Saturday, November 22, 2008




"The post-9/11 war on terrorism has many mysteries buried deep inside. The first mystery is about Omar Sheikh, the alleged master-mind behind the kidnapping and murder of Daniel Pearl, the journalist of the "Wall Street Journal". He was sentenced to death by a court in Pakistan, but his sentence has not been executed. The hearing on his appeal against the sentence has been adjourned over a hundred times till now. He is the fittest case for interrogation in Guantanamo Bay, but, for some strange reasons, the US authorities have shown no interest in getting hold of him and taking him to Guantanamo Bay for interrogation to find out the real truth about the kidnapping and murder of Pearl.

"The second mystery is about the arrest by the Pakistani authorities in August 2006 of Rashid Rauf, a Briton of Mirpuri origin, who is related by marriage to Maulana Masood Azhar, the Amir of the Jaish-e-Mohammad. He was projected as one of the master-minds of the Bojinka--2006 plot and as the man, who tipped off the Pakistani authorities about the plot. No serious attempt was made by the British police to get hold of him, take him to the UK and interrogate him. He escaped from Pakistani custody in December, 2007, and has not been traced so far. No attempt has been made by the Pakistani authorities to trace him."

--------Extract from my article dated September 12,2008 , titled "Terrorism: A Mother of All Best Sellers Waiting To Be Written" available at

Quoting an unnamed senior Pakistani security official, an Islamabad datelined report of the Agence France Press (AFP) stated as follows on November 22,2008: "The alleged mastermind of a 2006 transatlantic airplane bombing plot was killed in a US missile attack in northwest Pakistan early Saturday (November 15,2008) .The transatlantic bombing plot alleged mastermind Rashid Rauf was killed along with an Egyptian Al-Qaeda operative in the US missile strike in North Waziristan early Saturday," a senior security official told AFP. The Al-Qaeda operative killed in the strike was identified as Abu Zubair al-Misri, the official added. He and the Egyptian Al-Qaeda operative were killed along with at least two other militants in a US drone attack on the house of a local tribesman in the village of Alikhel, part of a district known as a stronghold for Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, officials said. The missile strike came days after another US drone attack which killed six rebels, including an Arab Al-Qaeda operative. That attack prompted Taliban militants based in the rugged tribal territory bordering Afghanistan to warn of reprisal attacks across Pakistan if there were more strikes by the US. "

2. The US intelligence agencies, which supervise the unmanned Predator air strikes, have had two major successes of significance in November so far. The first was in an air strike on a house belonging to Dilbar, a member of the Janikhel tribe, in a village of the Miryan Police Station in the Bannu District of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) on November 19,2008. Six persons were killed in that air strike, including a middle-level Al Qaeda terrorist identified as Abdullah Azam Al-Saudi. US officials have projected him as themain link between Al Qaeda’s senior command and Taliban networks in the Pakistani border region. The AFP quoted an unidentified Pakistani security official as saying: “He was the man co-ordinating between Al Qaeda and Taliban commanders on this side of the border, and also involved in recruiting and training fighters.” The Associated Press (AP) reported two Pakistani intelligence officials based in Bannu as saying that the Taliban had begun moving away from the border, including districts and other settled areas, in an apparent bid to avoid the missile strikes.

3. The Bannu strike was the first one carried out by the US in the NWFP. All the previous strikes since 2005 were on targets in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), mainly in North and South Waziristan and some in the Bajaur Agency. The surge in the Predator strikes since August 1 (20 plus) and the increasing success rate speak of an improvement in the flow of human intelligence (HUMINT) to the US forces and of the keenness of the Bush Administration to eliminate as many senior leaders of Al Qaeda as possible before the presidency of George Bush ends on January 20,2009. The success rate of HUMINT and air strikes is still only 25 per cent plus, but it is better than around 10 per cent in the previous two years. Bush would like nothing better than to eliminate Osama bin Laden and his No.2 Ayman al-Zawahiri before his term ends and thereby deny to Barrack Obama, the President-elect, the credit of doing so.

4. It is not yet clear whether all the correct HUMINT reports came from sources operated by the US agencies or whether some of the reports also came from the Pakistani agencies. Whatever may be the answer, the improvement in the success rates bodes well for the war against Al Qaeda The improvement in the quantity and quality of HUMINT reports to the US----either directly or through Pakistan---- and the increasingly active role being played by the tribal militias (Lashkars) set up by the Pakistan Army in the counter-Taliban and counter-Al Qaeda operations in the Bajaur Agency of the FATA and in the Swat Valley of the NWFP show that the US and Pakistani forces have succeeded in creating some wedge betweem different Pashtun tribal groups and have been skilfully exploiting the sectarian differences between Shia and Sunni Pashtuns. The recent increase in the Taliban attacks on the Shia Pashtuns in the FATA and the NWFP indicates the suspicion of the Taliban that the Shias were responsible for the US successes.

5. It would be premature to talk of an Al Qaeda weakened beyond recovery. Its resilience is intact, but the US has definitely kept its cadres, some of them at senior level, in Pakistani territory on the run. (23-11-08)

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: )