17 August 2009
The emergence of a global jihad network in Pakistan, and the role played by Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT) in facilitating such alliances with al Qaida as the fulcrum were underlined recently when the US Treasury prohibited three Pakistanis and an Afghan national—Arif Qasmani, Yahya Mujahid, Nasir Javaid, and Fazeel-A-Tul Shaykh Abu Mohammed Ameen Al-Peshawari (Ameen al-Peshawari)--for promoting terrorist activities in South Asia.
Of the four, Qasmani’s case needs to be looked at more closely because it reveals the deep-rooted alliances and affiliations different terrorist and extremist groups have developed in Pakistan since the Afghan Jihad days. It also adds to the enormous evidence of Pakistan Army and ISI’s close links with such terror alliances.
Qasmani alias Babaji, 65, is a millionaire businessman of Karachi. He was among the thousands who went to the terrorist training camps of Afghanistan set up by Osama bin Laden and his men during the early 80s. It is not known how long he remained a `mujahideen` but there is enough evidence to show that Qasmani developed a close rapport with several terrorist leaders, including Hafiz Saeed, who set up LeT during the closing years of the Afghan Jihad.
Qasmani’s alliances with ISI are not a secret either. He has been a key liaison for ISI in Afghanistan during the Taliban days1 , working closely with former Pakistan Air Force officer2, Khalid Khwaja, a well- known ISI officer who was handling the `mujahideens` during the Afghan Jihad days. Qasmani and Khwaja later set up an NGO called Defence of Human Rights Committee3 to defend al Qaida and Taliban suspects detained or arrested by the security forces after 9/11. Khwaja is known to be a close associate of Osama bin Laden, and was part of the back-room diplomacy between the US and the Taliban before 9/11. In fact, he was a follower of Dr Abdulla Azzam, the Palestinian ideologue who inspired bin Laden and was one of the founding members of Lashkar-e-Tayyeba. Khwaja was one of the few contacts the US journalist, Daniel Pearl, had met before he was killed in January 20024 .
There is evidence that Qasmani and his associates facilitated the escape and rehabilitation of several Taliban and al Qaida leaders after the US began bombing Afghanistan following the 9/11 attack5.
A clear evidence of Qasmani’s alliances with ISI and terror groups surfaced in 2005 when the Pakistan government roped him in to negotiate ceasefire with the Taliban-al Qaida combine in Afghanistan which was fighting the NATO forces. At a high-level meeting on November 14, 2005, in Islamabad, between senior US and Pakistan officials, Qasmani was tasked to initiate a peace deal with the Taliban fighting the coalition forces led by the US in Afghanistan6 . It is not known how much help the US got from Qasmani and his associates in the subsequent months following the meeting. Though the US State Department denied participating in any such meeting, Pakistani media said those who participated in the meeting at Islamabad’s Serena Hotel was US Under Secretary of State for Public Affairs Karen Hughes and other senior US State Department officials.
Qasmani’s associate during the meeting was Javed Ibrahim Paracha7 , rabidly anti-Shia politician from Kohat who had won the elections to the National Assembly with the help of the banned sectarian-terrorist organisation, Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), an al Qaida ally. He is a senior member of Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (PML). Qasmani’s friend Khawaja has been a key conduit between the Taliban and the US administration for long, aided by Pakistani American businessman Mansoor Ijaz8 who was once accused by Newsweek of being involved in the Pearl murder case. The story was however withdrawn before its publication. Khwaja was directly dealt by CIA chief James Woolesy9. Ijaz is a regular contributor to Democratic Party, Chief Executive Officer of Crescent Investment Management LLC (CIM), a New York investment firm. Woolsey is chairman of CTV’s Board of Advisers..
Subsequent events showed that Qasmani and his associates, instead of helping in brokering a peace deal, began funding and arming the Taliban-al Qaida groups in Pakistan’s Waziristan. Since the American agencies were keeping a close watch on the activities of terrorist sympathisers like Qasmani, it became difficult for the ISI to maintain its links openly. Qasmani conveniently disappeared in December 2005 and in fact, so clever was the charade created by the ISI that Qasmani’s wife even filed a petition in the Sindh High Court seeking to know the whereabouts of her husband. His whereabouts remained unknown for quite sometime till the July 2006 Mumbai train bombings.
One of the main accused in the July 2006 Mumbai train bombings is Faisal Ataur Rehman Sheikh alias Faisal Shaikh. He was an active member of Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), an affiliate of terror groups operating in India, and had gone to Pakistan in January 2002. In Lahore, his Pakistani friend, Asif Abdul Rashid Shaikh, introduced him to a person known as Abu Harara. Harara, a LeT trainer, took Shaikh first to LeT’s office in Chaubhurji Chowk in Lahore and to Karachi to meet Qasmani who asked him to return to India and to use SIMI to propagate the terror agenda.
After his so-called disappearance, Qasmani sent money through hawala channels to Shaikh and his associates to plan and execute the train serial bombings. A large part of the money came from Qasmani’s friend, Dawood Ibrahim. Sheikh and his men were handled by LeT’s operational commander, Azzam Cheema and trained in Baitul Mujahideen, the terrorist training camp on the outskirts of Muzaffarabad, Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. Although it is not yet known whether Qasmani funded or facilitated the Mumbai November attacks also, but the actors involved in the attack have an uncanny commonality. LeT commanders including Cheema at Baitul Mujahideen trained the November attackers.
1 Syed Saleem Shahzad, US on the scent of terror money in Pakistan, Asia Times Online, December 6, 2005.
2 Spread of hate material: Court rejects Khawaja’s bail application, Daily Times, Feb.4, 2007.
3 Khalid Khwaja directed to file petition with IHC registrar, The News, June 24, 2009.
4 Robert Sam Anson,The Journalist and The Terrorist (Daniel Pearl and Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh), Vanity Fair,August, 2002; The Journalist and the Jihadi, CNN.com, Feb.10, 2007. http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0702/10/siu.02.html; Brig Cheema says Omar misleading investigators, Dawn, Feb. 15, 2002.
5 Syed Saleem Shahzad, Al-Qaeda ’hijack’ led to Mumbai attack, Asia Times Online, December 2, 2008.
6 Amir Mir, Security agencies blamed for man’s disappearance, Gulf News, December 2, 2005. http://archive.gulfnews.com/articles/05/12/02/10001922.html
7 Khaled Ahmed,The terminal cancer of sectarianism, Daily Times, Oct. 21, 2003. http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=story_21-10-2003_pg3_6; For more details, Steve Coll, Time Bomb: The death of Benazir Bhutto and the unravelling of Pakistan, The New Yorker, January 28, 2008. http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/01/28/080128fa_fact_coll
8 Clinton Skates on 9/11 Responsibility, NewsMax.com, Sept. 10, 2002. http://archive.newsmax.com/archives/articles/2002/9/9/161758.shtml
9 Mark Huband, Taliban promised to reveal Iraq link, Financial Times, March 6 2003; Khalid Khawaja, Guardian, September 11, 2002. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2002/sep/11/september112002.september114