Pakistan After Bin Laden: Rumors and Dissent
by THE EDITOR, ADRIAN MORGAN
May 13, 2011
Take One: Bin Laden recorded in a video found at his compound.
The operation that resulted in the shooting of Osama bin Laden has elicited strong reactions, some positive, some negative. It is only to be expected that Islamists like Ismail Haniyeh (leader of Hamas in Gaza) would condemn the operation, referring to bin Laden as a “Holy Warrior”. Anjem Choudary claimed that bin Laden’s supporters in Britain loved the international terrorist “the way they care about their own parents,” and announced he would mount a protest outside the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square, London. So far, as happens with much of Choudary’s bluster-laden boasting, no such demonstration has taken place.
Already conspiracy theories are abounding, not helped by the confused messages being sent out from the White House. Choudary has added his own conspiratorial contribution. Speaking on Bulgarian radio, he said that Osama bin Laden was not killed on Monday May 1, but on Friday April 28. He claimed that three days before the White House announcement of bin Laden’s demise, Islamist chatrooms were carrying messages such as “The lion is dead” and “The lion is in danger.”
A similar claim was made by Iran, according to Russian news agency RIA Novosti. Heydar Moslehi, Iran’s intelligence minister, was quoted in ISNA (Iran Students’ News Agency) as claiming on Sunday (before president Obama’s announcement) that: “We have credible information that bin Laden died some time ago of a disease.”
Iran’s news agencies – like Choudary – are not reliable sources of truth. Iran’s state broadcasting outlet Press TV had tried to suggest that Neda Aga Soltan, shot dead by Iran’s BAssij militia, had actually taken poison. When that theory was ridiculed, they tried to suggest that her boyfriend had shot her. ABC News showed footage of bin Laden’s medicine cabinet in his compound in Abbottabad. It had long been a rumor that bin Laden suffered a serious kidney ailment. No evidence of drugs for any serious illness was found in the cupboard – least of all for life-threatening nephritic conditions.
Leon Panetta said we would see proof in pictures, Obama decided that we were not to be granted that. The administration’s conflicting accounts have provided rich grist to the internet rumor mill. Bin Laden’s burial at sea, his body dropped over the side of USS Carl Vinson into the Arabian Sea, was condemned as a travesty by Muslims for insulting a Muslim (bin laden) and also by those who believe a mass murderer should have been given no funeral rites.
On January 7, 2008, Rowan Williams, the British cleric who – as Archbishop of Canterbury – leads 80 million Anglicans around the world, called for sharia law to be introduced into Britain. He criticized the White House for issuing contradictory statements on bin Laden’s death. However, in line with his earlier dhimmitudinous pronouncements, the Archbishop went on to upset relatives of 9/11 victims by complaining that because bin Laden died when he was unarmed, justice had not been “seen to be done.”
On May 10, the New York Times published a statement from the bin Laden family, authored by Omar Ossama bin Laden, a son of Osama, which claimed that the family members
“are not convinced on the available evidence in the absence of dead body, photographs, and video evidence that our natural father is dead.”
During the raid, Osama bin Laden’s 22 year old son Khalid was confirmed to have died. Bin Laden’s youngest son, 19-year old Hamza, is said to have escaped. Hamza is sometimes referred to as the “Crown Prince of Terror.” Bin Laden’s wife Amal al-Sadah, who was shot in the leg during the operation by the Navy Seals DevGru team, is currently in Pakistani custody. Two other wives, Khairiah Sabar and Siham Sabar, are also in custody in Pakistan.
Omar bin Laden demanded an inquiry by the United Nations into the killing of his father, and is threatening to sue the United States in the International Criminal Court and International Court of Justice. Omar bin Laden had previously tried to use his marriage to a British citizen, Jane Felix-Browne, to gain residence in the United Kingdom. He was refused. Felix-Browne now goes under the name of Zaina bin Laden, and even though she recently spoke of separating from Omar bin Laden, alleging he had mental health problems, the couple now seems reconciled. Omar bin Laden is now based in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.
Globally, America’s allies have mostly supported the killing of bin Laden. On Wednesday (May 11), Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was reported as saying that the United States was justified in killing bin Laden, even though he believed more evidence of the details of the killing should be presented. He said:
“Our position is very simple. After September 11, 2001 the UN Security Council adopted a resolution recognizing the United States' right to self-defense. The right to self-defense is not subject to any restrictions.”
