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    South Asia
     Dec 9, 2005
Taken for a ride in the 'war on terror'
By Syed Saleem Shahzad

KARACHI - Since the onset of the "war on terror", the US has detained more than 3,000 people worldwide in a network of secret prisons established by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in a number of regions, from Southeast Asia to North Africa, South Asia and Eastern Europe.

Revelations of this policy have drawn a flood of criticism, with allegations that prisoners held in such countries at the CIA's behest could have been subject to unlawful interrogation.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, speaking in Germany, began her tour of Europe this week with the admission that the

US had made "mistakes" in the "war on terror". While insisting that the US did not "condone" torture, she said, "We recognize that any policy [such as rendition of prisoners] will sometimes result in errors."

She could well have been referring to Pakistan, a key ally in this endeavor.

Ever since signing on for the "war on terror", the administration of President General Pervez Musharraf has been under constant pressure to clamp down on the many al-Qaeda-linked and Afghan resistance figures known to have taken shelter in the country.

Pakistan has generally tried to please, at times a little too hard. In the past four years it has rounded up many thousands of suspects, most of whom had nothing to do with terrorism but were simply there to make up the numbers.

But US "intelligence" is catching on.

"The Americans are not fools [in this game] any more. They understand the gimmicks and now they do not take any interest in such pseudo al-Qaeda people," said Khalid Khawaja, one-time close friend of Osama bin Laden and also a former Inter-Services Intelligence official. He now operates the non-governmental organization Defense for Human Rights, which provides legal relief for families affected by the "war on terror".

The case of Abdullah Khadr is a good illustration. He was roughed up in Pakistani custody before being released and returned to Toronto, Canada, a free man. But only after the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) refused to accept him.

The 24-year-old Canadian, whose brother is the only Canadian held in the US detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is the oldest of Ahmed Said Khadr's four sons. The senior Khadr, an accused terrorist financier, was killed in a 2003 shootout with Pakistani forces.

"Abdullah Khadr was questioned at the airport by RCMP [Royal Canadian Mounted Police] investigators, then dropped off at his grandparents' home in Scarborough [a suburb of Toronto] and told he was a 'free man', according to his relatives and lawyer," the Toronto Star reported.

Though US officials told the Star that they might seek to have charges laid against Khadr and have him extradited to the US to face trial, security sources in Pakistan revealed that Abdullah would only have been released from Pakistan after being thoroughly scanned, and the US refused to take him as there was no evidence against him.

According to security officials who spoke to Asia Times Online, there is now a long list of such detainees in Pakistani custody, held under various charges. They are carefully scrutinized by US intelligence, and if found clear they are sent back to their countries of origin.

"Pakistan has flooded CIA planes with hundreds of accused in the past several months. Of those hundreds, only a few dozen have been found guilty. The rest became a liability and were subsequently released," an official said.

These include Mohammed and Khalid, sons of Shiekh Essa, who leads a group in al-Qaeda that believes in violence against Muslim regimes that are allied with the US. Abdur Rehman, a Pakistani, was also recently handed over to Egypt after he was presented to the FBI, which found him a "waste of time".

Earlier, three Dutch-Pakistani brothers, Sajeel Shahid, Adil Shahid and Sohail Shahid, were kept in detention for a long period by Pakistani authorities, but when the US found them useless they were handed over to the Dutch government, and they now live in the Netherlands as free citizens. Sohail Shahid was chairman of the Software Control Board and Adil Shahid was a software advisor in the Pakistani armed forces. As Sajeel Shahid ran a madrassa , they all landed in trouble.

"This is a racket by Pakistani and all other Muslim governments to trade support for their dictatorships in the garb of al-Qaeda arrests. Most of them turned out to be pseudo and therefore exposed the intentions of these regimes. Every now and then they carry out operations in which they show hundreds of people rounded up, and then they present them to the FBI," said Khawaja.

"But now the Americans understand this. Western governments' behavior is far more humane than the so-called Islamic dictatorial regimes.

"I was interviewed by the Canadian media and they are telling me that Abdullah Khadr is moving around on the Canadian streets as a free man. On the contrary, when the US releases Pakistanis from its Cuban prison, even after much screening, they are immediately detained at the airport [in Pakistan] and locked in prisons for months," said Khawaja.

Arrests and operations have invariably preceded all of Musharraf's foreign trips, especially to the US. His present visit to the Middle East was also preceded by a major crackdown on militants in Pakistan.

The most interesting was the alleged killing of Hamza Rabia, said to be a senior al-Qaeda commander. Though the US doubted his killing and al-Qaeda denied it, the Pakistani interior minister termed Rabia's death "100% fact", while the minister of information said it was "200% correct". Not to be outdone, while in the Middle East for an extraordinary summit of the Organization of Islamic Conference in Mecca, Musharraf said it was "500% certain" that Rabia was dead.

With such fluctuating odds, who's betting on Pakistan producing the goods for the US?

Syed Saleem Shahzad, Bureau Chief, Pakistan Asia Times Online. He can be reached at saleem_shahzad2002@yahoo.com

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US on the scent of terror money in Pakistan (Dec 6, '05)

Pulling strings in Pakistan (Dec 1, '05)

CIA's 'black sites' breed more evil (Nov 4, '05)


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