The report on the Patterns of Global Terrorism during 2000 released by the Counter-Terrorism Division of the US State Department in April had made detailed references to Pakistan and the Taliban and to the activities of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM) and the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET). It had also, for the first time, identified the HUM as a member of Osama bin Laden's International Islamic Front for Jihad Against the US and Israel.
Subsequently, during a daily press briefing, a spokesman of the State Department had, in response to questions from US pressmen, tried to soften the blow to Pakistan by saying that the details regarding Pakistan and the Taliban given in the report were the assessment of the Clinton Administration and that, since the beginning of this year, the Bush Administration had not come across any fresh evidence in this regard.
It is since learnt that US counter-terrorism experts have been concerned over new evidence that despite Islamabad's repeated denial of any influence over the Taliban and bin Laden and repeated contention that the HUM and the LET are indigenous Kashmiri organisations, which have no presence in Pakistani territory, Pakistani contacts with bin Laden and assistance to the Taliban continue and the HUM and the LET have stepped up their activities in J & K from Pakistani territory.
Independent reports from Islamabad and Peshawar suggest that :
* Bin Laden, who suffers from renal deficiency, has been periodically undergoing dialysis in a Peshawar military hospital with the knowledge and approval of the Inter-Services Intelligence, (ISI) if not of Gen.Pervez Musharraf himself.
* The recent circulation of copies of bin Laden's video cassette showing him and his followers undergoing training in Afghan territory and the interview of Bakr Atyani, a correspondent of the Middle East Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) with bin Laden and his aides Abu Hafas al-Masri and Ayman al-Zawahiri, leader of Egypt's outlawed Jihad group, were organised by Pakistani military and ISI officers manning the Taliban's newly-created intelligence agency, which has replaced the Khad, the intelligence agency of the Najibullah regime. In this interview, during which bin Laden was present but did not speak, his two aides warned that "the coming weeks will hold important surprises that will target American and Israeli interests in the world." The interview was reportedly recorded by a camera supplied by the ISI officers of the Taliban's intelligence agency since the correspondent was not allowed to carry any recording equipment when he transited Peshawar on his way to Kandahar to interview bin Laden and his aides.
* In view of the ban on all flights from and to Afghanistan under the UN sanctions, the only way of travelling to and from Kandahar to meet bin Laden is by flying from the Gulf or elsewhere to Peshawar and from there to travel by road. The ISI and the Pakistan Army have been facilitating this mode of travel by the foreign-based cadres of the Al Qaeda and other constituents of the International Islamic Front For Jihad Against the US And Israel.
* In the past, bin Laden used to contact his cadres abroad by satellite telephone from Kandahar. After the US bombing of his training camps in Afghan territory in October,1998, he has stopped telephoning from Afghan territory lest US Cruise missiles zero in on the frequency of his telephone. Since then, all his instructions to his cadres abroad are conveyed from Peshawar by one of his aides, generally al-Zawahiri.
However, the Taliban has questioned the authenticity of the video cassette and the claims of the journalist to have interviewed bin Laden's aides. Despite this, William B. Milam, the outgoing US Ambassador in Islamabad, contacted the Taliban Ambassador to Pakistan, Abus Salaam Zaeef , on June 29 and reportedly warned him that in case of a new terrorist attack against American interests by groups associated with bin Laden, Washington would hold the Taliban directly responsible, hinting thereby that any retaliatory strike by the US could be directed against the Taliban's headquarters.
Reports from Islamabad suggest that a similar warning was conveyed by US officials to Mr.Abdul Sattar, the Pakistani Foreign Minister, during the latter's visit to Washington last month. He was reported to have been confronted by US officials with fresh evidence relating to the continued clandestine assistance of Pakistan to the Taliban in violation of the UN sanctions.
The latest position of the Bush Administration seems to be a follow-up of the recommendations made by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank close to the Republican Party, in a paper of July, 2000. The paper had inter alia recommended as follows:
* Even if the United States were fortunate enough to eliminate bin Laden by military means, other Islamic radicals will continue to threaten American security and American allies from Afghan bases as long as the Taliban prevails there.
* "Rather than focusing narrowly on bin Laden, the United States should focus on uprooting the Taliban regime that sustains him and others like him. Washington should develop a regional strategy to halt Pakistan's support of the Taliban, build up Afghan opposition to the Taliban, and encourage defections from its ranks. The ultimate U.S. goal should be a stable, tolerant, inclusive Afghan government that poses no threats to its neighbors or to its own ethnic and religious minorities. To accomplish this, Washington should cooperate with the broad anti-Taliban coalition that surrounds Afghanistan and help to forge a broad anti-Taliban coalition inside Afghanistan."
* " Specifically, the United States should maximize international pressure on the Taliban, including additional United Nations sanctions, to halt its support of terrorism, pressure Pakistan to end its support of the Taliban; and designate the Taliban as a terrorist organization to set the stage for declaring Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism if it continues to support the Taliban. "
US concerns over the Musharraf regime's double game in Afghanistan--overtly claiming to be implementing the sanctions and denying any influence over the Taliban and covertly continuing to assist it--were reflected in the confirmation hearings of the new US Ambassador-designate to Pakistan, Mrs. Wendy Chamberlain, in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on June 26. The new Democratic Chairman of the Sub-Committee on South Asian Affairs, Senator Paul Wellstone, told her: "You have to convey a strong message about America's commitment not only to non-proliferation, but also to democratic values, human rights and opposition to Taliban-inspired militancy. Importantly, the decision by General Musharraf to anoint himself as President, apparently without the knowledge of his own Foreign Minister, is a troubling development. Far more troubling, however, is Pakistan's mistreatment of refugees from Afghanistan, the victims of not only drought, but the cruelty of the Taliban regime that Pakistan itself helps maintain in power."