On Thursday, Russia’s president, Dmitry Medvedev, was due to meet Pakistan’s president, Ali Asif Zardari.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu expressed her nation’s support for the killing of bin Laden. She said:
“We believe the death of Osama bin Laden is a milestone and a positive development for the international anti-terrorism efforts. Terrorism is the common enemy of the international community.”
There is another reason for China to be pleased with events in Abbotabad. As reported by ABC News, on Tuesday Pakistani officials suggested that they may “let them [the Chinese] take a look” at the remains of the stealth helicopter that was burned out and left in bin Laden’s compound. The U.S. government has requested the remains of the helicopter should be returned, but so far it remains in the custody of the Pakistani military garrison at Abbottabad. The stealth technology in the helicopter could give China a distinct strategic advantage in any Pacific conflict that may take place.
Yousuf Gilani, prime minister.
China has been an official ally of Pakistan for 60 years, despite the dramatic shifts in Pakistani’s leadership over the past six decades. Next week, Pakistan’s prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani will be visiting China as part of ‘China-Pakistan Friendship Year’ meetings. Jiang Yu said:
“Leaders of the two countries will exchange views on bilateral relations and promote practical cooperation across the border as well as other issues of common interest.”
Pakistan and the ISI
There is obvious embarrassment within Pakistan that a major terrorist on the world’s stage should be found living in Abbotabad, a short distance from the main army garrison in the country.
The suspicion has fallen on the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence), Pakistan’s notorious intelligence agency. There have long been reports that one former ISI director - Hamid Gul _ has been funding Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan. Gul was head of the ISI from March 1987 until May 1989. He was mentioned in many of the Wikileaks Afghan War Logs, dating from 2004 to 2010, as a recruiter and enabler for the Taliban and possibly al-Qaeda.
Hamid Gul admits being formerly involved in a group called Ummah Tameer-e-Nau which is said by U.S. officials to have been set up to give material support to the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Days after 9/11, he suggested that it was more likely that the “Jewish lobby” and Israel had been responsible for the attacks upon America on September 11, 2001. Gul had met bin Laden in 1993, but when asked if he thought that bin Laden was a terrorist, he replied:
“No, until he is proven otherwise. If he is proven not to be a mujahid but a terrorist. But then, how can I describe him as a terrorist? There is no evidence as yet. If there is hard evidence, then I would be the first one to say that he is a terrorist among the rank of mujahideen.”
After the killing of bin Laden on May 2, 2011 (Pakistani time), Hamid Gul has been giving numerous interviews. One of these interviews took place on a phone link with arch-conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. The video of this interview has gone viral, appearing not only on Jones’ Prison Planet website, but on numerous other paranoid websites with a propensity to believe in hare-brained conspiracy theories. Many of these are in Pakistan. In this video interview, Gul is maintaining that the attack upon bin Laden was a hoax, designed as a fabricated pretext to engage in a war with Pakistan.Gul can hardly be viewed as “objective.” In 2003 he declared that
“God will destroy the US in Iraq and Afghanistan and wherever it will try to go from there. The Muslim world must stand united to confront the US in its so-called war against terror which is in reality a war against Muslims. Let’s destroy America wherever its troops are trapped.”
In his interview with Jones, Gul demanded that a probe be carried out into the attack upon the bin Laden compound in Abbotabad. This opinion has since gained some currency in Pakistan.
On Sunday (May 8) a senior Pakistani security official dismissed as “nonsense” the American claim that the compound in Abbotabad had been a “command and control center” for al-Qaeda. There is a growing animosity between elements in the Pakistani establishment towards all things American.
On Saturday 7 May, a media outlet called The Nation revealed the name of a man said to be the CIA’s station chief in Islamabad. American officials claimed the name had been planted by the ISI. Last year, the ISI had apparently leaked the name of a CIA officer who had only been in his post for five months. However, there has since been doubt cast upon the accuracy of the claim. The claim had originally been made on Friday May 6 by ARY, a privately-owned Pakistani TV network., reportedly quoting from a statement made by the current head of the ISI.
This incident has led to further tensions and divisions between Pakistan and America. On May 8 on the CBS show “60 Minutes”, President Obama had told interviewer Paul Kroft:
“We think that there had to be some sort of support network for bin Laden inside of Pakistan.… [T]hat's something that we have to investigate and, more importantly, the Pakistani government has to investigate.”
This week, the tensions have continued to build. On Wednesday, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif called for a review of American-Pakistani relations. He urged the formation of a committee, made up half and half of opposition and government figures, to investigate the incident at Abbotabad.
