South Asia

Now, bin Laden takes aim at Pakistan
By B Raman

From India's point of view, the most important point in the message allegedly of Osama bin Laden, broadcast by Al Jazeera on Tuesday, is the inclusion of Pakistan in the list of so-called anti-Muslim, apostate states that have to be liberated by Muslims by waging a jihad against it.

He says, "We also stress to honest Muslims that they should move, incite and mobilize the [Islamic] nation, amid such grave events and hot atmosphere so as to liberate themselves from those unjust and renegade ruling regimes, which are enslaved by the United States. They should also do so to establish the rule of god on earth. The most qualified regions for liberation are Jordan, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, the land of the two holy mosques [Saudi Arabia] and Yemen."

Though the Islamic parties of Pakistan, constituting the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), which came to power in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Balochistan after the elections of October 10 last year, and the various Pakistani components of the bin Laden-led International Islamic Front (IIF) for jihad against the US and Israel have been highly critical of the Pervez Musharraf regime for cooperating with the US in its war against al-Qaeda and the IIF and for allowing the US troops and intelligence agencies to operate freely in Pakistani territory against Muslims, bin Laden has in the past avoided any criticism of the Musharraf regime since he and the surviving dregs of al-Qaeda had taken shelter in that country with the complicity of Pakistan's military-intelligence establishment since the beginning of last year and were dependent on the military regime for their continued survival.

This is the first time that he has spoken against Pakistan and called for its "liberation" from the control of the apostates. This shows that he and his followers, who now enjoy the protection of the governments of the NWFP and Balochistan and of a large number of retired officers of the Pakistani army and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), no longer feel the need to avoid rubbing Musharraf the wrong way.

His remarks against Pakistan also reflect the widespread suspicion in the madrassas (religious schools) of Pakistan that Musharraf has been secretly cooperating with the US against the present regimes in Baghdad and Teheran as a quid pro quo for Washington's closing its eyes to the military regime's role in transferring military nuclear technology to North Korea.

Bin Laden's message, provided it is genuine as stated by US intelligence officials, consists of the following parts:
  • Expression of solidarity with the Iraqi Muslims, to whichever sect (Sunni or Shi'ite or ethnic group (Kurds or others) to which they may belong, in the coming "crusade" against the US-led foreign troops.
  • An attempt to bolster their morale by describing how a group of hardly 300 mujahideen personally led by him and Ayman al-Zawahiri of Egypt, his number two, had fought against the US might at Tora Bora in Afghanistan after October 7, 2001, and given them the slip.
  • Guidance as to how Iraqi Muslims could similarly frustrate the US-led invasion through street battles, trench warfare and suicide attacks and by creating a quagmire for them.
  • Marking his distance from the "socialist" Saddam Hussein regime, which is also described as apostate because of its secular policies and its past cooperation with the US.
  • At the same time underlining that in the coming "crusade" against the US-led invaders the true Muslims could tactically cooperate even with his regime in order to achieve their ultimate objective of defeating the "crusaders". He says, "There will be no harm if the interests of Muslims converge with the interests of the socialists in the fight against the crusaders, despite our belief in the infidelity of socialists."

    There are some interesting aspects in the way in which bin Laden's message has been disseminated by CNN and the BBC. The CNN's initial versions omitted bin Laden's reference to Pakistan, whereas the BBC referred to it. The CNN version referred to only Jordan, Morocco, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia. This likely reflects Washington's concern over the impact of the message on the people of Pakistan in their campaign against the Musharraf regime. While CNN continued to give prominence to the message in all its news bulletins of Wednesday, the BBC had started downplaying it. This is apparently due to the fact that the message clearly shows that there is no love lost between bin Laden and Saddam and disproves the allegations of the US and the UK about Saddam's links with al-Qaeda. US and British spokesmen have been trying to put on a brave face by claiming that the message proves the close links between Saddam and al-Qaeda, but this is not so.

    An intriguing aspect of the message is the lack of any reference to the Hosni Mubarak government in Cairo. This writer has been of the view that the reaction to the US-led invasion could come not from the streets of Baghdad, but from the streets and barracks of Egypt. One would have expected bin Laden to have included Egypt, too, in the list of "apostate" states to be "liberated". Why has he not done so? It is difficult to answer this question at present, but it is certainly worth pondering.

    B Raman is Additional Secretary (ret), Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India, and presently director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai; former member of the National Security Advisory Board of the Government of India. E-Mail: He was also head of the counter-terrorism division of the Research & Analysis Wing, India's external intelligence agency, from 1988 to August, 1994.

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