OMAR AND OSAMA – IN THE LINE OF FIRE

OMAR AND OSAMA  BIN LADEN

images (11)Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden are perhaps the most notorious names in the world today. To most of the world they are terrorists; to those who are generally referred to as radicals, they are cult heroes. To almost everyone, they are enigmas. The world knows almost nothing about the nature and biography of Mullah Omar, the man who led the Taliban regime and, in my opinion, continues to run the rem­nants of the Taliban today. Much more is known about Osama bin Laden’s life history, at least until five years ago. After that point, for most of the world, Osama dropped out of sight. Thanks to direct contacts and intelligence, I can now fill in some of these gaps for both men. Along the way, I will clarify some parts of the known record.

It has famously been said that “short-term gain for long-term pain” is foolhardy, but this is exactly what happened to the allies in the jihad against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, not least the United States, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. We helped create the mujahideen, fired them with religious zeal in seminaries, armed them, paid them, fed them, and sent them to a jihad against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. We did not stop to think how we would divert them to productive life after the jihad was won. This mistake cost Afghanistan and Pakistan more dearly than any other country. Neither did the United States realize what a rich, educated person like Osama bin Laden might later do with the organization that we all had enabled him to establish. Worse, the United States didn’t even consider the rebuild­ing and development of Afghanistan after the Soviets departed. Amer‑

ica simply abandoned Afghanistan to its fate, ignoring the fact that a wretchedly poor and unstable country, armed to the teeth with the most sophisticated weapons and torn apart by warlords, could become an ideal haven for terrorists. The United States also ignored what might happen to Pakistan, now that the deadly drug heroin had been intro­duced into our country and we were awash with weapons of the most lethal kind. Worse, America imposed sanctions against us under the totally biased Pressler Amendment, passed in 1985, which banned mil­itary and economic assistance to Pakistan unless the president of the United States certified, year by year, that we did not possess a bomb. I cannot think of a better way of losing friends.

But I believe our greatest oversight was to forget that when you help to organize and use people fired by extraordinary religious or ideological zeal to achieve your objectives, you must consider that they might be using you to achieve their objectives and are only temporar­ily on your side for tactical reasons of their own. In Mullah Omar’s case the objective was to gain power in Afghanistan. In the case of Osama bin Laden it was perhaps to get help from America, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia to create al Qaeda, obtain funding and arms, and finally secure a base from which to operate. In such situations, who is using whom becomes murky. We-the United States, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and all those who were allied with us in the Afghan jihad-created our own Frankenstein’s monster.

The Taliban were not a new, post-Soviet phenomenon. They were taught by the same teachers in the same seminaries that had produced the mujahideen. But now the label had changed. When we sided with the Taliban, it was for good reasons: first, that they would bring peace to Afghanistan by bringing the warlords to heel; second, that the success of the Taliban would spell the defeat of the anti-Pakistan Northern Alliance. There was nothing wrong with our intentions, except that we did not realize that once the Taliban had used us to get to power, we would lose influence with them.

Mullah Muhammad Omar was born in the village of Nauda, Kanda­har, purportedy in 1959. He has four wives and four children-two sons and two daughters. One daughter was killed in August 1999 in a bomb blast.

Mullah Omar visited Pakistan for two weeks during the early part of the Afghan jihad against the Soviets, as an ordinary mujahideen foot soldier. During the jihad he joined a couple of mujahideen organiza­tions, one after the other. It is said that during a battle one of his eyes was badly injured, and that he removed it himself with a knife (without anesthesia) and sewed his eyelid up. But others say that he was treated in a hospital in Peshawar and the eye was surgically removed. Many people naturally tend to believe the first, heroic version, which has contributed to the legend of Mullah Omar.

After the Soviet withdrawal in 1989 and up to 1994, Mullah Omar became an imam of a mosque in a small village of the Maiwand district, west of Kandahar. He saw the chaos that Afghanistan fell into after the capture of Kabul by the mujahideen in April 1992, with numerous war-lords controlling different parts of the country The public had little security from murder, rape, theft, and extortion.

The Taliban movement began in Maiwand in June 1994. It took off quite abruptly, mainly owing to the lawlessness in that area. It was sparked by a single incident: two young boys were abducted, viciously raped, and killed by an Afghan gangster turned checkpoint commander and his associates outside Kandahar. The public, already desperate, naturally became agitated and started protesting violently. Mullah Omar and his small, unknown band of Taliban rushed to the checkpoint, disarmed the violators, and killed some of them. The Taliban were seen as protectors of the defenseless against rapacious warlords and gangster officials. They then started cleaning up various areas. Their fame spread rapidly. Followers joined up within Afghanistan, and from certain sem­inaries in Pakistan, mainly in the North-West Frontier Province, Balochistan, and Karachi.

