By Radha Vinod Raju
The US has finally succeeded in neutralizing Osama bin Laden, deep inside Pakistan and not in the badlands of Waziristan on the Af-Pak border. Indian security experts have long maintained that Osama would be found inside Pakistan, and have now been proved correct. How does this significant event impact India?
Osama was well known to the Pakistani and Saudi intelligence agencies when the jihad against the Soviet Union was being carried out in Afghanistan. Popularly known as the Sheikh, Osama had contributed millions towards the jihad in Afghanistan, and had become a cult figure among the jihadis. It was the involvement of the US in the Gulf war of 1990-91 that set bin Laden against them and the rulers of his own motherland, Saudi Arabia over their cooperation with the US administration. He became their implacable enemy, and soon declared a jihad against the US. His activities in Saudi Arabia drew the ire of the government, which led to his moving to Sudan and setting up base there.
When Osama bin Laden finally shifted base to Afghanistan in 1996, after he was compelled to relocate from Sudan under intense pressure from the US, he found that the Taliban had captured most of Afghanistan. The Taliban at that stage were the ISI’s boys, and soon a close nexus grew between the ISI, the Taliban and the al Qaeda. The al Qaeda agreed to allow the use of their training facility to train Kashmiri terrorists which would greatly help the Pakistanis deny their own involvement in this nefarious activity, which partially explains why Pakistan desires strategic depth in Afghanistan.
The United States at this stage brought a lot of pressure on Pakistan to persuade the Taliban to deliver Osama so he could be presented before the law, but the Pakistanis could not, or would not, deliver. Osama bin Laden then mounted a few major attacks on US targets, including the embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and the US Navy’s warship USS Cole, killing hundreds of innocent people, including dozens of US citizens. This drew a swift response from the US, with cruise missile strikes targeting Osama bin Laden in his known camps in Afghanistan. The Khost training camps also came under attack. According to the deputy chief of the Hizbul Mujahideen in Srinagar, of the terrorists killed in the missile attacks, 24 were Kashmiris. This confirmed the nexus between the ISI, the Taliban and the al Qaeda and their role in the jihad in Kashmir.
While there is no proof of any al Qaeda plans to target India, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, al Qaeda’s operational commander who masterminded the 9/11 attacks, has reportedly admitted that of the several operations that he had planned or executed, one was the planned attack on the Israeli embassy in India which did not take place as he was apprehended before the attack could take place. Bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al Zawahiri, have also issued statements off and on, alleging a nexus between the Americans, Israelis and ‘Hindu India’ to target Muslims, and warning the Pakistanis to be careful of this nexus. Mustafa Abu Yasid, al Qaeda’s military commander in Afghanistan, threatened India with more attacks and humiliation if it attacked Pakistan in the wake of the Mumbai attacks in November 2008, known as India’s 26/11. This clearly established a connection between the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba which carried out the Mumbai carnage, and the al Qaeda. Thus India had started figuring prominently in the radar of the al Qaeda, though the organization had not yet taken any tangible step to attack India.
It is clear from the Headley investigations that in addition to the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, Ilyas Kashmiri, known to be closely linked with the al Qaeda, has also been planning attacks on Indian targets. Kashmiri was earlier associated with the Harkat-ul Jihad al Islami, but has now set up his own unit called 513 Brigade. The Lashkars, 513 Brigade and Jaish-e-Mohammad are all part of the International Islamic Front for Jihad against Jews and Crusaders set up by Osama bin Laden in 1998. While the elimination of Osama bin Laden is a great counter-terrorism achievement, and its significance cannot be underestimated, al Qaeda has gone through a kind of metastasis into smaller groups spread across the continents, with a capacity to mount terrorist attacks. Following Osama’s killing, according to a jihadist, “A million new bin Ladens will be born. The flag of jihad will be raised.” According to another, “We were not fighting for Osama, we were fighting for Allah. The jihad will continue, even if the Amir is Shaheed.” Thus neither the US nor India can afford to lower their guard against terrorism. The war on terrorism has to go on relentlessly, till all threats are eliminated.
Radha Vinod Raju
Former Director General, NIA
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