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Rediff.com  » News » Pakistan resurrects an Al Qaeda ghost

Pakistan resurrects an Al Qaeda ghost

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February 10, 2009 17:53 IST
Now we know the Pakistani claim regarding the death of senior Al Qaeda leader Mustafa Abu al-Yazid -- also known as Sheikh Saeed -- was an exaggeration. Now we also know that the Pakistani 'deep state' possesses the godly capacity to bring a dead man alive.

In August last year, nameless Pakistani security officials gave the widest possible publicity to the international media by claiming that Yazid was killed in a Pakistani military operation in the Bajaur area along the Pakistani-Afghan frontier. Within days, of course, jihadi 'chat rooms' quietly began clarifying that Yazid was very much alive. But then, the world scarcely takes notice of jihadi chatter and the Pakistanis succeeded in planting a good story affirming their sincerity in the hunt for Al Qaeda.

At that time, of course, it suited the Pakistani security establishment to 'take out' Yazid. For, he had recently claimed responsibility for the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. 'We terminated the most precious American asset which vowed to defeat (the) Mujhideen,' he was reported to have said.

Yazid's video message, which surfaced on Tuesday, is a serious development. He pointedly warned India of future Mumbai-style attacks. Referring to India's 'humiliation' in Mumbai, he threatened, 'India should know that it will have to pay a heavy price if it attacks Pakistan. The Mujahideen will sunder your armies into the ground, like they did to the Russians in Afghanistan.' Yazid also called on the Pakistani people to overthrow their civilian government and President Asif Ali Zardari.

The Yazid phenomenon quintessentially underscores the mystique that surrounds Al Qaeda. The common impression is that Al Qaeda is a corporate body with a CEO, a No 2 and a treasurer and so on. In fact, Yazid himself is commonly referred to as Al Qaeda's 'financier.' But Al Qaeda is an idea and many forces conveniently work under its rubric. The pertinent question today, therefore, as we deconstruct Yazid's video message is, 'Who stands to gain?'

This takes us to the timing of Yazid's reincarnation. He has resurfaced even as India's rhetoric over Pakistan-supported terrorism has sharply escalated. Within the past week, there have been strong statements by Congress president Sonia Gandhi invoking the name of Indira Gandhi in the India-Pakistan context, and by army chief General Deepak Kapoor that 'surgical strikes' against Pakistan are feasible to be undertaken by the Indian armed forces.

Two, Pakistan is about to hand over to New Delhi the findings of its so-called investigation into the Mumbai attacks. By now it is clear that the Pakistani establishment is going to tell us to go and climb a tree -- at least, for the present. Islamabad estimates that whatever American 'pressure' on the issue has probably run its course. But New Delhi is now hard-pressed to consider the range of what the Indian officials have been repeatedly claiming as 'all options'. Three, Yazid's appearance coincides with the arrival of Richard Holbrooke, the US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, in the region.

Yazid's message to the Indian establishment is blunt: 'Don't ever think of undertaking any military adventure against Pakistan, as we too have the capability to hit you hard within India.' This is probably the first time that Al Qaeda has publicly assumed this role -- as the defender of Pakistan's sovereignty and territorial integrity against an Indian threat.

Equally, there is a manifest attempt here to ratchet up India-Pakistan tensions and bring them on focus as a core issue in the agenda of discussions that Holbrooke will be developing during his visit to India. The Pakistani establishment does not like US President Barack Obama's body language. Nor has it taken kindly to Obama's decision to keep out India and Kashmir problem from Holbrooke's mandate. But it is confident that the last word has not been said in the matter, either. It will do the utmost to see that Holbrooke's mandate is expanded somehow or other.

Yazid's timely appearance is part of the Pakistani gameplan. Pakistan will want Holbrooke to focus on India's heightened tensions in relations with Pakistan. What better way to do this than by concocting an Al Qaeda video that is certain to receive huge publicity in the US? (Yazid, incidentally, is cited as a key plotter in the report of the US government commission investigating the 9/11 attacks.)

Yazid is no ordinary guy. He is nothing less than the Pakistani security establishment's 'asset' within the Al Qaeda. It is he who interfaces with Jalaluddin Haqqani, Pakistan's ace figure within the Taliban's politico-military structure. It is in extraordinary moments like this that the smokescreen lifts just enough for the onlooker to steal a glance inside the mystique world of what passes for Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

What Holbrooke is going to deal with in Pakistan is far beyond the realms of cognitive processes. There is nothing like this in the Balkans where he impressed with his forceful diplomatic skills. The Khyber is a mysterious place that breeds poltergeist stories. Yazid's reappearance testifies to the region's strange powers.

M K Bhadrakumar is a former diplomat

M K Bhadrakumar

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