Pak­istan’s para­noia cre­ated bin Laden

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

Osama bin Laden es­tab­lished close bonds with Pak­istan’s In­ter-Ser­vices In­tel­li­gence (ISI) agency dur­ing the Soviet oc­cu­pa­tion of Afghanistan. Al Qaeda (“the Base”) was set up by bin Laden to keep track of vol­un­teers flock­ing in from all over the Arab world to fight the Sovi­ets.

Af­ter the 1989 Soviet de­feat and with­drawal from Afghanistan, bin Laden went home to Saudi Ara­bia where he quickly fell afoul of the royal fam­ily for ob­ject­ing to the ar­rival of U.S. troops in 1990 to re­pel the Iraqi in­va­sion of Kuwait.

Ex­pelled from Saudi Ara­bia, he found ex­ile in Khar­toum, Su­dan, and be­gan or­ga­niz­ing al Qaeda by con­tact­ing vet­er­ans of the Afghan cam­paign. Un­der U.S. pres­sure, Su­dan ex­pelled bin Laden, and he opted to go to Afghanistan. No West­ern power ob­jected.

In Afghanistan, he im­me­di­ately joined forces with Mul­lah Mo­hammed Omar, the Tal­iban leader who had just oc­cu­pied Kabul af­ter emerg­ing vic­to­ri­ous from the civil war that fol­lowed the Soviet with­drawal. Pak­istan’s ISI was Mul­lah Omar’s prin­ci­pal for­eign sup­port.

The Tal­iban — a stu­dent move­ment — was ISI’s cre­ation, de­signed to give Pak­istan “de­fense in depth” in the event of an In­dian in­va­sion.

In the spring of 2001, six months be­fore Sept. 11, Mul­lah Omar and bin Laden were joint com­mence­ment speak­ers at the “Univer­sity for the Ed­u­ca­tion of Truth,” a sprawl­ing madrasa in Khat­tak, on the main road from Islamabad to Pe­shawar. On June 4 that year, this re­porter and UPI ‘s South Asian con­sul­tant, Am­mar Turabi, met with Mul­lah Omar in Kan­da­har.

It quickly be­came clear that Mul­lah Omar was be­gin­ning to find bin Laden’s pres­ence over­bear­ing, Thou­sands of ji­hadis from all over the Arab world and other Mus­lim coun­tries were train­ing in some 20 camps. Mul­lah Omar com­plained openly about “a man who talks too much and is­sues fat­was for which he has no re­li­gious au­thor­ity.”

Af­ter the U.S. in­va­sion of Afghanistan on Oct, 7, 2001, bin Laden or­dered his fol­low­ers to re­pair ASAP to a se­ries of in­ter­lock­ing caves in a moun­tain base — Tora Bora — that strad­dled the bor­der with Pak­istan and had played a key role in the war against the Sovi­ets.

Af­ter a con­stant pound­ing by B-52 bombers — some 700,000 pounds of ex­plo­sives, in­clud­ing 15,000-pound Daisy Cut­ters, from Dec. 4 to 7 — bin Laden emerged Dec. 9 with some 50 fight­ers.

A fleet of SUVs met them at the exit of the Ti­rah Val­ley and drove off in the direc­tion of Pe­shawar.

Mr. Turabi and this re­porter had been tipped by a prom­i­nent tribal leader in the re­gion — one with 600,000 pairs of eyes and ears — where to meet the bin Laden es­capees. We ar­rived Dec. 11 and missed the group by two days. But there was still no Pak­istani block­ing force in the area as the Pak army said there was.

For the past 10 years, bin Laden has en­joyed the pro­tec­tion of ISI’s “Sec­tion S,” which of­fi­cially does not ex­ist.

These are pre-se­lected in­tel­li­gence and spe­cial-ops of­fi­cers who re­tire of­fi­cially and then take up new du­ties in Sec­tion S. A re­tired ISI source told this re­porter that this sys­tem is the um­brella of plau­si­ble de­ni­a­bil­ity.

Pak­istan has all the ear­marks of a split per­son­al­ity. Part of the coun­try’s in­tel­li­gence ap­pa­ra­tus has co­op­er­ated, and un­known parts have not.

The Pak­istani es­tab­lish­ment sees 65 per­cent of Amer­i­cans against the war in Afghanistan. It also knows that Amer­ica’s 44 al­lies in Afghanistan can’t wait to get home. They orig­i­nally signed up to as­sist their Amer­i­can friends in the wake of Sept. 11, fully ex­pect­ing to be out of Afghanistan in six to nine months, not six to nine years.

Un­spo­ken, but firmly be­lieved by Pak­istan’s pow­ers that be, is the re­turn to power in Kabul of a re­formed Tal­iban, with equal rights for women and rid of its medieval form of gov­ern­ment. The guar­an­tor? Pak­istan. Bin Laden’s demise is an emo­tional vic­tory for the United States, but count­less mil­lions of Pak­ista­nis and mil­lions of oth­ers in Mus­lim coun­tries will con­vince them­selves that this is a yet an­other CIA/Mos­sad con­spir­acy and that bin Laden is still alive. Af­ter all, hun­dreds of mil­lions still be­lieve Sept. 11 it­self was the orig­i­nal con­spir­acy be­tween U.S. and Is­raeli in­tel­li­gence, de­signed to push back the fron­tiers of Is­lam and pro­vide a pre­text for get­ting closer to Pak­istan’s nu­clear arse­nal and seiz­ing it. Even Westerne­d­u­cated Pak­istani con­spir­acy buffs feed off some of the more bizarre U.S. re­tal­ia­tory ca­pa­bil­i­ties. The sad truth about bin Laden’s burial at sea is that it will have lit­tle im­pact on the global war on terrorism. Al Qaeda and its associated move­ments have never been de­pen­dent on an iconic Osama bin Laden. They op­er­ate in the new world of the In­ter­net and the wider ji­hadist move­ment in a global elec­tronic caliphate.

Tex­ting and tweets is their new lan­guage.

How to make a bomb in ma’s kitchen makes for more ex­cit­ing read­ing in their on­line mag­a­zine In­spire than hav­ing to learn the Ko­ran by heart in Ara­bic over 10 years, as young boys do in Pak­istan’s 12,500 sin­gle-dis­ci­pline madras­sas.

Osama bin Laden’s demise is a great vic­tory for the skill and courage of the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity and the U.S. Navy SEALs. It is also a global wakeup call for re­assess­ing the global bal­ance of forces, draw­ing the proper les­son from China’s 5.8 mil­lion civil­ian work­ers on build­ing projects abroad (in­clud­ing 1 mil­lion in Africa) ver­sus Amer­ica’s pri­or­i­ties that keep 350,000 sol­diers over­seas in some 700 bases and fa­cil­i­ties. While the United States spent blood and trea­sure to the tune of $1 tril­lion in Iraq and $500 bil­lion in Afghanistan over the past 10 years, a bud­ding su­per­power in the Far East is tak­ing a leaf out of the Mar­shall Plan.

Ar­naud de Borch­grave is edi­tor at large of The Wash­ing­ton Times and United Press In­ter­na­tional.

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