Mullah Omar was appointed amir-leader-of the Taliban in October 1994. In 1996, a grand assembly, also called a shoora, of 1,500 religious scholars held in Kandahar appointed him amir-ul­momineen or “commander of the faithful.” By that time, after a swift offensive, the Taliban were already occupying 90 percent of Afghanistan.

The arrival of the Taliban on the scene was a spontaneous reaction to the chaos and lawlessness in Afghanistan and to the atrocities committed by former mujahideen commanders, warlords, and gangster officials. Though this movement began at home, the Pakistani government under Benazir Bhutto tried to take the credit for having created, raised, and launched it, in the hope that the Taliban’s rapid military success would be to Pakistan’s political advantage. Benazir Bhutto’s interior minister, Major General Naseerullah Babur (retired), naively started calling the Taliban “my children.” It was only later, when “his children” became disobedient, that Benazir’s government disowned them. The truth is that the Taliban did not ask for or receive any help from Pa­kistan in their earliest stages.

The United States, I suspect, did not disapprove of the Taliban phe­nomenon for the same reason that we did not-the Americans hoped that the Taliban could bring peace and stability to Afghanistan. The gov­ernments of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) may even have helped the Taliban discreetly, while their citizens helped openly with donations. Because of the stalemate between the warring tribal factions, the western powers in general and the United States in particular welcomed the emergence of a “third force,” hoping for a return to some normality. When they later became disillusioned, it was easy for them to dissociate themselves from the Taliban.

Not so for us. The Taliban were all Pukhtoons from an area border­ing Pakistan’s North-West Frontier and Balochistan provinces, which also have an ethnic Pukhtoon population. We have strong ethnic and family linkages with the Taliban. The opponent of the Taliban was the Northern Alliance, composed of Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazaras, backed by Russia, India, and Iran. How could any Pakistani government be favorably inclined toward the Northern Alliance? Any such inclination would have caused serious strife and internal security problems for Pakistan.

We invited Mullah Omar to Pakistan a number of times after he gained power, but he always refused, citing wartime conditions in his country. We also offered to send him for umra, the small pilgrimage to Mecca, but he parried this offer too. He always met delegations from our intelligence agency but never allowed any of his field commanders to interact with us; he said they were continuously involved in opera­tions. Thus our relations with the Taliban were never smooth; in fact, they were quite uncomfortable.

We could only watch in horror as the Taliban unleashed the worst abuses of human rights in Afghanistan under the cloak of their own peculiar interpretation of Islam, an interpretation that the majority of Muslims reject and which gives a bad name to a great religion. Once, visiting players of a Pakistani football team were arrested by the Taliban government for wearing shorts during a game, and their heads were shaved as punishment. The Taliban refused to allow women to step out of their homes, even to go to the market, and refused to allow girls to attend school.

They were infamous for torturing adulterers and murdering their enemies. Once they locked up a number of Iranians in a shipping con­tainer, let them starve and suffocate, and finally shot them with Kalash­nikovs through the walls of the container.

Pakistan’s first official interaction with Mullah Omar took place in the last week of October 1994 at a place called Spin Boldak on the Pakistan-Afghan border. The purpose of this first meeting was to seek safe pas-sage for a Pakistani humanitarian and relief convoy. The meeting took place in an operations room during a battle against some mujahideen commanders. Omar bluntly refused at first, because of the ongoing fighting along the route, but toward the end of the meeting he agreed reluctantly. The convoy was hijacked later, but not by the Taliban.

After Osama bin Laden arrived in Jalalabad in southern Afghanistan in May 1996, Arabs from various countries who had left after the Afghan jihad started returning there to join him. They already knew him from the jihad days. They supported the fast-growing Taliban movement too. Soon Uzbeks, Bangladeshis, Chechens, Chinese Uygurs, and Muslims from south India, Europe, America, and even Australia started to arrive in Afghanistan to help the Taliban cause. The AI Rasheed Trust, based in Pakistan, was one of the main sup-porters of the Taliban movement and provided logistical and media help from Karachi.

