Al Qaeda arrests
The Pakistan military announced on Monday the arrest of senior al Qaeda leader Younis al-Mauritani along with two other top operatives, Abdul Ghaffar al-Shami and Messara al-Shami, from Quetta. The arrests were the result of an intelligence-led operation that included elements of the FC. Younis al-Mauritani is said to be head of al Qaeda’s international operations, charged with planning and preparing attacks on the US, Europe and Australia. Such attacks would have included US economic interests such as gas/oil pipelines, power generating dams, and strikes against ships/oil tankers using explosive-laden speedboats in international waters.
Interestingly, the arrests have not only been lauded by the White House as a shining example of the common anti-terrorist goals and cooperation between Pakistan and the US, they have also been held up by Pakistan’s ISPR as resulting from the close cooperation between the intelligence services of the two countries, particularly the ISI and CIA. Now public memory is notoriously short, but not so short as to have forgotten how since 2011 dawned, the two countries, and in particular the ISI and CIA have been at loggerheads, first manifested in the Raymond Davis affair, later peaking after the Abbottabad raid that killed Osama bin Laden. In this space, we had argued consistently for both sides to draw back from the brink of a seemingly hopeless incremental breakdown in relations amidst mutual mistrust, suspicions and accusations. This position was not motivated by any illusions about the two countries’ interests or their convergence/divergence. Instead it was based on the bigger picture in the struggle against terrorism, in which the stakes for both sides were so huge as to require statesmanship and restraint if the terrorists were not to have the last laugh. It is therefore gratifying to see that the logic of the situation appears finally to be reasserting itself and both sides have not only generously lauded each other’s contribution, but also the cooperation that made this breakthrough possible. The terrorists of all hues and persuasions would love nothing more than if the US and Pakistan alliance against them breaks down, naturally to their benefit. The hope is that both sides have drawn the appropriate lessons from the near debacle in their relations provoked by the adverse developments earlier this year and will use that wisdom to further the common goals of defeating the terrorist menace.
Of course there is no room to be lulled into complacency at this positive turn. The reason is the convergence (since 9/11) of interest and policy between Washington and Islamabad regarding al Qaeda and the divergence regarding the Afghan Taliban. Even under General Musharraf, Pakistan led the way in cracking down on al Qaeda and was central to the arrest of many of those who masterminded the 9/11 attacks. However, it must also be said that there has been an inherent divergence in the approach to and policy towards the Afghan Taliban. Whereas Washington has tended to see the Afghan Taliban as merely an extension of their main target – al Qaeda – Islamabad, and particularly Rawalpindi has had a different take. While our military establishment was rooting out al Qaeda from Pakistani soil and transferring all operatives captured to the custody of the US over the last 10 years, it was at the same time providing safe havens and operating bases to the Afghan Taliban to fight the US and Nato forces operating in Afghanistan. And all this while acting as the main logistical conduit for the western forces in Afghanistan and also paying lip service to common goals and strategy! The duality of approach of the Pakistani military establishment, which continues to date, is at the heart of the friction in the relationship between the two allies.
A return of Taliban rule in Afghanistan would be a disaster not only for the suffering people of that country, it would arguably be a disaster for the region and the world. One, our homegrown Taliban movement would be free to operate from Afghan soil against the Pakistani state (something they have already begun through cross-border attacks from bases in Afghanistan). Two, who will guarantee that the Afghan Taliban will not allow their old ally al Qaeda to once again find a foothold on Afghan soil? And who will rescue the Afghan people from the medieval rule and practices of the Taliban again, given war weariness in the west?