No al Libi

The implications of al-Qaeda’s links with the ISI

Pakistani intelligence officials captured and delivered Abu Faraj al-Libbi, a Libyan terrorist, to the American authorities last week.

But doubts have been cast on how important a personality Abu Faraj actually was. Was he simply an errand boy, a field operative of some importance or indeed a top-rung al-Qaeda leader, as made out by the Pakistani (and American) authorities? As B Raman and Dan Darling point out, regardless of Abu Faraj’s position in the al Qaeda hierarchy, his arrest is not unimportant.

Firstly, his arrest coincided with the re-capture of Mushtaq Ahmed, a Pakistani Air Force official implicated in the plot to assassinate Musharraf. This has brought into focus al-Qaeda’s links with the Pakistani army and its jihadi apparatus. Aamer Liaquat Hussain, a controversial Pakistani TV host and a minister in Musharraf’s government raised the issue of a divide within Pakistan’s military-intelligence complex, adding for good measure that the anti-Musharraf faction baying for the General’s blood. There was talk of another, foiled, attempt to assassinate Gen Musharraf. Going by this explanation, the Pakistani army is not yet completely purged of al Qaeda sympathisers (or sponsors). That’s nothing new, but this time pro-Musharraf circles are openly talking about the ISI-al Qaeda nexus, which used to be vehemently denied earlier.

Second, there have been no major al Qaeda arrests in Pakistan for several months preceding the capture of Abu Faraj. Was there an ‘unofficial truce‘ between the terrorists and their hunters? And if there was, what caused it to be broken? The ready answer to the latter, of course, is American pressure. But the Bush administration cannot simultaneously claim credit for exerting this pressure without accepting that it was the release of this pressure that caused the Pakistani authorities to call a ‘truce’ in the first place.

The not-so-foreign hand?
Given these considerations, it is not totally unrealistic to expect that the ISI-jihadi nexus is working to destabilise Musharraf. It is tantalising to conclude that it is the renegade ISI-al Qaeda nexus that is fomenting trouble in Balochistan and the Northern Areas, forcing Musharraf into a heavy-handed response. The popular outrage and resulting unpopularity would undermine Musharraf without, while allowing the ISI renegades to seize power in the Pakistani army’s General Headquarters in Rawalpindi. Certainly, Musharraf’s own overtures to Benazir Bhutto’s political party seem to suggest that he is attempting to court greater political support.

Riding the tiger
What does this imply for the India-Pakistan peace process? India’s current policy is to treat Musharraf as a genuine negotiating partner and attempt to achieve a breakthrough on the Kashmir issue. The problem with this approach is that while the process would certainly strengthen Musharraf’s position at home, its conclusion, especially on terms that can be painted as a sellout in Pakistan (that’s about everything other than outright annexation) will almost certainly unseat him. Regardless of how smooth the journey is, the jolt at the end of the ride is likely to present India with an unhappy ending. Now that India has gotten itself into these circumstances, it should just hope (and ensure) that the ride itself lasts for a long time. The trouble, unfortunately, comes from the General himself; who loses no opportunity to ask for the Kashmir issue to be resolved without any delay.

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