Already, a government-sponsored internal military probe into the incident is underway/ This inquiry was announced by Yousaf Gilani, the prime minister, on Monday. However, Nawaz Sharif was dissatisfied with the set-up of this investigation. He said:
“We completely reject the prime minister’s committee. It is powerless and cannot investigate the matter in depth.”
Also on Wednesday, two men on motorcycles threw grenades at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Karachi, a large port in Sindh province. Guards fired at the two men, but no-one was hurt in the incident. It is believed to be the first jihadist “response” to the American Abbotabad operation to have taken place in Pakistan.
Who is really in power in Pakistan?
General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, head of the army.
Within Pakistan, the balance of power between the civilian government and the army is weighted in the latter’s favor. The army, currently headed by General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, has always had a close relationship with the ISI, officially controlling its operations. The army and the ISI engage in cross-pollination, with senior military figures being raised to head the ISI, and vice versa. Kayani was appointed by Pervez Musharraf to head the army on November 15, 2007, while the country was in a state of martial law. When he was appointed as head of the army, Kayani had been director general of the ISI.
Kayani should have stepped down as head of the army in November 2010. However, on Thursday July 22, 2010 prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani announced that Kayani would remain as head of the army for a further three years.
The civilian government of prime minister Yousaf Raza GIlani came to power following elections that were held on February 18, 2008. Gilani had announced that he would place the ISI under civilian control on July 26, 2008, but only six hours later he officially reversed that decision. Pervez Musharraf, who had been in power since he had ousted Nawaz Sharif in 2000, had continued as president after the February 2008 elections. Musharraf was urged to stand down from his role as president on August 18th, 2008.
Musharraf was succeeded by Ali Asif Zardari, who was inaugurated as president on September 9, 2008. Zardari was the widower of Benazir Bhutto, who was killed in a bomb blast on December 27, 2007.
Ahmad Shuja Pasha.
The current head of the ISI is General Ahmad Shuja Pasha. In late September 2008, Pasha had taken over as director general of the ISI, filling the role that had been held by Lt Gen Nadeem Taj since Kayani gained control of the army. Pasha’s original tenure as head of the ISI had been due to end in 2010, but prime minister Gilani granted him a year-long extension. The second extension should have come to an end on March 18, 2011, but it was reported on March 20 that Pasha had been given a further extension of his office for one more year.
The events of May 2, in which Osama bin Laden was found to have been living in Pakistan, have somewhat blighted Pasha’s prospects. This past week, there have been reports from Pakistan that Pasha may be expected to step down, to be the fall-guy who must be seen to take responsibility for the political disaster. A former ISI officer said:
“It was a great failure of, and an embarrassment to, Pakistani intelligence. The pressure is mounting for Pasha to resign.”
Pasha and Kayani had always been close, and Kayani had recommended that Pasha take up the position as head of the ISI, despite him having no experience in intelligence. The affair is straining the relationship between the civilian government and the combined army and ISI.
On Wednesday next week, a trial will start in Chicago of Tahawwur Hussain Rana, a Canadian of Pakistani origin, who was arrested in Illinois on October 18, 2009. Rana is an associate of David Headley, who has already admitted acting as a “scout” for suitable locations in Mumbai for Lashkar e-Tayyiba (Lashkar-e-Toiba or LeT) to carry out a terror attack. The attack began on November 26, 2008 at various sites in Mumbai, India, and lasted a few days. 164 people were killed, and more than 300 people were injured. A Jewish rabbi and his wife were mutilated and murdered, a hotel was put under siege by armed gunmen, and a railway station was attacked with gunfire and grenades. At least fifty people died in Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. Most of the fatalities had taken place at the Taj Mahal Palace hotel.
The Economist states that the upcoming trial of Tahawwur Rana will add further embarrassment to the Pakistani ISI:
“Among others indicted (though still at large) is a suspected ISI officer, “Major Iqbal”, who is accused of helping to plan and fund the attacks which killed 170.
Generals Kayani and Pasha are struggling to calibrate their response [to Rana’s trial].
Both congratulated Marc Grossman, America’s regional envoy, for bin Laden’s killing when they met a few hours after the raid. In public, by contrast, General Kayani growled that America was trampling on Pakistan and must reduce its “footprint”. Over military aid, they grumble that needed helicopters and fighter jets are held back.”
Tahawwur Rana appeared in court in Chicago on Wednesday (May 9) in a preliminary hearing, before Judge Harry Leineweber. The trial is going to attract a lot of media attention, and most media reports suggest that this event will cause friction between America and Pakistan. The trial, involving Pakistani-origin individuals who are accused of acting with a Pakistani terror group to attack an Indian city, will also increase the tensions between Pakistan and India.
