AL QAEDA: US QUEERS PITCH FOR PAKISTAN
INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM MONITOR: PAPER NO.364
At a time when the Pakistan Army has embarked on secret negotiations with leaders of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan in North Waziristan in order to drive a wedge between Baitullah Mehsud and other leaders of the Tehrik, a significant success by the US intelligence in North Waziristan has queered the pitch for the exercise undertaken by the Pakistan Army.
2. As I had pointed out in my earlier reports, Al Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and the Taliban of North Waziristan have not taken advantage of the diversion of the Pakistani troops deployed in North Waziristan to South Waziristan to hunt for Baitullah and his jihadis. They have been observing an informal ceasefire. It is informal in the sense that while it has been publicly announced, it was not the outcome of any formal negotiations and no agreement had been initialled or signed.
3. To formalise this ceasefire, which would bring into the open the differences between Baitullah on the one side and the other leaders of the Tehrik on the other, the Pakistan Army had entered into secret talks with Maulana Hafiz Gul Bahadar, the Taliban leader in North Waziristan, who has reportedly been unhappy over the operations launched by Baitullah allegedly without consulting the other leaders of the Tehrik.
4. Even as the secret talks were proceeding, a missile suspected to have been fired by a US Drone aircraft early on the morning of January 29,2008, destroyed a house, owned by Madad Khan,a local leader of the Taliban at a village called Khushali Torikhel, 12 kilometres south of Mir Ali town, in North Waziristan, where the IMU and the Islamic Jihad Group, another Uzbek jihadi organisation, are based. While Madad Khan reportedly survived the attack, his 10 guests----all believed to be Uzbeks and Arabs---were killed. Two wives of Madad Khan and three of their children were also killed.
5.While the Pakistani authorities have not so far confirmed the identities of those killed, local tribals suspect that one of those killed must have been Abu Laith al-Libi, a Libyan national and an important Al Qaeda leader, whose martyrdom, meaning death while waging jihad, was announced by a web site (ekhlas.org) associated with Al Qaeda, on January 31,2008. While neither Al Qaeda nor US sources have associated his reported death with the missile attack, there is a strong belief in local Police circles that he must have died in the missile attack.
6. If it turns out that he died during the precision missile strike, it speaks highly of the improvement in the US intelligence collection capability----particularly human intelligence. It remains to be seen what impact this will have on the on-going confrontation between the Pakistan Army and the Tehrik.Will it once again unite the various factions of the Tehrik under the leadership of Mehsud or add to the differences?
7.The successful missile strike, if confirmed, would show that the improved US intelligence collection capability should be able to get Osama bin Laden and his No.2 Ayman al-Zawahiri one day.(1-2-08)
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org )