Nearly a month after the two failed attempts to kill Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf in the highly-guarded cantonment town of Rawalpindi, the Pakistani investigating agencies seem to be still groping in the dark in their attempts to unravel the conspiracy to kill him.
2. Contrary to the repeated claims of different Ministers of the Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali Cabinet that the two cases have almost been solved and that the agencies are in the process of rounding up the conspirators, independent reports from usually well-informed sources indicate that apart from establishing the identities of the two suicide bombers of the December 25 attempt and detaining a junior level police officer of the Islamabad Special Branch, the agencies have not been able to make any other forward movement so far.
3. Raids have been conducted in many madrasas and hospitals run by madrasas and Islamic charity organisations in many cities and smaller town of Punjab and Sindh, over a hundred suspects rounded up and many police officers of Islamabad and Rawalpindi with different levels of seniority have been questioned, but without any useful lead so far.
4. Surprisingly---and intriguingly-- there are no reports of any officers of the presidential security set-up and the armed forces being questioned in order to determine any complicity from their ranks. The Government has also played down the fact that one of the two suicide bombers----Muhammad Jameel, resident of Androot, Police Station Torarh, in Poonch district, Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK)--- belonged to the Sudan tribe of the POK, the same tribe to which Gen.Mohammad Aziz Khan, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, and Maj.Gen. (retd) Mohammad Anwar Khan, the President of the POK, belong.
5. According to a retired senior officer of the Pakistani Police, who continues to be in touch with his former department, some associates of Jameel who were rounded up by the Police from his village in the POK told the police during their interrogation that one of the reasons why Jameel volunteered for this suicide mission was his anger over Musharraf's decision to retain the post of the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), thereby depriving Gen. Aziz of an opportunity to become the COAS.
6. There are many Sudans serving in the Pakistan Army in different ranks, but Gen.Aziz was the first Kashmiri to have risen to such a senior position. According to Jameel's associates, he allegedly blamed Musharraf for preventing a Kashmiri from becoming the COAS for the first time in the history of the Pakistani army.
7. During their searches of hospitals run by the madrasas and Islamic charity organisations, the investigating agencies have reportedly been looking for any patient who might have recently been admitted for the treatment of any unnatural injuries---such as those caused by gunshot or explosives. It is not quite clear whether their search for an injured person is in connection with the attempts on Musharraf's life or the recent incidents of violence earlier this month in the south Waziristan area of the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), where the army has launched another drive---unsuccessful so far---to round up the dregs of Al Qaeda and the Taliban. During this drive, four military personnel were killed when the local tribals fired mortar shells at their post.
8. The investigations into the attempts on the life of Musharraf have so far been directed against the two factions of the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM), the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen al-Alami, which was found to have been responsible for the earlier attempt to kill Musharraf at Karachi in April, 2002, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the Sunni extremist organisation, the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI) and the Hizbul Tehrir (HT).
9. Initially, the investigating agencies described Jameel as a member of the JEM, but they are now projecting him as a member of the HUJI. The HUJI, headed by Qari Saifullah Akhtar, has close links with HT and the two have some following in the Army and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) at the lower and middle levels.
10. In 1995, the Pakistani authorities arrested a group of army officers headed by Maj.Gen.Zaheer-ul-Islam Abbasi on a charge of plotting, in association with the HUJI, to have Mrs. Benazir Bhutto, the then Prime Minister, and Gen.Abdul Waheed Kakkar, the then COAS, assassinated, seize power and set up an Islamic State ruled according to the Sharia. Maj.Gen.Abbasi, who used to be a close personal friend of Musharraf, had served in the late 1980s as the ISI station chief in the Pakistani High Commission in New Delhi. He was expelled by the Government of India on a charge of indulging in espionage.
11. After his return to Islamabad, he was posted by Gen.Asif Nawaz Janjua, who was the COAS during the first tenure of Nawaz Sharif as the Prime Minister, to the Northern Areas (Gilgit and Baltistan). While posted there, he tried to organise a raid, without the approval of the COAS, on an Indian Army post in the Siachen area, but it failed disastrously.