It has also been noted by US counter-terrorism experts that while Musharraf's spokesmen have been projecting the jihadi organisations as indigenous Kashmiri organisations with no base in Pakistani territory, the HUM and the LET themselves, in their propaganda literature and official web sites, project themselves as Pakistan-based organisations. They give their addresses and telephone/fax numbers in Pakistan and particulars of the Pakistani banks in which their accounts are held to which their supporters should send their contributions.
These details as given in their web sites are shown below:
Harkat-ul-Mujahideen Head Office: House No. B-154/, Khayban-i-Sir Sayad, Near C.D.A. Bus Stop, Rawalpindi. Pakistan, Phone/Fax No. 4414810 . Account: Current Account No. 2758-9, Muslim Commercial Bank, Aabpara Branch, Islamabad. Pakistan. Monthly Journal Sada-e-Mujahid Office: I -10 Markaz, Usman Plaza, Islamabad. Pakistan. Phone No. 051-431776. Weekly Al-Hilal News Paper Office: 6 Sumaira Apartment, 2nd Floor Block 13-B, Near K.D.A Bus Stop, Gulshan Iqbal, Karachi. Pakistan. Phone/Fax No. 021-4991819 .
Markaz Dawa al Irshad , the political wing of the LET: 5-Chamberlane Road, Lahore – Pakistan. Tel: (92-42) 7231106
Lt.Gen.Mahmood Ahmed, Musharraf's DG of the ISI, was reported to have attended the annual conference of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) held at Muridke from April 13 to 15, which passed a resolution calling on its cadres in India to emulate the example of Mahmood Ghaznavi, capture Hindu temples, destroy the idols and then hoist the flag of Islam on them.
Last year, Musharraf, under pressure from the Clinton Administration, denied the LET permission to hold its annual conference at Muridke in November. This year, anticipating that there would be no similar pressure from the Bush Administration, he initially allowed them to hold the deferred confertence of 2000 in Muzaffarabad in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK), but subsequently, when the LET insisted on holding it at Muridke, he let it do so and asked the ISI to ensure that no journalists, Pakistani or foreign, was able to have access.
Despite this, some Pakistani journalists managed to have access. The "News" of April 22 reported as follows: "The Lashkar operates six private military training camps in Pakistan and Azad Kashmir where several thousands of cadre are given both military and religious education…. With more than 2200 unit offices across the country and over two dozen launching camps along the Line of Control (LOC), the Lashkar boasts of the biggest jihadi network in Pakistan… The followers of the Lashkar come from all walks of life from the defence and nuclear establishment to the industrial labour."
The March issue of "Herald", the monthly journal of the "Dawn" group of Karachi, quoted Dr.Khalid Mehmood Soomro, Secretary-General of the Jamiat-ul-Ulema Islam (JUI), Sindh, based in Larkana, as saying as follows: "Why is the Pakistan Army not fighting for Kashmir? Why are they getting our youth killed there? They are using our young men for their own goals…Let's be clear on one thing. These jihadi groups can't function and survive without official patronage. Is there a single militant training centre in Pakistan which can operate without the consent of the Pakistan Army? All militant groups are created and run by Pakistan's secret agencies. They have mobile phones, land cruisers and weapons. Where are they getting the funds from? Surely, it can't be all funded through public donations. Because if that were so, we would be getting similar donations, if not more."
And yet, Musharraf denies any links of the Pakistan Army and the ISI with the LET and other jihadis. What more, he denies their very presence in Pakistani territory. On June 24, a fortnight after the famous rebuke of the Ulema of June 5, which was more shadow-boxing than reality on the eve of the Washington visit of Mr.Abul Sattar, Major-Gen.Rashid Quereshi, the media spokesman of Musharraf, was asked about the activities of the LET and other jihadi organisations. He replied without batting an eye-lid: " No group operating in Kashmir has any base in Pakistan." ("The Hindu" of June 25).
The LET has totally ignored the June 5 rebuke of Musharraf and has maintained a high level of virulent anti-Indian propaganda and has been reiterating almost daily its determination to continue its jihad against India till India withdraws its troops from J& K. It has been opposing the forthcoming summit on the ground that jihad against non-believers, once started, cannot be discontinued till they surrender and that to discontinue it mid-way would be unislamic.
In the past, Musharraf had been saying that if there was progress on the Kashmir issue in the bilateral talks with India, he might appeal to the jihadis to deescalate their activities. Now, his spokesmen have been saying that since these are indigenous Kashmiri organisations, Pakistan has no influence over them just as they have been telling the US that Pakistan has no influence over the Taliban and bin Laden.
Pamela Constable of the "Washington Post", who was one of the foreign correspondents briefed by Musharraf last week on the forthcoming summit, has reported as follows: "Musharraf brushed aside questions about whether he would rein in armed Islamic groups that support fighters in Kashmir, insisting that the Kashmiri insurgency is "indigenous".
It is, therefore, likely that whatever be the outcome of the forthcoming summit, Pakistan will continue its proxy war against India through its jihadi surrogates even while denying any links with or control over them. Any optimism of a reduction in violence and cross-border terrorism as a result of the summit would be misplaced. Musharraf will continue to play his double game---overtly friendly, warm and seemingly accommodating and covertly continuing to make our security forces bleed. To expect anything different from him and to lower our guard against him could be suicidal. India will continue to pay a heavy price for its failure to evolve and implement consistently an effective counter proxy war policy. The policy of "kabi naram, kabi garam" (sometimes soft, sometimes hard) doesn't pay against Pakistan. It will only confirm Musharraf in his perception that India is a soft State, which lends itself to easy manipulation.
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, and, presently, Director, Institute For topical Studies, Chennai. E-Mail: email@example.com )