 

On September 19, 1998, our director general of Inter Services Intelli­gence and Prince Turki AI Faisal, who was then the head of Saudi intelligence and is now his country’s ambassador to Washington, met with Mullah Omar in Kandahar. This meeting came in the wake of al Qaeda’s bombing of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

 

The prince informed Mullah Omar about Osama bin Laden’s involvement in the bombing, and shared information about his plans, luckily unearthed and foiled, to blow up the U.S. consulate in Jeddah. He reminded Omar that three months earlier, in June 1998, the Taliban had given a firm commitment to Saudi Arabia, through the prince, that they would expel Osama bin Laden from Afghanistan and hand him over to the Saudis. Yet they had done nothing. The prince also reminded Mullah Omar about Osama bin Laden’s promise to the Tal­iban that he would not involve himself in any terrorist activities while he was in Afghanistan. This promise was belied by a press conference in Khost in 1998, at which Osama boasted of inspiring people to commit terrorist acts. Osama had also masterminded unrest in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Yet the Taliban still had not handed him over to Saudi Arabia, as promised.

 

Our director general of Inter Services Intelligence also stressed to Mullah Omar that both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia had sincerely sup-ported the jihad in Afghanistan against the Soviets. He said that his earnest advice to Mullah Omar was either to expel Osama from Afghanistan or hand him over to the government of his native country The director general also told Mullah Omar that Osama’s links inside Pakistan were a source of great concern. Dissociating from Osama would facilitate recognition of the Taliban government by other countries.

 

Mullah Omar surprised both the prince and our director general by responding that he had made no promises to Saudi Arabia. He was effectively calling the prince a liar. He launched into a litany of his own woes, complaining that his government was under tremendous pres­sure; that no other country would offer Osama asylum; and that he faced a threat from Iran, which was supporting the Northern Alliance against the Taliban. He complained that the Saudi government should have helped him at this critical juncture; instead, it was adding to the pressure on him over Osama.

The prince had remained calm till this point. Now he lost his com­posure. He pointed an accusatory finger at Omar. This did not go down well with Mullah Omar and the twenty or so raw Taliban guards in the room. Suddenly, Mullah Omar stood up and stalked out in fury. One of the guards followed him. Omar returned a few minutes later,his hair dripping with water, his shirt and sleeves drenched. “I went into the other room and poured cold water on my head to cool off,” he told the prince. “If you had not been my guest I would have done something dire to you.”

 

Omar proposed the formation of a council of Islamic scholars from Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia to decide Osama’s fate. He bitterly objected to the presence of American troops on Saitdi soil, which was also one of Osama’s complaints, and said that the Muslims of the world would unite to liberate the kingdom. He said that the older generation of Saudis had a great deal of self-respect and would never have allowed America’s entry into the sacred land. He accused Saudi Arabia and Pakistan of giving him only one percent support in what he called the “Osama crisis.” He said that he had obtained a written prom­ise from bin Laden not to violate the Taliban’s trust by involving him-self in any militant activity from Afghan soil.

 

The prince became even more annoyed, and accused Omar of insulting the Saudi people, Saudi religious scholars, and the royal fam­ily. He would not tolerate further disgrace, he said. If the Taliban ever entered Saudi Arabia with nefarious intent, he would be the first to fight them. Then he got up, gave the salutation wa salaam, and left.

 

Now it was Mullah Omar’s turn to be shocked. He had been play­ing to the gallery-his guards and the other Taliban around him. He asked what had happened. Our director general of Inter Services Intel­ligence replied that it seemed that the prince did not wish to continue the discussion and had left for the airport. But Mullah Omar still did not comprehend that he had made an enemy out of one of the few peo­ple who could have truly helped extricate the Taliban from the mess created by Osama bin Laden’s presence in Afghanistan.

How do you negotiate with such a man? He was (and is still) caught in a time warp, detached from reality. But we could not simply abandon Afghanistan to the Taliban by withdrawing recognition and closing down our embassy in Kabul. God knows that the Taliban gave us enough cause: once, they burned our embassy and beat up our ambas­sador, who had to be flown back to Pakistan on a stretcher.

One of the worst things the Taliban did was to blow up two gigantic historic statues of the Buddha that had stood for centuries in a place called Bamiyan. When Omar first threatened to do this, the world could only turn to Pakistan to try to persuade him to change his mind.

