middle of 2001, the Taliban, along with their friends in
al-Qaeda and the powerful Pakistani establishment, had
begun to get weary of the unending resistance from the
Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. That wily commander
and Tajik leader, Ahmad Shah Masoud, just would not give
up. He continued to do battle from his stronghold in the
far north - in Panjshir - where he had taken on the
might of the Soviet empire and pushed it back.
Masoud was the last obstacle to establishing
Taliban rule in Afghanistan and making that country
truly Islamic. He had to go. Months of planning and two
assassins eventually succeeded in murdering Ahmed Shah
Masoud on September 9, 2001 (see Masoud: From warrior to statesman,
September 12, 2001). The country was up for grabs now,
with the Taliban as the only real viable force in
Afghanistan. They had the backing of Pakistan and the
support of al-Qaeda. Strategic depth was a reality for
the Pakistanis for a short period on September 9.
From Afghanistan, the Islamists could fan out
into the resource rich Central Asian republics from
Kazakhstan to Turkmenistan. Why stop there? There was
Chechnya beckoning, and the green flag of Islam would
fly from Morocco to Pakistan and throughout parts of
There had been Islamic websites in the
United Kingdom and elsewhere that proudly displayed
hopes the entire world would be under a green flag by
the end of the 21st century. These were dismissed as
harmless dreams permitted in liberal England, home to
all such dissidents from the oppressive Third World.
This dream seemed a reality by the afternoon
that Masoud died. Together with the Islamic Movement of
Uzbekistan (IMU), one of whose leaders (Tohir
Abdouhalilovich Yuldashev) had taken shelter in Pakistan
- and the shadowy Hizbut Tehrir, al-Qaeda and the
Taliban could now dream of an Islamic caliphate in the
region. Yuldeshev had also seen action in Chechnya,
while his other compatriot from Namangan in Uzbekistan,
Jumaboi Khajaev (later known as Juma Namangani) had
similarly participated in the civil war in Tajikistan
and moved around in Afghanistan.
In 1998, the
IMU joined Osama bin Laden's International Islamic
Front. He had probably hoped that it would get him some
nuclear material from Uzbekistan.
IMU's aim was to establish an Islamic state in
Uzbekistan, but by early 2001 it had become more
ambitious. The party renamed itself as the Islamic Party
of Turkestan (IPT) and wanted to establish a caliphate
comprising China's Xinjiang region and all the Muslim
Central Asian republics.
By mid-2001, the
blueprint for such a caliphate was ready and was beyond
the stage of dreams on websites. Once Afghanistan had
come under firm Taliban and al-Qaeda control, all the
Uzbek, Chechen, and Uighur jihadis who had been trained
and sheltered in camps along the Afghan-Pakistan border
and in Waziristan and Afghanistan would have added to
the strength of others ready to take battle to Central
Gradually, the Islamists would have
tightened their control over areas traditionally in the
Russian domain of influence or territories. Like the
IMU/IPT, the Hizbut Tehrir also believes in establishing
a caliphate from Xinjiang to Turkmenistan, but has so
far said that this should be done through political
Masoud's assassination also freed the
Pakistani establishment on one front. The masters of the
different jihadi organizations in Pakistan felt that
they could now take their battle into India with renewed
vigor and there was going to be no stopping them.
Other caliphates on the South Asian subcontinent
and then in Southeast Asia were on their way. In this
situation it is doubtful whether such incidents as the
December 13, 2001, attack on the Indian parliament would
have stirred the United States beyond the usual mild
reprimand and the advisory to the Indians to solve the
problem of Kashmir with the Pakistanis.
was too involved with itself to have taken any note of
the creeping threat in Asia and Europe. In any case, as
events subsequently showed, the Americans did not have
the information anyway. They would have realized it too
late, and the pity of it is that they would have reacted
the same way as they had.
Then September 11
happened. The United States and the world reacted with
the utmost fury. The gains from Masoud's assassination
for the terrorists dissipated in almost a flash. The two
acts, generally attributed to the same umbrella outfit,
seemed to be contradictory in intent. The hatred for the
US, barring a few angry Muslims in the Arab world,
turned into a wave of sympathy for the Americans.
It is another matter that American genius has
turned this fund of goodwill into distrust, fear and
Did bin Laden not expect this reaction?
Did he assume that the US would do what it had done
after Nairobi or Dar es Salaam or after USS Cole was
attacked? Did he overestimate the ability of the US
intelligence and security apparatus and presume that
some of the groups would be apprehended?
he did not expect all four hijackings to take place and
was hoping that maybe one or two might get through. Nor
did he expect three of them to get to their targets so
accurately. In the end, was even bin Laden surprised at
the sensational success and at the ease of the
operation? Was the sheer enormity of the success also
The Americans gave vent to their
anger in Afghanistan. But the culprits could not be
found - dead or alive. The hunters could not bring home
any trophy so the quarry changed - or maybe it did not
really change and just became a target of opportunity.
Saddam Hussein became the new target, at
considerable cost to humanity and civilization. Whatever
the Americans gained in Afghanistan has been lost in
Iraq. The world is about to see a vicious and
long-drawn-out round of bloodletting.
the Americans have introspected on the failures to
prevent September 11, so it seems have the attackers.
Not that they are sorry that so many innocents died but
that it sent out alarm bells all over the globe;
instead, if they had been patient, waited after
September 9, 2001, and worked surreptitiously to
consolidate their gains through the Taliban, then the
likes of UNOCAL would have dealt with them. Armed with
this and other similar symbolism, they would have
received the breathing space needed to undermine
Russia's poor but resource-rich and nuclear south.
The long spells of silence from bin Laden in
recent weeks and criticism by the ultra-fundamentalist
takfiris in Saudi Arabia about the attacks inside
the kingdom would indicate that some such introspection
There could be a change of tactics.
Instead of the spectacular September 11 kind of attacks,
the world could see more of the Madrid- or USS Cole-type
attacks - nibbling away at Europe and targeting
Americans away from the mainland without inviting any
hyper-reaction. Bin Laden knows the answers to this. And
no one knows where he is.
The Pakistani corps
commander handling the Waziristan operation on the
Pak-Afghan border has said quite categorically that bin
Laden is not in Waziristan. President General Pervez
Musharraf has said that bin Laden is alive. How does
Musharraf know this? Maybe because al-Qaeda is no longer
just a concept and Pakistan is now al-Qaeda, clandestine
nuclear vending included.
retired as chief of India's Research and Analysis Wing
(RAW) last year. This article first appeared on rediff.com, and has been
republished with the writer's permission.