American publication, Newsweek, has created a sensation with its scoop that Egyptian-born Ayman-al-Zawahiri, who had succeeded Osama bin Laden as Al Qaeda chief, is hiding in Karachi with the ISI providing the protective cover.
Pakistan had sheltered Osama bin Laden himself at a safe house in Abbottabad, (near the Kakul Military Academy) till he was smoked out by US Navy Seals in May 2011.
However, the report raises the question: Did the leak to Newsweek come from Pakistani sources?
Along with al-Zawahiri in the hiding is Osama’s eleventh son Hamza (26), who became the “emir,” (commander) of the militant group last year.
The Newsweek did not provide any clue as to its sources beyond the comment that it came from “several authoritative sources”. An unidentified Taliban commander and an unnamed “former top Pakistani official who maintains close ties with the Islamabad government” were quoted to strengthen the narrative.
Pakistan is in the habit of turning over to the Americans terrorists, who have outlived utility for the ISI. President Musharraf’s regime had set the trend. Many “handovers” have taken place under various pretexts.
Operation Neptune Spear that had eliminated bin Laden was an out and out American operation with Pakistani not kept in the loop, Washington has been claiming but a report in the influential Karachi daily, The News International said “Crucial information leading to the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden was actually passed on to the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) by Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI)”.
The May 3, 2011 report in The News appeared under the catchy headline: “How Pakistan helped the US get Osama”.
The al-Zawahiri safe home story fits in with a known pattern, therefore.
Firstly, Osama’s successor and Al-Qaeda are “no longer welcome” in areas controlled by Taliban group because it’s engaged in peace negotiations with the Afghan government and doesn’t want to be seen as “a threat to world peace”, according to the Newsweek story itself.
Secondly, the 66-year-old doctor by profession, is frail in health, and has been living in constant threat of American drone attack, which largely necessitated his shifting to the sprawling Karachi city that has become the urban base of a host of militant groups for mounting targeted killings, extortions, and kidnappings for ransom
The Newsweek scoop could be Islamabad way of winning the confidence of Trump Administration, which has come to office with a mindset that has sent alarming bells in Pakistan’s civilian and military establishments.
Given its crowded streets and slums side-by-side tony colonies, another Operation Neptune Spear in Karachi will result in much collateral damage and this will not be to the liking of the State Department. Even the White House for that matter though in-house experts like Lisa Curtis have been making out a strong case to “hold Pakistan accountable for the activities of all terrorist groups on its soil.”
It is this opening Pakistani establishment appears set to exploit. Already, Pakistan’s new envoy to United States, Aizaz Chaudhry has been harping on “the commitment of the leadership and people of Pakistan for strengthening the seven decades long friendly ties between US and Pakistan”.
Aizaz has just presented his credentials to President Trump (Apr 25). As the foreign secretary of Pakistan till recently, he was aware of the strategic thinking and planning of the GHQ Shura in Rawalpindi. He is trying to use this insider track to sell a five-point formula for restoring peace in Afghanistan”.
Shorn of diplomatic jargons, the formula insists on shunning the military route and focusing on better relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan, better border management, repatriation of Afghan refugees and taking forward the reconciliation process.
It is too early to say whether Aizaz formula cuts ice with the American generals, certainly after more than 100 unarmed soldiers of the 209th Shaheen Corps were massacred in northern Balkh province of Afghanistan during Friday prayers.
The U.S Defense Secretary James Mattis visited Kabul in the wake of the attack in order ‘to assess the situation and report back to President Donald Trump’. In so many words, he has indicated that the U.S will review its strategy on Afghanistan.
One plank of the new strategy was already seen in action when on April 13 the US military dropped a Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB), better known as the “mother of all bombs” in Achin targeting a tunnel complex used by Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP).
This outfit mostly consists of the Tehrik-I Taliban Pakistan (TTP) elements and enjoys the patronage of ISI even as it goes around as an affiliate of ISIS (also known as Daesh).
Most military experts hold the view that MOAB is designed to deter the enemy from fighting by scaring them to surrender.
Pakistan will be loath to ask its proxies on Afghan theatre to surrender. It needs them till its goal in Kabul is achieved and that looks like a distant dream as of now.
But it can buy peace with Washington as it did on many occasions in the past. Ayman-al-Zawahiri is an expendable bait, like his predecessor at the head of al-Qaeda found to his dismay after the stroke of mid-night on May 2, 2011.
For the moment, Newsweek has got a scoop. Islamabad- Rawalpindi combine has taken the White House- State Department tantalisingly close to new talking point.
– by Malladi Rama Rao