SOURCE: THE HINDU
Jaish-e-Mohammad Chief Masood Azhar, the man India has been trying unsuccessfully to have designated as a terrorist at the U.N. Security Council for years, and LeT chief Hafiz Saeed helped Osama bin Laden and several other al-Qaeda leaders cross over to Pakistan in 2001 and helped settle them in places like Karachi and Abbottabad, where bin Laden was eventually killed in 2011, a new book by British investigative journalists reveals.
The book, The Exile by Cathy Scott Clark and Adrian Levy, that was released in India on May 29, comes at a significant time as a Pakistani court will rule on Monday on the legality of the current detention of Hafiz Saeed at his home in Lahore.
The international Financial Action Task Force is simultaneously reviewing Pakistan’s actions on terror at its June 18-23 plenary session in the Spanish city of Valencia.
Meanwhile, India is awaiting China’s decision on the designation of Masood Azhar as a U.N.-sanctioned terrorist at the United Nations Security Council 1267 al-Qaeda/ISIL committee. Beijing’s “technical hold” on the process will lapse in late July this year.
Surprisingly, dossiers submitted by India so far have referred only to the original links between Azhar and bin Laden, who first met in 1993 when Azhar helped recruit Yemeni mercenaries to fight as jihadis in Somalia, but not to his assistance to bin Laden and the al-Qaeda leadership in the years post-2001.
Indian officials who drafted the original application at the U.N. against the JeM and Masood Azhar, a copy which The Hindu has seen, say that “actionable intelligence” is yet to be found on the exact connection between them.
Hard evidence matters
“We had source-based information about Osama-Azhar links but that’s not enough. Only evidence that can stand the scrutiny of law can be presented at international forums,” a former intelligence official told The Hindu.
Another senior official dealing with counter-terror cooperation internationally said Indian efforts have generally focused more on the groups’ “State-sponsored” links with Pakistan’s ISI, than on the links to international terror groups like al- Qaeda.
The new book by Clark and Levy on Bin Laden’s years after the 9/11 attacks , however, details the operational involvement of JeM, in particular, and LeT in arranging the basic logistics for Al-Qaeda leaders during that time — from guiding Al-Qaeda leaders over the Afghanistan-Pakistan border into safe-houses maintained by them, to providing “a network of informers” and assisting in operations within Pakistan, including the kidnapping and killing of American journalist Daniel Pearl.
The authors go further and suggest that the Parliament attack in Delhi in December 2001 and the resultant India-Pakistan military standoff was staged to create a diversion so Pakistani troops guarding the Tora Bora caves in Afghanistan would be pulled away, allowing Osama Bin Laden to escape, and even the Mumbai attacks were “facilitated by Lashkar, overseen by the ISI’s S-wing (made up of retired ISI officers) and sponsored by Al-Qaeda”.
In written answers to The Hindu, the authors also said the U.S. “was fully aware of the levels of co-operation between LeT / JeM and Al-Qaeda” but that they were “problematic for the CIA, as they knew that there were limits as to how far Pakistan could be pushed”, indicating that the Pakistani army protected them.
In the past two decades, apart from a few periods of detention, both Saeed and Azhar have been free to travel and address rallies in Pakistan.
Osama’s top aide
The authors said they depended not just on intelligence dossiers, but directly on the words of Osama’s top lieutenant and 9/11 planner Khalid Sheikh Mohammad ‘Mokhtar’ (called KSM) as well as letters written by Osama Bin Laden and documents found in his Abbottabad home and the Rawalpindi house where KSM was captured in 2003 to outline the links.
Once Bin Laden had arrived in Pakistan, staying first in Karachi, then Swat and then Abbottabad, KSM was responsible for employing several “factotums” to work with the Bin Laden family and other Al-Qaeda leadership including “informers, lowly paid constables, security guards and shopkeepers”.
“The one thing these factotums had in common was membership in Pakistani militant groups Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba, which meant they were disciplined and also known to the Pakistani intelligence establishment,” the book records.
Later, between 2008-2010, Bin Laden visited camps run by LeT/JeM associates training for attacks in Kashmir, and according to the book, visited the LeT camp in Mansehra where the 26/11 Mumbai attackers were being trained, the book adds.
When contacted, both MEA and MHA officials were skeptical about whether the revelations in the new book would materially alter the UNSC process, at present being blocked by China, to bring the leaders of Jaish-e-Mohammad and the Lashkar-e-Taiba to justice, or spur Pakistan’s government to take any action against either Azhar or Saeed.
“It was not for lack of factual links that the [Masood Azhar] proposal was blocked,” a senior MEA official involved in the process, observed sarcastically, when asked why the links between Azhar and Bin Laden in the years 2001-2011 had not been given greater prominence in India’s application.