Pakistan serves the US heads, not talesKARACHI - Tiring of the carrot and stick approach, and with US presidential elections only a few months away, the US has taken an aggressive role in Pakistan in the hunt for "big-name" al-Qaeda figures.
Yet the Pakistanis, although appearing to accommodate their "most trusted" American allies in the "war on terror", remain obdurate.
Qari Mohammad Noor, an Afghan, was arrested with three associates last week in the central city of Faisalabad, where he had been teaching at a madrassa (seminary) for the past three years. The arrest followed the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) specifically pointing him out to Pakistani authorities, although he was a well-known figure in the area. He was suspected of being in contact with top Taliban and al-Qaeda operatives and running one of their powerful rings in Faisalabad.
On Wednesday this week, while still in Pakistani custody, he died, and his body was dumped in front of his house. According to police officials, Noor died of cardiac failure, yet according to an unidentified police official, his body was full of torture marks.
Security sources who spoke to Asia Times Online point out that Noor had openly lived in Faisalabad for three years, yet no action had been taken against him over alleged al-Qaeda ties despite the fact that the city's madrassas are well known for their links to firebrand jihadi groups. Further, the sources questioned why he was not handed over to US authorities, raising the fact that "dead men tell no tales".
In the past, the FBI and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) have collaborated, but in terms of a recent agreement any people taken into ISI custody at the behest of the ISI must be handed over within a matter of days to what is called the Special Investigation Cell (SIC). The SIC includes representatives from Pakistani security forces and the FBI, who conduct joint interrogations, but most of the time the FBI on its own grills suspects.
In another incident, following information provided by the FBI and being told to take action, Pakistani authorities drew a bead on Abdul Aziz, the head of a madrassa in Islamabad, Lal Masjid, which is located just over a kilometer from the headquarters of the ISI. Al-Qaeda operators are known (once again from the US) to have visited the madrassa, while Aziz received a letter from Uzbek Tahir Yuldevish, the leader of the Harkatul Islami Uzbekistan, which has al-Qaeda links. In the letter, Yuldevish is said to have commended Aziz for denouncing the Pakistan army's ventures into South Waziristan tribal agency in search of foreign suspects.
A large raid was launched on Lal Masjid, but Aziz was nowhere to be found. He is still at large.
News of Noor's death on Wednesday came as Pakistan published pictures of six "most wanted terrorists" and announced rewards totaling US$1.1 million for information leading to their arrest. The six included al-Qaeda's Libyan planner Abu Faraj Farj, described as the new number three in Osama bin Laden's network, and Pakistani militant Amjad Hussain Farooqi. More than 60 suspected al-Qaeda figures have been arrested in the past weeks in Pakistan. A person named Usman, believed to be bin Laden's personal servant, is also believed to have been rounded up in Islamabad.
At the same time, raids were conducted on seminaries in Lahore, Islamabad and Faisalabad, again at the insistence of the FBI, which provided strong evidence of untoward goings-on. These operations followed the recent high-profile arrests of Maulana Fazalur Rehman Khalid and Qari Saifullah Akhtar.
The raids in Faisalabad are significant in that they are the first to be made against seminaries in that city, even though they are known as radical hot-beds.
Over two years ago, Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl became deeply involved in investigations into the arrest of Abu Zobaida, a chief al-Qaeda operator, in Faisalabad. He was in the process of making a connection between ISI-backed groups and the seminaries of Faisalabad when he was abducted and subsequently murdered. One of the characters involved in Pearl's murder was Amjad Farooqi, who hails from a district in Faisalabad (Toba Tek Singh) and whose face was splashed all over newspapers in Pakistan on Wednesday as one of the six most-wanted terrorists. He belongs to the militant Lashkar-i-Jhangvi.
The Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal, an alliance of six religious parties on the opposition benches in parliament, has reacted strongly to the raids, and already set into action a series of street protests, as well as using covert channels within the administration of President General Pervez Musharraf to have the hound dogs called off.
However, this time the game is beyond Pakistan's control. The US will have its way, and the best Pakistan can do is obfuscate, while at the same time the opposition fires that burn across the country glare all the brighter.
Syed Saleem Shahzad, Bureau Chief Pakistan, Asia Times Online. He can be reached at email@example.com