12. On coming to know of this, Gen.Asif Nawaz withdrew him from the Northern Areas and issued a severe reprimand. Thereafter, he drifted towards the HUJI.
13. Abbasi and his associates were court-marialled and sentenced to various terms of imprisonment for their role in the conspiracy of 1995, but, surprisingly, Qari Saifullah Akhtar, who was also arrested along with the plotters, was not prosecuted and was released from jail.
14. After Musharraf overthrew Nawaz Sharif and seized power on October 12,1999, Abbasi was also released from jail. During the last two years, he had been travelling round the country and making anti-US speeches to gatherings consisting of ex-servicemen and jihadi elements. There were also reports of his gravitating towards the HT.
15. Since the middle of last year, the HT has stepped up its criticism of Musharraf and some of its leaders have even been calling for his assassination for betraying the cause of Islam by collaborating with the US. According to some reports, the Pakistani authorities suspected that the HT's sympathisers in the Army were responsible for the circulation of anonymous anti-Musharraf letters typed on the letter-head of the Army headquarters last year.
16. These letters called Musharraf and his associates "national criminals" and accused him of helping the Americans, the Christians and the Jews to kill the Afghans and turning Pakistan, "the fort of Islam, into a slaughterhouse of the Muslims."
17. After the two attempts to kill Musharraf last month, a member of the Senate, the upper House of the Parliament, revealed that some members of Parliament had been in receipt of a letter from the UK branch of the HT, warning them not to support the regularisation of the 2002 election of Musharraf as the President in a referendum. The letter accused Musharraf of "working for the American interests in Pakistan and helping the US in routing of the Muslims".
18. Last year, the ISI and the Directorate-General of Military Intelligence detained for questioning some officers on suspicion of having links with Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Amongst them were Major Ali Quddus, Lt.Gen.Khalid Abbasi, Assistant Adjutant-General, Major Mohammad Atta, who was working in the office of the Quarter-Master General, and Ahsan Aziz (rank not known), an army engineer. While Ali Quddus was suspected of links with Khalid Sheikh Mohammad of Al Qaeda, who was arrested in Rawalpindi in March last, the others were suspected of helping the Taliban in Afghanistan. Ahsan Aziz is also from the POK and is believed to be a Sudan too.
19. Gen. Aziz, who had been keeping quiet ever since he was removed from the post of Corps Commander in Lahore in October, 2001, allegedly under US pressure, started openly criticising Musharraf's policies in the middle of last year without, however, personally criticising him. When Musharraf was away to the US in June last, he undertook a tour of the POK accompanied by Maj.Gen.Anwar Khan, who had served under him in the ISI before 1999. Addressing a meeting in the Rawalakot district, he was reported to have said: "America is the No.1 enemy of the Muslim world and is conspiring against Muslim nations all over the world. All the defects and setbacks that the Islamic world has suffered have been due to disunity and splits in Muslim ranks besides the presence of and tolerance shown to hypocrites within. It was because of the machinations of these elements that most of our movements came to naught. We would, therefore, have to tackle and put an end to such elements to be able to engage and face the mightiest of the world powers."
20. Muhammad Naeem of the Islamabad Special Branch, who has been detained since December 28 and is under interrogation, was on plainclothes duty on December 25 at the Islamabad Convention Centre where Musharraf had gone to address a meeting. As Musharraf left the Convention Centre after the meeting to return to Rawalpindi, Naeem is suspected to have alerted Jameel that Musharraf's convoy had started.
21. It is, however, believed that Naeem did not know which of the four routes on which the police had been deployed on route security duty would the convoy be taking. The suicide bombers apparently knew of it from another insider, who was privy to the decision on the route to be taken by the convoy. Who was that second insider? Was he from the police or the Army? That is the question to which the investigating agencies have not so far been able to find the answer.
22. Till all the insiders---whether two or more---are identified and arrested and the entire conspiracy unravelled , the threat to Musharraf from his own colleagues and men in the army and the police would remain as high as ever.
23.This may please be read in continuation of the earlier articles on the attempts on Musharraf's life, which are available at www.saag.org .
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-Mail: email@example.com )