Updated: July 4, 2020 9:02:35 am
On June 25, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, speaking at the National Assembly — which he rarely visits — announced that the founder of the terrorist organisation al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, killed by America in 2011 in Abbottabad, was a shaheed (martyr). According to Islamic belief, martyrs don’t die and are the chosen of Allah. Many in Pakistan who thought Bin Laden was a terrorist who had undermined Pakistan’s sovereignty were shocked. Many, however, still believe that Bin Laden didn’t do the 9/11 bombing and that it was actually “an American Neocon-Jewish conspiracy to create an excuse to clobber the Muslims”.
Al Qaeda came to Pakistan to fight the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and was, in a way, welcomed by the US. Pakistan didn’t mind that this would attract the Sunni clerical institutions and bring about sectarian tensions in the country. But bin Laden first conquered Pakistan by becoming the hero of the religious leaders who thought he could help transform the country into a religious state after defeating “pagan” democracy. The dream was to recreate the “state of Madina” in Pakistan, an idyll Khan was to embrace as he helped block supply convoys going through Pakistan for NATO troops in Afghanistan.
Soon, the myth that Americans had carried out the 9/11 attack was broken. Hamid Mir wrote in Jang (November 1, 2004) that by announcing that he had carried out the 9/11 attacks, Osama bin Laden in his cassette on October 29, 2004, had revealed the falsehood of Muslim intellectuals and ulema that the 9/11 acts of terrorism had been committed by the Jews. In the beginning, Mir too thought that the Jews had done it, but in November 2001, when he was in Jalalabad, he discovered that every al Qaeda member had the photo of Muhammad Ata (the leader of the hijackers who crashed two airliners into the World Trade Centre buildings) on their laptops.
The mosque in Islamabad called Lal Masjid linked up with al Qaeda after its head, Maulana Abdul Aziz, met bin Laden and started attacking places in Islamabad he thought were involved in “pagan” activities.
In 2007, President of Pakistan General Pervez Musharraf decided to clean up Lal Masjid after hearing that al Qaeda and its affiliates from Central Asia were hiding there. Operation Silence was launched after militants inside Lal Masjid killed a Pakistan Rangers soldier posted outside the mosque on July 3, 2007. The siege attracted high-profile religious leaders who tried to reason with the Lal Masjid clerics to eschew confrontation. According to reports, Lal Masjid was sheltering Chinese Uighur Muslim terrorists in addition to other elements connected with al Qaeda. Tragically, the commando unit that carried out Operation Silence was later attacked by a suicide bomber on September 14, 2007. Al Qaeda declared the foundation of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan in response to Operation Silence.
The Americans found evidence that bin Laden communicated with Mullah Mohammad Umar, leader of the Afghan Taliban, and with Lashkar-e-Taiba, the organisation engaged in the Kashmir jihad whose leader today is in prison in Pakistan. It is quite clear that bin Laden was involved with outfits engaged in terrorism in Pakistan. The facts that are now well-known tell us that al Qaeda was located at the top of the terror pyramid in Pakistan. The Taliban owed allegiance to it. Unfortunately, elements that Pakistan didn’t mind having safe havens in North Waziristan were linked to it. The Punjabi Taliban and the non-state actors known to act abroad in favour of the state were distributing subversive literature produced by Aiman Al Zawahiri, bin Laden’s successor.
Mariam Abou Zahab and Olivier Roy, in their book Islamist Networks: The Afghan-Pakistan Connection (2004), tell us about the penetration of Islamist influences into Pakistan. The chapter titled, “The Pakistanisation of Al Qaeda”, tells us that after the fall of the Taliban in 2002, militants regrouped in Karachi and were bitter with their leaders for not preventing Pakistan from allying itself with the US — and proceeded to express their anger with acts of terrorism.
This article first appeared in the print edition on July 4 under the title “A story of terror.” The writer is consulting editor, Newsweek Pakistan.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines
- The Indian Express website has been rated GREEN for its credibility and trustworthiness by Newsguard, a global service that rates news sources for their journalistic standards.