Originally Published 2011-07-11 00:00:00 Published on Jul 11, 2011
The furore generated in Pakistan over the al-Qaeda chief, Osama Bin Laden's death in 'Operation Geronimo' by the US forces is symptomatic of Pakistan's dilemma in the 'war against terror'.
HuM-al Qaida link surfaces in Pakistan
The furore generated in Pakistan over the al-Qaeda chief, Osama Bin Laden's death in 'Operation Geronimo' by the US forces is symptomatic of Pakistan's dilemma in the 'war against terror'. What's worse is the unravelling of close linkages between the complex militant network in Pakistan and Al-Qaeda on one hand and the relationship between these militant groups and Pakistan's Military establishment on the other. Pakistan is having a hard time explaining how Osama could stay over 5 years in comfort without even arousing the slightest of suspicions. The new revelations by Washington focusing on the links between Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM), an ISI-backed terror group in Pakistan's proxy war with India in Kashmir, and the former al-Qaeda chief have added to Islamabad's discomfiture. The HuM has been involved in numerous acts of terror, including the hijacking of an Indian airplane, an attack on the US Consulate in Karachi, and the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.

Even though the group has kept a low profile in Pakistan for a few years now, its link to the Al-Qaeda has sinister implications for the region. Its leader, Fazle-ur-Rahman Khalil, is currently living quite openly in a suburb of Islamabad in a nondescript two-story compound that includes a seminary or religious school, hidden behind a traditional high wall protected by barbed wire. A close confidant of Bin Laden, Khalil has dispatched fighters to India, Afghanistan, Somalia, Chechnya and Bosnia for Jihad. He has also had links with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the 9/11 mastermind. He is believed to have been consulted by Osama Bin Laden before issuing his fatwa against the US. According to the New York times, investigations by the US authorities into a mobile phone used by bin Laden's courier and his most trusted aid, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, have more or less confirmed  suspicions about Osama's links with the HuM. The cell phone reportedly contained contacts to the Kashmir based militant group. The investigation also reveals that the HuM commanders bin Laden's courier had called had, in turn, been in regular contact with the Pakistani intelligence officials.

Although there is no concrete proof, it is suspected that the men guarding bin Laden and conveying his orders to his commanders had a close working relationship with the ISI-backed terror network. This has raised yet more questions on the ISI's intentions and the true allegiance of some of its officials. Both HuM and the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) vehemently denied the existence of any such links with the Al-Qaeda, with Khalil renouncing it as "rubbish", while Pakistani army rejected such accusations as a "smear campaign".

The Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, also known as the Harkat-ul-Ansar (HUA), the Jamiat-ul-Ansar (JUA) and Al Faran, is an offshoot of Harkat-e-Jihad-e-Islami, one of the militant groups based in Pakistan that was at the forefront of Afghan Jihad against the Soviets. Its cadres were mostly from Pakistan and it was the first non-Kashmiri militant group that joined the Jihad in Kashmir. Fazlur Rehman Khalil took over the group in 1988. The links between HuM and Al-Qaeda were first established in 1998, after the U.S. Cruise missile attack on the suspected Al-Qaeda camps in Afghan territory, which turned out to be those of the HuM. Khalil also signed bin Laden's infamous decree calling for attacks on the USA and its citizens in 1998. This made the HuM a part of the "Jihad against Jews and Crusaders". The HuM allegedly also helped members of the al-Qaeda in escaping Afghanistan during the U.S. invasion of 2001.

The reality of close connections and contact between the HuM and Al Qaeda can no longer be ignored. Khalil is said to have been "significant" for bin Laden. Its leaders have strong ties with both the al-Qaeda and the Pakistani intelligence. The HuM has deep roots in the area around Abbottabad and hence, the network provided by the group would have enhanced Osama's ability to live and function in Pakistan. Also, the HuM commanders, who were in contact with Osama's courier, were operating in South Waziristan, an area that has been al-Qaeda's base for many years. Links with the HuM would have helped Osama to pass on instructions or to deliver messages to al-Qaeda members in South Waziristan as well as other tribal areas.

Though substantial evidence of high-level Pakistani involvement is yet to emerge, these newly discovered linkages have raised fresh questions about ISI's role in sheltering Osama in Pakistan. They also point at Pakistan's segmented approach to terrorism, which contributed to bin Laden's ability to live undetected in a military town in Pakistan. Failure on Islamabad's part to take immediate action against the militant group and its leaders would fuel suspicion over the same in the US. It is certain that Kashmir based militant groups like HuM or LeT have been a part of Al-Qaeda's broader militant network and this calls out for a need for Pakistan to take a more comprehensive approach to fighting terrorism. The duplicity in its approach and its policy of running with the hares and hunting with the hounds has now landed Pakistan in a cleft stick. The use of terrorism as an instrument of state policy may have yielded dividends initially, but now the genie refuses to go back into the bottle.

The Pakistani state and society is in turmoil and its future looks increasingly uncertain. The end game in Afghanistan may be in sight but long term stability in the region is predicated upon a viable, non-Jihadi Pakistan. The US has high stakes in a stable Pakistan, for which the military-terrorism nexus has to be broken and the radicalization of Pakistani society has to be reversed. It is, however, an uphill task requiring a nuanced approach and a long term commitment. The same goes for India, who is likely to suffer the most if Pakistan implodes. The revelations about the HuM-Al Qaeda linkages can add to the already volatile relationship between the two neighbours, with escalation of violence in Kashmir.

The choices before Pakistan are limited. The reason for its half-hearted action against Taliban in Afghanistan is because such an operation will threaten the operational bases of the 'pro-Pakistan' militant groups or the 'good Taliban'. However, with the distinction between good and bad Taliban blurring rapidly, its high time Pakistan came out of the mindset of proxy wars.

Somya Chabbra is Research  Intern with Observer Research Foundation
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