Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Why Osama Roams Free

South Asia Could Soon Face Its Biggest Ever Crisis

By Rajinder Puri

10/12/05 "The Statesman"
-- -- Four years have passed since 9/11. Osama bin Laden has not been caught. They had cornered him once at Tora Bora in Afghanistan but he allegedly escaped. CIA director Peter Goss says they know roughly where he is. Yet with all their technology and resources they can’t catch him. That’s unbelievable. So what’s going on? For one there is President Musharraf. He doesn’t want to catch Osama. He knows if he catches him he will have to hand him over to America.

That could ignite an internal revolt led by the jihadis which his government might not be able to handle. Musharraf was candid enough to tell Time magazine: “One would prefer that he’s (Osama) captured outside Pakistan. By some other people”. 

Musharraf & America

Musharraf’s game is understandable. He is milking the US by posturing as an ally against terrorism. But he refrains from confronting domestic hardliners in order to survive. But why does America play along? America is constrained by its past cooperation with Osama and complicity in nuclear proliferation. That has made it vulnerable to exposure and embarrassment. The Bush administration has the difficult task of extricating Pakistan without destabilising it from the clutches of America’s erstwhile accomplice and patron of n-proliferation, China. For that America needs Musharraf. 

America’s links with Osama are not confined to the early era of anti-Soviet insurgency in Afghanistan. The Pentagon continued to cooperate with the Mujahideen trained and financed by Osama in Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia right up till 2001. According to Michel Chossudovsky, Professor of Ottawa University, writing for the Montreal-based Centre for Research on Globalisation in August 2001: “In a bitter twist, while supported and financed by Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda, the Kosovo Liberation Army is also supported by NATO. In fact, the Islamic Militant Network — also using Pakistan’s Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) as the CIA’s go-between –— still constitutes an integral part of Washington’s covert military-intelligence operations in Macedonia and Southern Serbia”. Echoing this view London’s Sunday Times reported that bin Laden had visited Albania himself. His was one of several fundamentalist groups that had sent units to fight in Kosovo. Bin Laden was believed to have established an operation in Albania in 1994. 

Ralf Mutschke of Interpol’s Criminal Intelligence division testified in the US Congress House Judicial Committee on December 13, 2000: “The US State Department listed the KLA as a terrorist organisation, indicating that it was financing its operations with money from the international heroin trade and loans from Islamic countries and individuals, among them allegedly Osama bin Laden”. 

So where is Osama’s ultimate sanctuary? Robert Fisk, intrepid correspondent of London’s The Independent, and a close Osama watcher met with the Al Qaeda chief several times. In his recent book, The Great War for Civilisation: the Conquest of the Middle East, he writes: “I said to bin Laden that Afghanistan was the only country left to him after his exile in Sudan. He agreed. “The safest place in the world for me is Afghanistan”. It was the only place, I repeated, in which he could campaign against the Saudi government. Bin Laden and several of his Arab fighters burst into laughter. “There are other places”, he replied. Did he mean Tajikistan? I asked. Or Uzbekistan? Kazakhstan? “There are several places where we have friends and close brothers — we can find refuge and safety in them”. 

China sanctuary

A pity Fisk thought of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan but overlooked the one place America would dare not invade. And in the mid-nineties during one of his visits while being escorted to meet Osama, he even writes how he could see the distant mountains of that ultimate sanctuary. It is Xingjian of course, in China, connected by passes to Afghanistan via Gilgit. 

The probable reason for the terrorist network killing Wall Street journalist Daniel Pearl was one of his last articles which disclosed how Pakistan’s senior nuclear scientist Bashiruddin Mahmoud met Osama in Kabul in late August 2001 just weeks before 9/11. According to ace French investigative journalist and author Bernard-Henri Levy that visit paved the way for Osama’s meeting with a delegation of China’s Peoples’ Liberation Army (PLA) on the very day New York’s WTC towers were attacked on 9/11. The Chinese provided Taliban with missile tracking state of the art communications in return for Osama’s assurance that Uighur separatism in Xingjian would not be supported. 

Not surprisingly Osama and Al Qaeda have always identified America, Russia and India as the great enemies of Islam, never China. America’s symbiotic economic relationship with China impelled it to overlook the rogue actions related to aiding terrorism and nuclear proliferation undertaken by Beijing. NYT columnist Thomas Friedman described America and China economically as Siamese twins. At best America was a silent spectator to PLA perfidy, at worst an active accomplice. In 1975 the Netherlands government stumbled on Abdul Qadeer Khan’s involvement in nuclear proliferation. But according to former Dutch premier Dr Ruud Lubbers, the CIA prevailed on his government not to arrest Khan. Dr Lubbers said: “I think that the American intelligence agency put into practice what is very common there: just give us all the information. And do not arrest that man; just let him go ahead. We will have him followed and that way gain more information. In hindsight that is very stupid indeed.” 

Not so stupid. That was the year when finishing touches were being put on the strategic Sino-American alliance. The CIA, therefore, was either monitoring a dangerous enterprise undertaken by the US administration, or it was making sure that their new ally, China, was staying on a mutually agreed course. Later, US involvement became even more conclusive. 

Investigating nuclear proliferation, William Broad and David Sanger in New York Times of 21 March, 2005 disclosed “the discovery of step-by-step instructions, some of which appear to have come from China and Pakistan, among the documents recovered last year from Libya. More recently, investigators have found that the Khan network had offered similar materials to Iran”. 

Earlier, the same duo in the course of their investigations of the Chinese connection had written in NYT of December 26, 2004: “Dr Khan quickly led the (CIA) agents to Beijing. It was there in the early 1980’s that Dr Khan pulled off a coup: obtaining the blueprints for a weapon that China had detonated in its fourth nuclear test, in 1966. The design was notable because it was compact and the first one China had developed that could easily fit atop a missile”. 

Payback time

Clearly America those days pursued national interests diametrically opposed to the perceptions that dawned on it after 9/11. 

Empowering Pakistan to serve strategic interests of China to corner India helped America counter the Soviets. But now it’s payback time. 

And the US economy remains so closely enmeshed with China’s that any rash move could tear the fabric of America’s entire foreign policy. Americans have to coax China along. That will not be easy. Meanwhile, time is running out. Osama still roams free. Al Qaeda still issues threats of a huge new strike against America. And voices within America are becoming alarmed and desperate. 
In a recent editorial The Washington Post wrote: “President Musharraf has allowed the extremist Afghan Taliban movement to base itself in Pakistan’s western provinces with virtual impunity. He has repeatedly insisted, almost certainly falsely, that Osama bin Laden is not in Pakistan. All the while he has gone on collecting hundreds of millions of dollars in aid each year from the Bush administration, which accepts his words and ignores most of his actions”. 

Presidents Bush and Musharraf should worry. They are approaching denouement. South Asia could soon face its biggest ever crisis. 

(The author is a veteran journalist and cartoonist) 

Copyright: The Statesman
 

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