 

Virtually the entire world had made the mistake of not recognizing the Taliban regime and establishing embassies in Kabul. I had pro-pounded a different approach, asking several important world leaders to recognize the Taliban so that we could put collective pressure on them to change. If seventy or eighty countries had established embassies in Kabul, we might have been able to exert some influence on them. I said so to President Bill Clinton, and to then Crown Prince (now King) Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al Saud of Saudi Arabia, and to Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan of the UAE. Crown Prince Abdullah was most critical of Mullah Omar and called him a liar. “I can never join a liar,” he said to me. “I hate liars.” So it was left to us to try to persuade Mullah Omar not to destroy the statues. When we went alone to negotiate with him on behalf of the world, we found him to be on another wavelength. He said that God wanted him to blow up the statues of Buddha because over the years God had caused rain to create huge holes at their bases where dynamite could be planted. This was a sign from the Almighty that the statues were to be destroyed. Mullah Omar paid no heed to us, and-tragi­cally-destroyed the statues. Again, this projected an image of Islam as an uncaring and insensitive religion. Mullah Omar actually did a great disservice to the religion that he holds so dear. It is all very well for us to say that Islam is nothing of the sort, that it is in fact a very progres­sive, moderate, and tolerant religion-which indeed it is-but why should the people of the world bother to go out of their way and spend their precious time to explore the authentic sources of Islam? They are going to judge Islam by the utterances and actions of Muslims, especially those actions and utterances that affect their lives directly, and not by the protestations of academics and moderates, no matter how justified.

 

     After 9/11 I was absolutely clear in my mind that the only way to avoid the wrath of the United States against Afghanistan and the Taliban was to somehow get Osama bin Laden and his followers out. My fore-most concern certainly was the direct adverse effect on Pakistan of the United States’ military action against the Taliban. The key to Afghanistan lay in negotiating a surrender or extradition of Osama. We initiated a dialogue immediately, realizing fully that the window of opportunity was very small. The United States and the world now realized how useful Pakistan’s existing diplomatic relations with the Tal­iban were. My earlier strategy of maintaining diplomatic relations with the Taliban, in order to try to change them from within, was vindicated at that moment. Had there been numerous embassies in Kabul and had they put collective pressure on Mullah Omar against`Osama, maybe we would have succeeded.

 

   The impact of 9/11 was lost on Mullah Omar and the Taliban. “It was God’s punishment for the injustices against Muslims,” Mullah Omar said. God was on their side and Osama bin Laden was a super-man. Thus, negotiating with Mullah Omar was more difficult than one can imagine. It was like banging one’s head against a wall. We have two entirely opposite worldviews. Whereas I believe that one must exhaust every avenue to avoid war and the death and destruction it entails,

Omar thinks that death and destruction are inconsequential details in a just war.

 

     Like all those who believe in an afterlife and regard temporal existence as transitory, religious extremists like the Taliban and at Qaeda believe that death, the “right” death, is of little consequence. Dying then becomes martyrdom, with paradise guaranteed. The problem is how to agree on what is a just or holy war. People like me hold it as a cardinal principle that a leader’s first duty is to protect his country and the lives and property of his people. People like Mullah Omar believe that worldly possessions, including life itself, are secondary to their principles and traditions. One of those traditions is the protection of anyone who has been designated a guest. Osama bin Laden and his followers were guests of Mullah Omar and the Taliban, and therein lay the difficulty.

 

      Try as we did, we could not persuade Mullah Omar to let go of Osama in the window available before October 7, 2001, the deadline imposed by President Bush. We told him that his country would be devastated, but he did not understand. He really believed that American forces could be defeated. In this he was misled first by Osama bin Laden himself, but also by other misguided religious thinkers, even in Pakistan.

 

        The United States started its massive carpet-bombing of Afghanistan on October 7, simultaneously with a land offensive with the Northern Alliance. After a brief organized resistance, the Taliban commanders fled to the countryside and the mountains, where they are best at guer­rilla warfare. In the first week of December 2001, Mullah Omar, sens­ing defeat, escaped on a Honda motorcycle and went into hiding. Once when Prime Minister Koizumi of Japan asked me about the whereabouts of Mullah Omar, I told him that Omar had escaped on a Honda and added jokingly that the best advertisement for Honda would be an advertising campaign showing Mullah Omar fleeing on one of its motorcycles with his robes and beard flowing in the wind.

