Questions surround arrest of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed as Pakistan claims credit for helping the US


Pakistan has been afflicted by two curses since the beginning of its existence: one a quirk of geography and the other of choice. At its birth Pakistan was saddled with an enemy, India, many times its size; and its ruling elites’ desire to pursue “friendship” with America is the second, warping its policies in the process.

American support is needed, or so the elites argue, to keep India at bay. They ignore the possibility of seeking strength by mobilizing their people. The twin policies of hating India and appeasing America have cost Pakistan dear. Enmity between India and Pakistan (this is not only Pakistan’s obsession but India’s too) has resulted in the creation and maintenance of a huge army that consumes a large part of the country’s budget. The policy of appeasing Washington has also created other problems, one of which is the disproportionate power of the Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI).

During the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan the ISI came into its own. The close relationship between Islamabad and Washington worked well until the Americans no longer needed Pakistan because the Red Army had been defeated; Pakistan and the Afghans were then abandoned. Interestingly, relations between the CIA and ISI continued to flourish, independent of relations between the two governments.

Islamabad’s relations with Washington can best be described as a rollercoaster ride; there have been many times when America used Pakistan without giving anything in return. For instance, in 1971, Pakistan facilitated Henry Kissinger’s secret visit to Beijing, earning the wrath of the Soviet Union, which exacted revenge by entering into a defence treaty with India. When India invaded what was then East Pakistan in November 1971, America (Pakistan’s supposed ally) merely sent its Sixth Fleet into the Indian Ocean to watch from a safe distance as Indian troops mauled Pakistan.

Now Pakistan has become a pawn in America’s “war on terrorism,” but what it has gained in the process is paltry: US$1 billion in debt-relief and the rescheduling of payment on debts of $12 billion. The Turks have shown far greater acumen in protecting their interests by not bowing to America’s demands unconditionally. Ankara demanded a price for acquiescing to America’s war plans; if one has to sell one’s soul, one might as well negotiate the best price possible. Not so with Pakistan; appeasing America has become a reflex action for its ruling elites.

Take the arrest in Rawalpindi on March 1 of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, yet another alleged mastermind of September 11, 2001. On the list of ‘masterminds’ are such names as Mohamed Atta; Abdullah Higazy, the Egyptian student arrested and incarcerated in Manhattan for allegedly “directing” the planes onto the WTC because an aircraft radio had been “discovered” in his hotel room (it later transpired that the radio had been left there by an American pilot); Nabil al-Marabh, another alleged mastermind who turned out to be an illegal immigrant; and Zaccarias Moussaoui, whose trial has now been suspended on the request of the US military. It would be well to recall that Moussaoui has had no defence lawyer to represent him in court. The enormous resources of the US government are not enough to convict a single individual without legal counsel, in an American court of law!

Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s name has cropped up since September 2001. He is accused of sending US$100,000 to Mohamed Atta just before the attacks. The Indians allege that this was done at the behest of Pakistan’s ISI, whose chief, general Mahmoud Ahmed, then lost his job. In the murky world of espionage, ISI and CIA operations frequently overlap, leading to speculation that there is close collaboration between them. Informed sources in Pakistan go so far as to say that CIA had prior knowledge of the money transfer, or may even have authorized it. The ISI’s close working relationship with the CIA at times even escapes the knowledge of the government in Islamabad.

It is also alleged that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was an ISI asset; that he was in ISI custody long before his “arrest”, which was staged to deliver him to the Americans. A day after his arrest, the North American press and media were full of speculation that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed had been flown to Guantanamo Bay (Cuba). On March 3 general Rashid Qureshi, president Musharraf’s spokesman, denied this, but the same evening Pakistan television reported that the Americans had transferred him to Afghanistan for interrogation. On March 5 the Pakistan Human Rights Commission protested weakly against the lack of due process in these proceedings, and against his extradition to another country.

There was just as much confusion about the place where Khalid Mohammed was arrested (some have even wondered whether it was indeed Khalid Shaikh Mohammed who was arrested: his photograph in newspapers recently does not resemble the ones put out earlier; it is not just the hairstyle and beard that are totally different, but also the eyes). The Qudoos family, in whose house he was allegedly sleeping, have denied that he was arrested there. Ahmed Abdul Qudoos, the man arrested at the same time, apparently suffers from mental illness; the family has produced certificates to prove it; his father, a doctor, is a respected person. Another brother, Adil, a major in the Pakistan army, was arrested in Kohat on March 3 and taken for interrogation. His whereabouts are unknown at the time of writing.

