|August 22, 2001||atimes.com|
Osama bin Laden: The thorn in Pakistan's flesh
By Syed Saleem Shahzad
KARACHI - Saudi Arabian exile Osama bin Laden, who lives in Afghanistan with the protection of the Taliban government, is at the center of intense negotiations between those who want to see him brought to trial, and those who want him protected from the reaches of the United States.
The US government has offered a reward of up to US$5 million for information leading directly to the apprehension or conviction of bin Laden, a multimillionaire businessman. He is wanted on charges of international terrorism in connection with the 1998 bombing of the US embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya, in which more than 200 people died.
With a United Nations sanctions enforcement support team due in Pakistan soon to monitor the extent to which Pakistan implements UN sanctions against Afghanistan, it has been learnt that the US government has requested Pakistan provide active support, including the secret deployment of US special forces in northern areas, for an operation inside Afghanistan to apprehend bin Laden "dead or alive any time soon". The UN sanctions against Afghanistan include handing over bin Laden, a travel ban on senior Taliban officials, an arms embargo (which has not yet been monitored) and a ban on international flights.
Sources say that Pakistan has not as yet rejected the request to be used as a base, but that the US has two "arguments" to strengthen its case. The first is the large amount of assistance Islamabad receives from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to prop up its ailing economy, and the sanctions the US imposed on the country in the wake of its nuclear tests in May 1998.
Pakistan needs to satisfy the IMF about the state of the economy so that the existing $596 million Standby Arrangement can be replaced with a $2 billion to $2.5 billion new funding line in the shape of a Poverty Reduction Growth Facility before the end of this year.
US sanctions against Pakistan restrict the provision of credits, military sales, economic assistance and loans to the government. The October 1999 overthrow of the democratically elected Nawaz Sharif government triggered an additional layer of sanctions under Section 508 of the Foreign Appropriations Act, which include restrictions on foreign military financing and economic assistance. Presently, US government assistance to Pakistan is limited mainly to refugee and counter-narcotics assistance.
According to sources, the situation regarding bin Laden crystallized after his camp in Afghanistan was bombed by US cruise missiles in August 1998 in retaliation for the embassy attacks in Africa. Bin Laden escaped injury after apparently changing his dinner plans at the last minute, but the incident sent shockwaves through international Islamic movements in which bin Laden has a strong following.
As a result, a very strong Muslim lobby emerged to protect his interests. This includes Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, as well as senior Pakistani generals. Prince Abdullah has good relations with bin Laden as both are disciples of slain Doctor Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian scholar and former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood Organization (Al-Iqwanul Muslamoon). Azzam was the main motivational force in the Arab world for the Afghan jihad (holy war) against the former Soviet Union. Bin Laden fought, and helped finance, opposition to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Focus has been on Pakistan as a staging ground for a mission to arrest bin Laden since US Central Command Chief General Tommy R Franks met President General Pervez Musharraf and other senior Pakistani military officials in Rawalpindi in January of this year. This and subsequent meetings were used to remind Pakistan of its obligations in compliance with UN resolution 1333 that require the Taliban to immediately surrender bin Laden to a third country. Pakistan, along with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, are the only countries to recognize the Taliban government.
Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Abdullah, meanwhile, wants bin Laden to stand trial in his country. He is said to believe that any trial against the fugitive would see him acquitted as no case has been registered against him in Saudi Arabia. In addition, there is no precedent of Saudi Arabia ever handing over one of its citizens to the United States (even though bin Laden has technically lost his Saudi citizenship), so the crown prince considers that bin Laden will be safer in Saudi Arabia than in Afghanistan. Bin Laden left Saudi Arabia in 1991. He was asked by the Saudi government to return, but he refused, so they withdrew his citizenship, cancelled his passport and froze his assets. Bin Laden is believed to have amassed a fortune with his family's construction business.
Prince Abdullah made a clandestine visit to Pakistan a few months ago and met senior army officials, and he visited Afghanistan with the director-general of the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Lieutenant-General Mehmood. According to sources, Prince Abdullah met Taliban strongman Mullah Omar and tried to convince him that the United States was likely to launch an attack on Afghanistan and insisted bin Laden be sent to Saudi Arabia, where he would be held in custody and not handed over to any third country. Mullah Omar apparently rejected the crown prince's proposal, saying that despite the threat of US attacks the question of bin Laden had become one of honor and he would not be handed over in any circumstances.
As an alternative to snatching him, the US, too, would appear to support the idea of bin Laden going to Saudi Arabia. Although aware that Prince Abdullah is almost certain to take over from the ailing pro-US King Fahad, who suffered a stroke in 1995, when he dies, US authorities believe that there is a sufficiently strong US lobby within the country - and sufficient palace intrigues - for them to have their way with bin Laden.
Fahad and Abdullah are from the same father, but have different mothers. Abdullah was appointed crown prince only because he was next in line, and after his appointment King Fahad posted his brothers (King Fahad's mother's family is known as Sudari and he has seven blood brothers) to important positions to counter Abdullah's authority as crown prince.
The governor of the capital Riyadh, the defense minister, the minister of the interior and the minister of foreign affairs are all Fahad's brothers. Abdullah's only power within the Saudi establishment is with the national Baduvian Guards, which is headed by Abdullah's blood brother. Outside the country, though, there is a strong body of support for Prince Abdullah among those who opposed the US using Saudi Arabia as a base during the Gulf War in 1991.
In Pakistan, there is also a very strong lobby within the army not to assist in any US moves to apprehend bin Laden. These include Rawalpindi Corps Commander Lieutenant-General Jamshed Gulzar, one of the coup leaders of October 12, 1999, Lahore Corps Commander Lieutenant-General Aziz Khan and Deputy Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant-General Muzzaffar Usmani. This was the strong army backing that enabled a Pakistani religious scholar, Mufti Nizamuddin Shamzai, who is well respected among the Taliban leadership, to put pressure on Pakistan's Minister of the Interior, a retired lieutenant-general, Moinuddin Haider, not to deport any more Arabs from Pakistan.
In the past, Pakistan has deported known associates of bin Laden from Jordan, Algeria and Egypt to their mother countries, which in turn have handed them over to the US or other Western countries where they have stood trial for terrorism.
According to sources, Mufti Shamzi threatened the interior minister that if any more Arabs were deported from Pakistan, what the jihadi groups did in Pakistan would not be his or anyone else's responsibility.
Knowing the support Shamzai has, and the vulnerability of the government if they were to retaliate against jihadi forces in the country, the interior minister has subsequently not sanctioned the deportation of Arabs.
This is a strong example to the government of the opposition it will face should it allow Pakistani soil to be used for a raid into Afghanistan to capture bin Laden.
((c)2001 Asia Times Online Co, Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact email@example.com for information on our sales and syndication policies.)
Front | China | Southeast Asia | Japan | Koreas | India/Pakistan | Central Asia/Russia | Oceania
Business Briefs | Global Economy | Asian Crisis | Media/IT | Editorials | Letters | Search/Archive
Rental Cars and Airline Tickets Airline Tickets an Rental Cars Hotel Rooms and Rental Cars
back to the top
©2001 Asia Times Online Co., Ltd.
Building B - 5th Floor, 102/1 Phra Arthit Road, Chanasangkhram, Bangkok 10200, Thailand