Pakistani Taliban ready for Osama’s plan
By Syed Saleem Shahzad
ISLAMABAD – After a successful series of meetings in Washington last week, the United States and Pakistan have deepened their strategic relationship aimed at broad-based military cooperation for an American victory in Afghanistan. A dialogue process has also been set up with a handpicked team of the Hezb-e-Islami Afghanistan (HIA), the second-largest force in the Pashtun-dominated south of Afghanistan after the Taliban.
United States President Barack Obama flew to Afghanistan at the weekend in a surprise visit to impress on President Hamid Karzai that effective political policy is needed to reinforce the military campaign against the Taliban-led insurgency this summer.
For its part, al-Qaeda is rallying its supporters and affiliated groups in Iraq, Pakistan, Palestine, Somalia, Afghanistan and elsewhere in its fight against the world’s lone superpower – the United States.
In a taped 74-second audio message released last Thursday, al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden threatened that al-Qaeda would execute American captives if the US executed Khalid Sheik Mohammed or other members of al-Qaeda. Khalid is on trial in the US for his alleged role in planning the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US. He is among five alleged co-conspirators being held at the US military facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
“The White House has expressed its desire to execute him [Khalid],” bin Laden said. “The day America makes that decision will be the day it has issued a death sentence for any one of you that is taken captive.”
There is frequently a delay before bin Laden’s tapes make it into public – in the last tape aired in January, bin Laden said al-Qaeda was responsible for the attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day.
Recent arrests in Pakistan indicate that al-Qaeda might already have implemented its plan to take captives in preparation for carrying out a “death sentence”.
According to the testimony of several militants now in captivity, Hakeemullah Mehsud, the chief of the Pakistan Taliban (Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan), has allocated several cells to engage in abductions. The targets include foreign diplomats, their families, and military officers. The cells are receiving financial support from al-Qaeda.
“The plan is much bigger than any before and reflects a major change of al-Qaeda’s strategy,” a senior Pakistani security official told Asia Times Online.
The captured militants. who were paraded before the media in Islamabad, also said that Hakeemullah Mehsud and his lieutenant, Qari Hussain, had escaped unhurt from several drone attacks.
These events come at a time when the Taliban have conclusively refused any dialogue with the Americans. US Defense Secretary Robert Gates has admitted that the bid for reconciliation talks was premature and that’s why it could not bear fruit.
All the same, the US is engaging elements of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s HIA. The go-between is Hekmatyar’s long-time aide, Los Angeles-based Afghan Daoud Abedi. (See US takes hunt for al-Qaeda to Pakistan December 5, 2010 and Karzai scrambles for ‘friends’ September 25, 2004.)
They have met with Karzai, although a few members who were nominated by Hekmatyar, including his son-in-law, Dr Ghairat Baheer, were excluded at the eleventh hour, making it a complete American show in Kabul. This group will be promoted as Karzai’s ally while an all-out assault will be carried out against other armed opposition groups across Pakistan and Afghanistan.
According to Pakistani sources, a powerful military campaign is already in full swing in Orakzai Agency, the new command and control hub of the Pakistan Taliban, while a front will soon be opened in the North Waziristan tribal area.
The militants, with the help of al-Qaeda, will reply with a campaign of abductions, ending, if necessary, in executions.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online’s Pakistan Bureau Chief. He is writing an exclusive account on al-Qaeda’s strategy and ideology in an upcoming book Al-Qaeda beyond 9/11: Al-Qaeda’s One Thousand and One Night Tales. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org