US, Pakistan mission on target
By Syed Saleem Shahzad
KARACHI - Ahead of their groundbreaking meeting in Washington this week, the
director of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Michael Hayden, and the
head of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Lieutenant General Ahmed
Shuja Pasha, will be buoyed by the killing of an al-Qaeda leader in Pakistan.
Militant sources have confirmed to Asia Times Online that Moroccan Khalid
Habib, the head of al-Qaeda in Pakistan, was killed two weeks ago in
a missile attack by an unmanned US Predator drone in the South Waziristan
tribal area. His death has not been officially confirmed by either Islamabad or
The meeting between Hayden and Pasha is significant in that
under the rule of president General Pervez Musharraf up until the end of last
year, the ISI - which was frequently accused of having pro-militant tendencies
- was kept away from US intelligence at the top level, with Musharraf
personally handling all tactical matters.
The two top spymasters are expected to discuss a policy under which Pakistan
and the US will continue to aggressively go after top Taliban and al-Qaeda
leaders in an attempt to weed out hardliners from the Afghan national
resistance and pave the way for communication with the remaining "moderates".
The killing of Khalid is a notable success under this plan.
To date this year, the US has launched 25 cross-border attacks from Afghanistan
into Pakistan, compared with 10 strikes in 2006 and 2007 combined. Eighteen of
these attacks - most of them by drones - have occurred since August 31.
Soon after the meeting between Hayden and Pasha, General David Petraeus, the
new US strategic commander for both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, will visit
Pakistan to finalize military plans in light of the intelligence sharing that
took place in Washington.
Khalid was installed as the chief of al-Qaeda in Pakistan by Osama bin Laden
after the death in January of Abu Ubaida al-Misri (Abdul Hameed) through
hepatitis. Abu Ubaida had been declared Ameer-i-Khuruj (commander for a
mass rebellion) after the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) operation in Islamabad last
July, in which a mosque with strong ties to militants was stormed by the
Khalid's task was to continue the coordination between various militant groups
for a war against US interests as well as the pro-US government in Pakistan.
The initiative was behind the assassination of former premier Benazir Bhutto
Khalid, who was listed by the CIA as the fourth-ranking person in al-Qaeda's
hierarchy, was successful in consolidating ties at a regional level between
al-Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban and Pakistani militants, a grouping that has
emerged as the neo-Taliban. These militants have absorbed al-Qaeda's ideology
of global struggle, while at the same time defending al-Qaeda's and the
Taliban's bases against military operations, apart from the insurgency in
There is no inkling yet of who will replace Khalid, who had staunchly resisted
any notion of dialogue between the Taliban and the Western coalition.
With Khalid dead, the next likely target is veteran Taliban commander
Jalaluddin Haqqani, whose suspected bases in North Waziristan have been
targeted on several occasions. Jalaluddin is the spiritual leader of the
Haqqani network and a legendary figure of the Afghan mujahideen's struggle
against the Soviets during the 1980s. Several of his family and aides have been
killed in the attacks, but both Jalaluddin and his son Sirajuddin remain at
large, possibly even in urban areas in Pakistan.
Former Afghan premier Gulbuddin Hekmatyar could also be on the hit list. He is
a former friend of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and had been contacted by
Kabul through intermediaries over the possibility of initiating dialogue with
However, he refuses to become involved in any back-channel discussions for
peace until all foreign troops leave Afghanistan, although he did assure Karzai
that once the foreigners left, he would work with his administration in the
Hekmatyar, given his past links with the Pakistani establishment, was also
approached by Pakistan, but he refused point-blank to talk with President Asif
Ali Zardari's administration, branding him and the Pakistani military
establishment as American agents.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can
be reached at email@example.com