 

        Mullah Omar has not been heard from since. I am very sure he must be in and around his original base at Kandahar, in southern Afghanistan. I say this with reasonable surety because of two facts. First, ever since he came into the limelight in 1994, Mullah Omar has not once visited Pa­kistan. How could he now be comfortable in our country? Second, today the Taliban strongholds are the southern provinces of Afghanistan. All rural areas and most cities there are under the influence of the Taliban. They also dominate most movement at night. Mullah Omar would find it most convenient and safe to live and hide with his followers in his own area, which he knows so well and where he is wel­comed by the local population. It has been suggested by the senior lead­ership of Afghanistan that he may be in Quetta, Pakistan. This insinuation is ridiculous and may even be mischievous. Had he been in Quetta he would have been caught long ago, like so many other former Taliban officeholders. However, as the war progressed and the forces of the American-led coalition and the Northern Alliance pressed on against the Taliban and al Qaeda, many of them escaped and crossed the border into Pakistan’s tribal regions and cities. This caused immense problems for us.

 

      Because Mullah Omar is still alive and free and the Taliban are by no means finished, some romantics believe that Mullah Omar has inspired his people by refusing to bow to America. It is easy to think this on a full stomach and in the comfort of one’s family and home, but if one were to ask an Afghan to choose between his family, home, and hearth on the one hand and his “self-esteem” on the other, I am sure he would choose the former.

 

        The other famous fugitive from the mountains of Tora Bora, is, of course, Osama bin Laden. Although the world knows much more about Osama than about Omar, it is worth filling in a few details of his background. After the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, Muslims from all over the world were encouraged by the United States and its allies to flock to Pakistan to join the Afghan mujahideen in the jihad against the Soviet Union. In 1982, a Palestinian-Dr. Abdullah Azzam-and a group of spiritual leaders established an organization called Maktaba al Khidmat in Peshawar, Pakistan. Osama bin Laden was Azzam’s deputy. The organization provided financial, logistical, and other support to the mujahideen. Most of the financing came from Osama bin Laden, whose family is very rich. Of course, all this didn’t happen in a vacuum; neither was it the private initiative of a few Arabs. The CIA and Pa­kistan’s Inter Services Intelligence were encouraging and helping them along.

 

        However, by the middle of the 1980s Osama bin Laden started dis­agreeing with his mentor, Azzam. He no longer wanted to be only a donor to the cause; he also wanted to fight and become a mujahid. Instead of joining an Afghan mujahideen group, he formed his own Arab force of a few hundred fighters. It was popularly called the “Arab brigade” among everyone involved in the jihad. Osama considered the Afghan fighters too pragmatic, the sort that would leave battle if they sensed defeat, to return to fight another day. Osama’s Arab fighters were fired by greater zeal. They had come all this way to fight for God, so they embraced martyrdom happily. The Afghans, on the other hand, were much more likely to return to their villages to sow or harvest crops, to get married, to attend marriages or funerals. The Arabs had nowhere to go. But I suspect that, more than this, Osama bin Laden wanted to forge his own identity-separate and distinct from the Afghan mujahideen leaders.

 

   In 1986, Osama set up his own base close to a Soviet garrison in east-ern Afghanistan, near a village called Jaji, about ten miles (sixteen kilo-meters) from Pakistan. In a rare display of ego, he named it Masada-“Lion’s Den”-I suspect after himself, for the name Osama means lion. In the spring of 1987, Osama bin Laden fought a pitched battle against Soviet forces in Jaji. The battle ofJaji was reported in the media worldwide, and extolled by many. This was Osama’s first taste of fame, and he must have loved it. The Egyptian militants Abu Hafs and Abu Ubaidah fought along with him in this battle. Soon thereafter, he befriended an Egyptian medical doctor, Ayman al Zawahiri, who was working out of Peshawar tending to the wounds of mujahideen.

   The name al Qaeda, “the base,” was first used by Dr. Abdullah Azzam in April 1988, in an article in a magazine called Jihad. His idea was to form an organization that would offer social services to Muslims and would act as a base for the “Muslim awakening” He never meant for al Qaeda to be a base in the military sense of the word. In fact, the full name used by Azzam was al Qaeda al Sulbah, “the solid base.”

Abdullah Azzam’s view ofjihad was to expel occupiers from Muslim lands. But Osama also wanted to topple governments in Muslim coun­tries that he considered “apostate.” This would cause conflict between Muslims, however, and Azzam wanted nothing to do with it. It led to a falling-out between them. Osama bin Laden took the name suggested by Azzam and formed al Qaeda, dropping “al Sulbah.” A year later, on November 24, 1989, Abdullah Azzam was assassinated. It is suspected that Osama was behind his mentor’s murder.