Interestingly, a Taliban “source” denied that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed had been arrested, and challenged the US to prove it, since he is with them (the Taliban) in Afghanistan. While the Taliban and al-Qa’ida have often denied the arrests and deaths of their members, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s true identity remains a mystery. It is known that he is of Kuwaiti origin, but in his recent photographs he looks like a typical Pakistani.

This is not the first time that allegations have been made against innocent people in Pakistan. Last December, Faisal Saleh Hayat alleged that the Khawaja family in Lahore was harbouring the relatives of al-Qa’ida terrorists. The FBI immediately started phoning people with the same last name in Toronto, demanding to know what links they had with the Khawaja family in Pakistan; clearly George Bush is not the only ignoramus in America. This is what makes the US so dangerous: Bush has his finger on the nuclear button while his minions are busy terrorizing ordinary people.

On Christmas Eve America was again put on orange alert because five “terrorists” might have slipped into the country from Canada. Their photographs were printed in newspapers. Two weeks later it was found that all the alleged terrorists are ordinary Pakistanis who live in Pakistan and have nothing to do with terrorism.

Returning to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, whom the Americans claim is the number three man in al-Qa’ida, one wonders on what grounds they claim this. Ramzi bin al-Shibh’s arrest in Karachi last year was also hailed as a “major breakthrough” in the war on terrorism. And last November, when a US spy-plane killed four people in Yemen, Washington immediately announced that the dead men were among the top 20 operatives of al-Qa’ida (this act of state terrorism was admitted by Bush in his State of the Union address on January 28).

The Pakistanis and Americans have alleged that boxes of useful documents, phone-numbers and even recent letters from Usama bin Ladin were found in Khalid Shaikh’s possession. On March 6 it was stated that this proved that Usama is alive and that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed met him in February. It was immediately announced that a 500-square-mile area in Baluchistan was being scoured by Pakistani and American forces looking for Usama. An Israeli radio-broadcast even claimed that Bush would announce the capture or imminent capture of Usama in his press conference on March 6, but it did not happen.

Speculation about Usama and al-Qa’ida is rife; any American who can pronounce a few words of Arabic-jihad, al-Qa’ida, Usama etc.éis immediately proclaimed an “expert” and brought into the television-studios to share his “insights” with the public that cannot tell the difference between a camel and a goat. The US press and media thrive in this fact-free environment; dumbing America down is part of the game. They are eminently successful; 57 percent of Americans, according to a Yale research group, believe that Iraqis were behind the attacks on the Pentagon and WTC.

What possible motive could Musharraf have for springing such a surprise at this time? There are several possible explanations. As a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, Pakistan is under intense pressure to support the US/UK-backed resolution authorizing war on Iraq. Close on the heels of a US congressional delegation, CIA director George Tenet was also in Islamabad, where he met Musharraf on March 5. The security council resolution was definitely on Tenet’s agenda.

Musharraf admitted in an ABC News interview that this is a difficult choice. Pakistan has been extremely reluctant to vote for a war resolution, not because it cares about Saddam Husain, but because supporting such a resolution might have terrible consequences for it in the future. Whatever Saddam possesses in terms of weapons of mass-destruction pales into insignificance with Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. America is quiet about them at present because Pakistan’s help is needed in Afghanistan as well as to apprehend the remnants of al-Qa’ida and the Taliban in Pakistan. But once Afghanistan is pacified, and if the US is successful in Iraq, Pakistan cannot be far down the list of candidates for a work-over. The zionists and other anti-Muslim warriors have made no secret of their desire to tackle Iran, Syria and Pakistan once Iraq has been dealt with. Musharraf and his advisors cannot be unaware of all this.

Speaking on Buffalo’s National Public Radio on March 5, Stephen Cohen of the Brookings Institution alleged that many ISI operatives still have close links with the Taliban and al-Qa’ida and that they may be secretly assisting them. Yet Cohen is regarded as a “sympathetic” commentator on Pakistani affairs! If Pakistani rulers have any understanding of international politics, they had better not take American pronouncements seriously.

The Americans have a habit of abandoning even close friendséthe Shah of Iran and Marcos of the Philippines spring to mindéonce they have outlived their usefulness. In Pakistan’s case, they are only waiting to deal with Iraq. As the saying goes, when you sip with the devil, use a long spoon. And the US, in the celebrated words of Imam Khomeini, is “shaitan-e buzurg“, the great satan of our time.