It should be noted that the founder of LeT, Hafiz Saeed remains free in Pakistan. He officially resigned from LeT in 2002, but he set up a group called Jamaat ud-Dawa that carried on the jihadist war against India. Jamaat ud-Dawa is based at Muridke, near Lahore. On April 28, 2006, the U.S. State Department ruled that Jamaat ud-Dawa was a terrorist organization, and designated it under Executive Order 13224. The State Department maintained that Jamaat ud-Dawa and another group called Idara Khidmat-E-Khalq were aliases of LeT.
Jamaat ud-Dawa’s logo.
The Pakistani government responded angrily to the U.S. designation, and claimed on May 2, 2006 that it had no plans to designate Jamaat ud-Dawa. Then foreign office spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said:
“We are not required, and we do not put any entities on the terrorist lists, if action is taken under the domestic US law.”
The attack against Mumbai citizens on November 26, 2008 appears to have been directed from Jamaat ud-Dawa’s base in Muridke, Lahore. Currently, Hafiz Saeed, head of Jamaat ud-Dawa, has been summoned to attend a trial in America, that has been launched by relatives of American victims of the November 2008 Mumbai attack.
Last week, on Thursday May 5, Hafiz Saeed petitioned Lahore High Court to demand that Pakistan’s foreign ministry should defend him in the American courtroom. He argued that as a citizen, he should be defended just as other Pakistanis listed in the lawsuit.
Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg.
The lawsuit was brought by the heirs of Rabbi Gavriel Noah Holtzberg and his wife Rivka who died in a grotesque manner in a Chabad outreach house Mumbai. Their infant son Moishe had been snatched to safety by a maid. Other people named in the suit are former ISI director Nadeem Taj and Ahmad Shuja Pasha. Shockingly, the Lahore High Court granted Hafiz Saeed the right to be defended by Pakistan’s foreign ministry in the upcoming case.
While American and Pakistani relations are at their worst point for more than a decade, and considering more than $20 billion has been spent on Pakistan since the War on Terror began, the situation is serious.
Pakistan could soon become the fifth largest owner of nuclear weapons in the world. Much of the escalation of Pakistan’s nuclear weaponry has happened since 2006, and it must be assumed that some of the American tax-payers’ money that has gone to “assist” Pakistan has been spent on its nuclear weapons program. While relations with America worsen, Pakistan’s leaders appear to be making a display of their good relations with both Russia and Pakistan.
Pakistan has been a failed state almost from the time it was founded. It is not a strong democracy, and its military ambitions against India need to be curtailed.
The Obama administration may have acted unwisely by disposing of bin Laden’s body in the ocean. By failing to provide photographic proof of bin Laden’s demise, conspiracy theorists in Pakistan and around the Muslim world are able to invent their own scenarios. The lessons that need to be learned from this debacle should also be cautionary to the current U.S. administration. Giving money to a so-called ally, when that ally is apparently working against that alliance and also against its own stated interests, is an act of folly.
So far, Pakistan has been able to give a convincing reason to explain why bin Laden was able to live for up to six years in a compound, near its main garrison. So far, simple logic dictates that the ISI must be blamed, as must the Pakistani army. Dishonest double-dealers like Hamid Gul may claim that America wants to make war on Pakistan, but that is unlikely, and hardly practical, even though it appeals to ignorant Islamists who are looking for someone to blame. The American military is already stretched too far during these times of global crisis and uncertainty.
Whatever happens next, Pakistan has shamed itself, showing itself to be a model of military and intelligence incompetence. No individual person can be put forward as a scapegoat, as the existence of bin Laden in Pakistan stretches back over six years, and different administrations. The long-term presence of bin Laden in Abbotabad suggests that the judiciary, the government, army and intelligence services of the Islamic nation of Pakistan are institutionally rotten. When something is rotten, it cannot heal itself naturally. The “War on Terror” is a phrase that progressives do not like to use, but most of America’s involvement in Pakistan stems directly from this War on Terror. The ISI created the Taliban, which American and Nato soldiers are still fighting, and the Afghan Taliban gave refuge to bin Laden when he gave approval for the 9/11 attacks.
In the body of nations that claim they are working against Islamic terrorism, Pakistan has proved itself to be a gangrenous limb, a limb that needs to have extreme surgery for it – and everything around it - to be saved.