The exasperation of Porter Goss, the Director of the US' Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), with Pakistan's role in the hunt for Osama bin Laden and other remnants of the Al Qaeda, is evident from his remarks on bin Laden during an interview with the "Time" magazine which has been carried by it this week
2. The interview has come in the wake of the arrest of one Hamid Hayat, a US citizen of Pakistani origin, his father and some others by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) earlier this month. They belonged to a 2500-strong Pakistani community living at a place called Lodi near Sacramento in California. Hamid and his father have been charged by the FBI with covering up from the law enforcement agency the fact regarding his having attended a six-months jihadi training at a camp near Rawalpindi during a visit to Pakistan in 2003-04.
3. Hamid was reported to have told the FBI that the camp was being run by the Al Qaeda, but the indications are that it was actually being run by the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM--which now calls itself the Jamiat-ul-Ansar), a virulently anti-US Pakistani jihadi terrorist organisation, which is a member of Osama bin Laden's International Islamic Front for Jihad Against the Crusaders and the Jewish People formed in 1998. Its then Amir, Maulana Fazlur Rahman Khalil, who was released by the Pakistani authorities after having been detained for some months last year without being prosecuted, was a co-signatory of bin Laden's first fatwa of 1998 against the US.
4.The Pakistani authorities have sought to ridicule the FBI's charge against Hamid by pointing out that it was inconceivable that a jihadi training camp attended by hundreds of trainees, as claimed by him, could be located in or near Rawalpindi, where the Pakistan Army's General Headquarters are located. Coincidentally, Yasin Malik, the head of the Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), one of the jihadi terrorist organisations of India's J&K, during a recent visit to Pakistan, revealed that hundreds of members of his organisation had been trained in the late 1980s in a camp at the very same place, which was being run by Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, a Kashmiri, who used to be a member of the Government of Nawaz Sharif and is now the Minister for Information in the Cabinet headed by Shaukat Aziz.
5. Amongst the members of the present Cabinet, he is considered as close to President Pervez Musharraf. He has had a long history of association with the HUM and Maulana Fazlur Rahman Khalil and had obtained for the HUM a large plot of land near Rawalpindi for starting a jihadi training camp.
6. Embarrassed by the disclosure of Yasin Malik, Sheikh Rashid strongly denied running any such training camp and maintained that he was only running a humanitarian camp for the refugees from J&K. Yasin Malik also subsequently retracted from his statement and accused the media of misreporting him. He asserted that what he had said was that Rashid was looking after the refugees. He denied having said anything about jihadi training organised by Sheikh Rashid.
7. The loud-mouthed Sheikh Rashid, who has many enemies in Pakistan because of his proximity to Musharraf and his habit of frequently dropping the name of Musharraf, found himself contradicted not only by Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP), during whose Government the jihadi training camp was started, but also by Gen. (retd) Mirza Aslam Beg, who was the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) at that time, Brig. (retd) Nasurullah Babar, who was the Interior Minister in Benazir Bhutto's Cabinet, a former officer of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Hashim Quereshi, a co-founder of the JKLF, who had hijacked an Indian Airlines aircraft to Lahore in Pakistan in 1971.
8. While all of them asserted that it was correct that Sheikh Rashid was running a jihadi terrorist training camp, the PPP revealed that the ISI, without the clearance of Benazir, had got transferred hundreds of acres of land in the suburban areas of Islamabad for starting his training camp. Hashim Quereshi, who corroborated the allegations against Sheikh Rashid during a media interview, was asked whether any other member of the present Cabinet had been associated with jihadi terrorism. He replied: "It would be easier to answer who are the members of the present Cabinet who were not associated with terrorism?"
9. From a study of the various statements emanating from these persons, it is clear that the camp at which Hamid attended a jihadi training course was probably the same as the one run by Sheikh Rashid on behalf of the HUM in a large plot of land got transferred to him by the ISI. However, the name of the camp as given by Hamid in his statement to the FBI slightly differs from the name as given by the critics of Sheikh Rashid. According to the FBI, Hamid had given the name as Tamal, whereas the critics of Sheikh Rashid have given the name as Tarnol.
