these attacks. While journalists were barred from attending Sheikh’s trial in Pakistan, the same would not be the case in the UK or US. Should such details come out in the West, it would prove deeply embarrassing for Pakistan.


While fear of exposing the ISI-Sheikh links likely caused Pakistani authorities to go easy on terrorists like Farooqi, it now appears downplaying another serious ISI connection facilitated the assassination attempts on Gen. Musharraf. Following the incidents, Pakistani authorities had been reticent to talk about the role of insiders in the attempts. While speaking to United Press International reporter Anwar Iqbal, Pakistani officials identified the lead Christmas day suicide bomber as Mohammed Jameel, an “Islamic militant” from Pakistan occupied Kashmir. They denied that the man had any connection to Pakistan’s military or spy agencies. But UPI later reported that Jameel was in fact a Pakistan Army Captain deputed to ISI. Another recent UPI report said that Pakistani authorities admitted that Captain Jameel was in fact one of the several hundred Pakistan Army and intelligence officers fighting covertly alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan. But the story doesn’t end there.


After the collapse of the Taliban in Afghanistan, Jameel was one of the men picked up by American forces and their Afghan allies. Since the Americans had no information on him, they checked with Pakistani officials who said that Jameel was “clean.” After all, it would be hard to explain why a Pakistani army officer was fighting against the Americans in Afghanistan. Free to go, Jameel soon quit the army and joined his erstwhile allies in the Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist group. When Farooqi presented him with an opportunity to kill his “betrayer” Musharraf, Jameel took it willingly. Yet another ISI link to terrorists boomeranged on Pakistan.


Strangely, it still appears that Musharraf may not have learned anything from this sordid episode. In the ARY TV interview the General denied that any Army officers were involved in the assassination conspiracy and blamed it all on some enlisted men. In reality, in addition to Captain Jameel, many Pakistani officers were likely involved in this plot. Pakistani newspaper Daily Times recently revealed that an army captain, three majors, a lieutenant colonel and a colonel may have had roles in the attempt on Musharraf. It appears that the cover up is still going on.


The whole Farooqi episode just illustrates the perils of Pakistan’s superficial crackdown on terror. For American authorities to continue to rely on agencies like the ISI to vet terror suspects is a dangerous proposition. Obviously the Pakistanis would want to shield anyone that would implicate their army. This means that for a successful war on terror, the US must insist on a bottom-up purge of the ISI to weed out al-Qaida sympathizers in the Pakistani army. Despite Musharraf’s promises on this regard, little has happened. Musharraf replaced the ISI’s Director General under US pressure but left the middle and lower levels untouched.


Pakistan today is the de facto epicenter of Al Qaeda’s operations, with suspects in terrorist attacks from Turkey to Indonesia all being traced back to training camps in that troubled nation. In that context, one can see that the current US war on terror in Pakistan is missing the forest for the trees. Instead of rehashing the “Over 500 Al Qaeda terrorists arrested in Pakistan” story, American authorities must ask themselves why there are so many Al Qaeda men in Pakistan in the first place. The fact is the terrorists feel they are safer there with so many connections to Pakistani agencies. Given this, trying to cherry pick some Al Qaeda Arabs from Pakistan without shutting down the ISI-jihadi nexus it is simply ineffective. American officials also need to ask Gen. Musharraf why all the Pakistani jihadi groups linked to Al Qaeda are still freely collecting funds and recruiting volunteers despite their supposed proscription.


If anything, the thought that Army officers of a nuclear-armed nation are involved in joint operations with an Al Qaeda mastermind should remind people of the seriousness of this dilemma. Who is to say that some other Al Qaeda friendly Pakistani army officers will not hand over a nuclear warhead to terrorists in the future? Isn’t it time for America to stop listening to the State Department status-quo artists and give Gen. Musharraf an ultimatum to purge his army and spy agencies of uniformed jihadists? Congress has reportedly cleared the Bush administration decision to make Pakistan a Major Non-NATO ally, which allows the Pentagon more freedom to grant military assistance to Pakistan and also virtually shields Pakistan from any future sanctions. It would only be prudent that the Pentagon makes actual aid and weapons transfer contingent on a full clean up of the Pakistani military. Anything less would be pure folly.


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