 

   In February 1998, nine years after the formation of al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden formed an umbrella organization called the Islamic World Front. Its purpose was to struggle against the occupation of Palestine by Israel. Al Qaeda, on the other hand, is a multinational extremist orga­nization whose members come from various countries but most par­ticularly from Egypt. It has a worldwide presence and its purposes are the following:

 

  • To radicalize existing Islamic groups and to create new ones where there are none.

  • To proselytize.

  • To drive American forces out of Muslim countries.

  • To combat the designs of Israel and the United States in the Mid­dle East.

  • To support Muslims’ struggles for freedom everywhere.

  • To pool all Muslim resources for the common cause ofjihad.

Al Qaeda comprises a consultative council or shoora under which there are four committees-military, media, finance, and religious affairs. Its operating cells are believed to exist in about forty countries, including the United States and Canada. It focuses primarily on operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Turkey, southeast Asia, North Africa, Europe, the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada. Its operations are decentralized, and its hard-core trained manpower is kept dormant until it finds an opportune moment to strike.

Today, after the many setbacks al Qaeda has received, mainly in Pak­istan, its new base and training ground are said to be increasingly the Sahel region running through the middle of Africa from east to west. Al Qaeda is taking on a new shape with the killing or capture of its top leaders. Its reformation is a perpetual activity, except at the very top.

We have done everything possible to track down Osama bin Laden, but he has evaded us. Most recently, he has been using couriers instead of electronic communications to maintain contact. This obviously slows down the time it takes for a message to get into or out of the mountains along the Pakistan-Afghan border, to as much as thirty days in each direction. We have been able to intercept some of the courier traffic.

 

The location of Osama and his few close associates has been a mys­tery that we, more than anyone else, have been anxious to resolve. Clues to Osama’s whereabouts have arisen during interrogations. Ramzi bin al Shibh, who was supposed to be the twentieth hijacker of 9/11, escaped from Tora Bora unhurt and was arrested by us after a shootout in Karachi along with two Burmese nationals: Sayyid Amin and Abu Badr. Under interrogation, in told us that he had met Osama bin Laden at an unknown location around June 2002.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammad (KSM), the third-ranking member of al Qaeda, whom we captured in Peshawar, denied having met Osama after 9/11, but he told us that Osama was alive and well and that they had been in touch. He said that the last letter he had received from Osama came through a courier. He also said that Osama had been helped before Operation Anaconda to move out of Tora Bora to Waziristan by Jalal ul Din Haqqani; two Afghans, Mohammad Rahim and in ul Haq; and the Iranian Baloch Ahmed Al-Kuwaiti. On March 4, 2003, KSM speculated that Osama was in Konar in Afghanistan.

 

Abu Faraj Al Libbi, KSM’s replacement, told us as late as May 2005, after his arrest, that he was in contact with Osama through a courier and the last letter he had received from Osama was sometime in December 2004. We have been looking for the couriers intensely.

As we went into the mountains of Waziristan and smashed al Qaeda’s communication network in Pakistan, we discovered that its courier sys­tem was very well established. It is four-tiered, with distinct layers for administration, operations, media support, and the top hierarchy. The first three are two-way communications; only that of the al Qaeda high command is one-way, top-down.

 

The administrative courier network deals with communication per­taining to the movement and shifting of families and other adminis­trative activities and the flow of information from families to financiers and vice versa. A combination of Afghan and Pakistani couriers runs this network.

 

The operational courier network deals with passing operational instructions. Here, greater care is exercised in selecting couriers. The procedure ensures maximum security through a code word and cutout system; that is, unwitting couriers are substituted for knowledgeable people wherever possible.

 

The media support courier network is used for propaganda and motivation. These messages are mostly in the form of CDs, leaflets, videos, etc., often delivered to the television network Al Jazeera.

 

The fourth tier of the courier network is used only by the top lead­ers of al Qaeda, who try not to pass messages in writing, except where that is unavoidable, as with letters to KSM and Libbi. Normally, the leaders make their best, most trusted, die-hard couriers memorize messages to al Qaeda’s operational hierarchy, and then convey them verbatim.

 

It is only a matter of time before bin Laden is caught. He does not have the sympathy or hospitality of all the tribes in Pakistan’s tribal areas. If I had to guess, I would assume that he is moving back and forth across the Pakistan-Afghanistan border somewhere. The fact that so many Saudis are in the Konar area perhaps suggests that this is where Osama bin Laden has his hideout, but we cannot be sure.

 

I have said, half-jokingly, that I hope he is not caught in Pakistan, by Pakistan’s troops.

 

Written by

Pervez Musharraf

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