Al-Qaeda's man who knows too much By Syed Saleem Shahzad
KARACHI - He was once close to Osama bin Laden, has intimate knowledge of
al-Qaeda's logistics and financing and its nexus with the military in Pakistan,
yet US intelligence has not been able to get its hands on him.
Ghulam Mustafa, 38, was picked up about 10 days ago in Lahore, and no charges
have been brought against him: he is expected to disappear into a "black hole"
and quietly be forgotten.
This is because Mustafa, erstwhile head of al-Qaeda's Pakistani operations, has
some tales to tell, but the authorities in Pakistan would rather they were
not heard, especially by the Americans, even though Islamabad is a signed-up
member in the "war on terror".
Mustafa's rise and fall provide a case study of the complexities within
Pakistan and of the powerful forces that make the country's intelligence and
military such unpredictable allies of the United States.
The making of a jihadi
Mustafa comes from the Punjab, where he was once the leader of the
Jamaat-i-Islami (Punjab), Pakistan's most prominent Islamic party. In the
1980s, believing that the party's ideology was being diluted by election
politics, he went to Afghanistan to join the mujahideen in the fight against
the occupying Soviet forces.
His educated background and clarity of thought on ideological matters soon
drew him into the camp of the Arab fighters in the country, and it was not long
before he entered bin Laden's inner circle.
The year 1989 proved significant on two fronts for Mustafa, also known by his
jihadi name of Omar, or Shahjee among friends.
First, when the Soviets withdrew, Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI)
decided to "win" at least one Afghan city in which it could set up a puppet
mujahideen government and get it endorsed by the world community. Jalalabad was
selected, and the main commanders of the Afghan resistance, including Arabs,
Pakistanis and Afghans, were gathered into an ISI cell to achieve this. Both
bin Laden and Mustafa were in the cell.
Also in 1989, the uprising in Kashmir started. The ISI was involved in
providing logistical and financial support both to Kashmiris in
Indian-administered Kashmir fighting Delhi's writ, and to militants based in
Pakistan-administered Kashmir engaged in cross-border activities.
Many of the militants were trained in guerrilla warfare in camps established by
the Afghan resistance in and around Jalalabad. Mustafa was assigned by the ISI
to oversee these operations, in conjunction with bin Laden, bringing him even
closer to the al-Qaeda leader.
Meanwhile, Mustafa had penetrated deeply into the circle of Syed Mubarik Ali
Gilani, a revered Sufi and custodian of the Mian Mir shrine in Lahore, from
where the ISI runs one of its most effective networks. (Slain US reporter
Daniel Pearl made his ill-fated visit to Pakistan to investigate Gilani's
In handling logistical and financial matters for the Kashmiri mujahideen, on
behalf of the ISI, Mustafa came into contact with army officers of Corps 10 who
were involved in Kashmir operations.
Indeed, he was the point man for contact between bin Laden and the army in
arranging for militants to be trained in Afghanistan.
In this way, Mustafa wore two hats, the one as chief coordinator of militant
activities in Kashmir, the other as organizer of al-Qaeda's transfer of money
and human resources from Pakistan to Afghanistan, and vice versa.
After September 11, 2001, Mustafa was placed in charge of al-Qaeda's Pakistan
circle. His basic assignments included coordination between bin Laden and his
followers in Pakistan. He took dictates directly from bin Laden and passed them
on to al-Qaeda men scattered all over Pakistan. He also remained involved in
al-Qaeda's money matters.
However, by this time Pakistan had joined in the "war on terror" and was under
pressure from Washington to deliver al-Qaeda members.
On August 11, 2004, Mustafa's brother-in-law Usman was arrested in Islamabad in
connection with alleged sabotage activities in the capital. Calls from Usman's
phone were traced to Mustafa in Karachi and he was also arrested.
Calls from the minaret
At this point two prominent religious personalities enter the story, Ghazi
Abdul Rasheed and Maulana Abdul Aziz are the sons of slain religious
leader Maulana Abdullah of the Lal Mosque in Islamabad. Abdullah was close
to the late dictator, General Zia ul-Haq. His Friday sermons were popular among
the military and the civilian bureaucracy, and he often preached the cause of
His sons have continued his legacy, both his calls for jihad and his
mysticism, and were the driving force behind a religious decree insisting that
Pakistani army personnel killed while fighting against tribals in South
Waziristan be denied a Muslim burial.
They were literally calling for mutiny in the army, which some heeded. However,
given the background of the brothers and their clout, the government chose to
ignore their defiance.
But after the arrest of Mustafa and Usman, a car was recovered from Usman that
was owned by one of the brothers, Rasheed. For President General Pervez
Musharraf this was clear proof of a link between the Lal Mosque and al-Qaeda.
Orders of arrest were issued at the highest level, but the brothers succeeded
in escaping from their seminary - tipped off by sympathizers in the security
While the brothers were in hiding, the minister of religious affairs and the
son of General Zia, Ejaz ul-Haq, met with Musharraf and explained that if the
government dared to put a hand on the pair, devastation would result.
Musharraf was convinced, and the brothers returned to Lal Mosque's pulpit after
striking a deal with Ejaz.
In the meantime, Mustafa and Usman were still in separate ISI interrogation
centers. Detained in a safe house in Karachi, Mustafa spelled out his strong
links with bin Laden, army officials and the Kashmiri struggle.
Most likely fearing that Mustafa knew far too much that might implicate
Pakistan, the ISI never handed him over to US intelligence. Instead, they put
him into the hands of the police, who took him to an anti-terrorism court.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the court found no charges against him and he was
released last September.
But by now Mustafa was tainted, and al-Qaeda would have nothing to do with him
as he was seen as a marked man.
A new enemy
Being a part of the "mainstream" al-Qaeda, Mustafa was single-minded in the
belief that jihad should be waged against the US, but not against pro-US Muslim
An al-Qaeda faction in Pakistan led by Sheikh Essa believes that any
sympathizers of the US are targets, whether or not they are Muslims.
When Mustafa was first arrested, many of his supporters, bitter that the state
had turned against one of its prime assets, joined Essa's camp. These
disgruntled al-Qaeda supporters were behind several attempts on Musharraf's
life. Other assassination attempts were made by jihadis and army personnel.
And now that Mustafa has been detained again, more people are expected to fall
in line with Essa's hardline vision, which includes targeting Musharraf.
At the same time, the authorities are pushing Lal Mosque against the wall.
While they are still too scared to arrest the brothers, they have been declared
"wanted terrorists" and "criminals".
This is a dangerous move as the deal struck between Ejaz and the firebrand
brothers was that in return for their freedom, they would use their influence
where possible to rein in those going after Musharraf.
Mustafa might be out of sight, but his detention has stirred an already
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Bureau Chief, Pakistan Asia Times Online. He can
be reached at [email protected].