10. While the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon have been very generous in their praise of the co-operation received from Gen.Pervez Musharraf and the Pakistani military-intelligence establishment in the so-called war against terrorism, their positive perception of the Pakistani Army's role is not shared by their officers at the field level--- either by the American Army officers deployed in the Afghan territory across the Pakistani border or by the US diplomats in Kabul or by the US intelligence officers posted in Afghanistan as well as Pakistan.
11. The American Army officers have been particularly outspoken in giving expression to their dissatisfaction over the effectiveness of the combing operations conducted by the Pakistani Security Forces in the Waziristan area of the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). The Pakistan Army's claim that the Security Forces had fought vigorously against the foreign terrorists, who had taken shelter in this area, losing during their operations nearly 230 officers and men has not been satisfactorily corroborated. There are grounds to suspect the casualty figures given by the Pakistan Army.
12. During the last few months, the Pakistan Army has practically suspended its combing operations in the area, claiming that most of the foreign terrorists operating from this area have been killed or captured or driven into Afghanistan. This claim is not accepted by the US Army officers who have been demanding that the combing operations be resumed.
13. The Pakistan Army has also not taken any action to arrest Mulla Mohammad Omar, the Amir of the Taliban, and other Taliban leaders who have been operating from the Pashtun areas of Balochistan. Since the end of winter, these remnants, with the help of the survivors of the Al Qaeda operating from the Waziristan area, have stepped up their acts of violence in Afghanistan. There have also been one or two acts of suicide terrorism, involving Arabs, suspected to be of the Al Qaeda.
14. The differences between the US officials in Afghanistan and their Pakistani counterparts came to a head last week when Geo TV, a private TV channel of Pakistan, interviewed a leader of the Taliban, who assured the viewers that both Mulla Omar and bin Laden were alive and well. In an interview to an Afghan TV station, Zalmay Khalilzad, the US Ambassador to Afghanistan who is under orders of transfer to Iraq, asserted that Mulla Omar and other Taliban leaders were operating from Pakistan. He asked: "If a TV station can get in touch with them, how can the intelligence service of a country which has nuclear bombs and a lot of security and military forces not find them?" The Pakistan Foreign Office strongly protested against Khalilzad's TV interview and described his remarks as irresponsible.
15. It is against this background that one has to see the comments of Porter Goss, which apparently reflect the exasperation of his own officers in the field. India has always been saying that Musharraf has not taken any action to dismantle the training infrastructure of the pro-Al Qaeda Pakistani jihadi terrorist organisations in Pakistani territory. While this was not disputed by the US, it was at the same time not exercising adequate pressure on Musharraf to dismantle these camps because the US apparently felt that these were being used only to train jihadi terrorists to operate in J&K. The reported revelation by Hamid that these camps were also being used to train jihadis from the Pakistani community in the US for operating in US territory has come as a shock to the US agencies.
16.In his interview to the "Time", Goss made the following points: It was unlikely bin Laden would be brought to justice until "we strengthen all the links" in the chain in the US-led hunt for terror suspects. "In the chain that you need to successfully wrap up the war on terror, we have some weak links . When you go to the very difficult question of dealing with sanctuaries in sovereign states, you're dealing with a problem of our sense of international obligation, fair play. We have to find a way to work in a conventional world in unconventional ways that are acceptable to the international community." Asked if he had a good idea where bin Laden is, he said: "I have an excellent idea of where he is."
17. He did not mention Pakistan by name, but it was apparent that he was talking of Pakistan. On the Afghan side of the border, it is the 16,000-strong US troops, which have the responsibility for the hunt for bin Laden. If he was in Afghan territory, there was no reason why Goss should have talked of sanctuaries in sovereign states, weak links etc. If bin Laden was in Iranian territory, there was no reason why he should have refrained from naming Iran since the US relations with Iran are already at the rock-bottom.
18. His reference to the need for working in unconventional ways in a conventional world is intriguing. Is he talking of the need for the US Special Forces operating clandestinely on their own in Pakistani territory in order to kill or capture bin Laden, with or without the concurrence of Musharraf? Is the State Department refusing to agree to this? If he has such an excellent idea of where bin Laden is, why is the CIA not using the Predator aircraft to kill him?
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.