- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 23, 2003

Many have commented on the importance of the capture of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in the effort to dismantle al Qaeda. Less noted has been the light it sheds on the potential and possible problems of Pakistan as an ally in the war on terror.
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is certainly a prime catch. As one of the terror network's five top leaders, and its principal military and operational commander, he likely knows where Osama bin Laden is hiding as well as details for new terrorist attacks in the United States and Europe. He carries an encyclopedic knowledge of every major al Qaeda operation, past present and future.
Mohammed's interrogation will seek to ferret out answers to three vital questions:
What are the imminent attack targets on their hit list?
Where are the top 20 or so al Qaeda leaders hiding?
How were previous hits carried out and where are the perpetrators?
It was widely believed that after al Qaeda was driven from Afghanistan its leadership went into hiding unable to communicate and that attacks since have been planned and executed by smaller, disparate local groups. However Mohammed is the latest of about 400 al Qaeda members detained in Pakistan, including two other leaders. Abu Zbaydah, al Qaeda's field operations commander, was captured in a shootout in March 2001. Ramzi Binalishibh, who allegedly headed the September 11, 2001, hijackers cell in Germany, was captured in a joint FBI-Pakistani operation in September 2002.
Given such a critical mass of al Qaeda leaders seized in Pakistan it is plausible that a centralized control of operations may be revealed. Staying close to Afghanistan was a ploy to evade capture.
Mohammed's arrest puts renewed focus on Pakistan as a key link in the terror war, and on the level and status of cooperation between Washington and Islamabad. Pakistan's stance is more difficult and more ambivalent than is generally acknowledged.
It is important to note that Mohammed was not apprehended in some remote cave but in the upscale neighborhood of Westridge in Rawalpindi at the home of a well-known leader of the Jamaat-i-Islami("Islamic Party").
Jamaat-i-Islami is one of six hard-line Islamic groups who as an alliance have condemned U.S.-led efforts to fracture terrorist networks in the region. Recent elections in Pakistan and political horse-trading with other parties have seen Muttahida Majilis-i-Amal (MMA), as the alliance is known, gain significant political influence.
In a statement following the arrest Jamaat-i-Islami dubbed Khalid Shaikh Mohammed a "hero of Islam" and said the Pakistani government, acting on U.S. orders, had committed a "shameful sellout." The party's spokesman told Reuter's news agency, "Those who fought jihad [holy war] in Afghanistan… who refused to be dictated by the Americans are heroes of Islam." This outspoken endorsement of Mohammed is an indication of the difficulties Gen. Pervez Musharraf confronts in reconciling his urge to assist U.S. anti-terrorism efforts with growing anti-American sentiment in his nation.
Pakistan's federal information minister had to make a statement that the Jamaat-i-Islami was not a terrorist outfit despite the fact that four main al Qaeda activists, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, have been arrested from homes of members of this party.
In another unprecedented move, the ameer (chief) of the Jamaat-i-Islami, Qazi Hussain Ahmed, lectured the bureaucrats of Pakistan's Foreign Office in Islamabad, including the foreign minister. He said the future of the Muslim world is linked to the Islamic movements. He warned that any effort to sideline these movements would cause instability. He said Pakistan should free its policy from what he described as U.S. pressure to save its sovereignty.
Mohammed who was born to Pakistani parents in Kuwait in 1965, studied in the United States. He is reported to be an accomplished linguist and a master of disguise. He is being held at a detention facility at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, which has been used for questioning terror suspects before their transfer elsewhere. The Washington Post said in a report last year the Bagram center was one of a number of secret detention facilities outside the United States, and so not subject to U.S. rules of due process, used by the Central Intelligence Agency to interrogate terrorist suspects. Another such facility is at a U.S. base on the British-owned island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.
While al Qaeda has been dealt a savage blow, the arrest of one man will not cripple the terror machine. It will take time to replace him, and al Qaeda has certainly been damaged. Its members will now operate on the premise that their operations have been compromised. This may slow them down for a while, but not put them out of business.
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed's capture is no doubt a significant victory. However, it would be imprudent for us to celebrate for too long. So long as any band of zealots is prepared to devote their lives to attacking the West to defend, as they see it, their religion the threat from al Qaeda remains real and potent.

Muazzam Gill is vice president of the American Leadership Institute and an award-winning broadcast news analyst. He is a native of Pakistan.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide