By Editor Aug1,2023

Benazir Bhutto’s murder had undone the US scheme for Pakistan.
Washington was compelled to change its entire roadmap. Under
the new arrangement General Musharraf was an irritant and he
was bade farewell. The United States then welcomed Asif Zardari
as the new president. However, the military establishments of the
United States and Pakistan still had a role to play. As in the case
of the earlier Bush and Musharraf association, it was now Admiral
Mullen and General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani who were central to the
Pakistan–US equation.
This is what was negotiated:

  • The Pakistan Army was to be in sole charge of military operations
    in Pakistan. Its parliament and the civil administration were there
    simply to provide coordination and moral support.
  • Central to the new theme was a US$1 billion plan to expand
    the US presence in Pakistan’s capital city, Islamabad. (Building
    the largest US embassy in the region underscored the resolve to
    consolidate Washington’s position in the theater in pursuit of the
    “War on Terror.”)
  • This presence would mark the beginning of direct US handling
    of its “war and peace” diplomacy in the region, together with
    the forging of a seamless relationship between Pakistan’s military
    establishment and the Pentagon.
  • Under the agreement, private security firms (DynCorp aka Black-
    water) could set up offices in Islamabad, where they had already

rented 284 houses, besides setting up bases in Peshawar and
Quetta. In addition, Pakistan was to provide land in Tarbela to
the United States for its operations.

  • ISI was to set up a syndicated intelligence service under a proxy
    network to provide information to be transmitted to the CIA
    predator drones used to target the top Al-Qaeda leadership in
    Pakistan’s tribal areas.
    In short, while intense efforts were under way to use the (moderate)
    Taliban for peace talks, there were comprehensive preparations
    to tighten the noose around the neck of Al-Qaeda and its Taliban
    affiliates. And finally, there was a war plan called “Operation Lion
    Heart” under which the commands of both NATO and Pakistan’s
    armed forces were to devise a format to crush the Al-Qaeda-led
    militancy from the regions of Bajaur and Mohmand on the Pakistani
    side, and from Kunar and Nuristan on the Afghan side.
    Al-Qaeda had been observing all of these new developments in
    2008, but there was no way to confront them. This was a completely
    new situation. A powerful political alliance was supporting the
    strongest war machine in the world, and the Pakistan Army was
    giving them full space and cooperation. The loss of its franchise
    operations in the Bajaur, Mohmand, Nuristan, and Kunar regions
    was staring Al-Qaeda in the face. Several of its top leaders, like
    Osama Al-Kini, Khalid Habib, Abu Laith Al-Libi, and over a dozen
    of its best brains had been killed in drone strikes. It was apparent
    that once Pakistan’s army was successful in the tribal area it would
    go with full force into the Swat Valley and Malakand, and the
    Taliban would not be able to resist. Al-Qaeda had been completely
    outmaneuvered. It did not have the capacity to play around any
    more. Inevitably the idea of assassinating the new COAS, Kayani,
    came up.
    Kayani’s daily routine was already being closely watched by
    Al-Qaeda. He was a frequent visitor to a gym. The plan was to
    plant a man inside the gym who would give Kayani a suicide hug.
    Had this mission been accomplished Pakistan could have been in
    total disarray and incapable of carrying out any plan to tighten the
    noose around Al-Qaeda’s neck. But Al-Qaeda’s shura dismissed the
    plan. It had a flipside – it could give the United States reason for
    direct intervention in Pakistan, in which case the Pakistan Army
    would have no choice other than to support the idea of an all-out
    war against the militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
    This was when Commander Muhammad Ilyas Kashmiri appeared
    on the horizon. Born in Bimbur (old Mirpur) in the Samhani Valley
    of Pakistan-administered Kashmir on February 10, 1964, Ilyas
    passed the first year of a mass communication degree at Allama
    Iqbal Open University, Islamabad. He did not continue because
    of his involvement in Jihadi activities. The Kashmir Freedom
    Movement was his first exposure in the field of militancy. Then
    there was the Harkat-ul Jihad-i-Islami (HUJI), and ultimately his
    legendary 313 Brigade. This grew into the most powerful group in
    South Asia, with a strongly knit network in Afghanistan, Pakistan,
    Kashmir, India, Nepal, and Bangladesh. According to some CIA
    dispatches, the footprints of 313 Brigade are now in Europe, and it
    is capable of carrying out the type of attack that saw a handful of
    militants terrorize the Indian city of Mumbai in November 2008.
    Little is documented of Ilyas’s life, and what has been reported
    is often contradictory. However, he is invariably described by the
    world intelligence agencies as the most effective, dangerous, and
    successful guerrilla leader in the world. Kashmiri left the Kashmir
    region in 2005 after his second release from detention by the ISI,
    and headed for North Waziristan. He had previously been arrested
    by Indian forces, but had broken out of jail and escaped. He was
    next detained by the ISI as the suspected mastermind of an attack
    on then-President Musharraf in 2003, but was cleared and released.
    The ISI picked Ilyas up again in 2005 after he refused to close down
    operations in Kashmir. His relocation to the troubled border areas
    sent a chill down spines in Washington. They realized that with his
    vast experience, he could turn the unsophisticated battle blueprints
    in Afghanistan into audacious modern guerrilla warfare. Ilyas’s
    track record speaks for itself.
    In 1994, he launched the al-Hadid operation in the Indian capital,
    New Delhi, to secure the release of some of his Jihadi comrades.
    His group of 25 included Sheikh Omar Saeed (the abductor of US
    reporter Daniel Pearl in Karachi in 2002) as his deputy. The group
    abducted several foreigners, including UK, US, and Israeli tourists,
    and took them to Ghaziabad near Delhi. They then demanded that
    the Indian authorities release their colleagues. Instead the Indians
    attacked their hideout. Sheikh Omar was injured and arrested. (He
    was later released in a swap deal for the passengers of a hijacked
    Indian aircraft.) Ilyas escaped unhurt.
    On February 25, 2000, the Indian army killed 14 civilians in
    the village of Lonjot in Pakistan-administered Kashmir after its
    commandos had crossed the Line of Control (LoC) that separates
    the two Kashmirs. They returned to the Indian side with abducted
    Pakistani girls, and threw the severed heads of three of them at
    the Pakistani soldiers manning their side. The very next day, Ilyas
    conducted a guerilla operation against the Indian army in Nakyal
    sector after crossing the LoC with 25 fighters from 313 Brigade.
    They kidnapped an Indian army officer and beheaded him. This
    officer’s head was then paraded in the bazaars of Kotli, in Pakistani
    Ilyas’s deadliest operation took place in the Aknor cantonment
    in Indian-administered Kashmir against the Indian armed forces
    following the massacre of Muslims in the Indian city of Gujarat in
  1. In this, he planned attacks involving 313 Brigade divided into
    two groups. Indian generals, brigadiers, and other senior officials
    were lured to the scene of the first attack. Two generals were injured
    (in contrast, the Pakistan Army did not manage to injure a single
    Indian general in three wars), and several brigadiers and colonels
    were killed. This was one of the most telling setbacks for India in
    the long-running insurgency in Kashmir.
    With Kashmiri’s immense expertise in Indian operations, he
    stunned Al-Qaeda leaders with the suggestion that expanding the
    theater of war was the only way to overcome the present impasse.
    He presented the suggestion of conducting such a massive operation
    in India that it would bring India and Pakistan to war. With that,
    all proposed operations against Al-Qaeda would be brought to a
    grinding halt. Al-Qaeda excitedly approved the proposal to attack
    India. Kashmiri then handed over the plan to a very able former
    army major, Haroon Ashik, who was also a former LeT commander
    who was still very close to LeT chiefs Zakiur Rahman Lakhvi and
    Abu Hamza. Haroon knew about an ISI plan for a low-profile
    routine proxy operation in India through LeT. It had been in the
    pipeline for several months but the official policy was to drop it. The
    former army major, with the help of Ilyas Kashmiri’s men in India,
    hijacked the ISI plan and turned it into the devastating attacks that
    shook Mumbai on November 26, 2008 and brought Pakistan and
    India to the brink of war.
    According to investigations, the attackers traveled across the
    Arabian Sea from Karachi, hijacked the Indian fishing trawler
    Kuber, killing the crew, then entered Mumbai in a rubber dinghy.
    The first events took place at around 20:00 Indian Standard Time
    (IST) on November 26, 2008, when ten Urdu-speaking men in
    inflatable speedboats came ashore at two locations in Colaba. They
    targeted the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, the Leopold Café, the Taj
    Mahal and Oberoi Trident hotels, and the Jewish Center in Nariman
    House. They held people hostage and then killed them. The drama
    continued for almost 72 hours. The entire world was stunned by
    26/11. It was almost identical to 9/11 in that it aimed to provoke
    India to invade Pakistan in the same manner as 9/11 prompted the
    United States to attack Afghanistan. The purpose of 26/11 was to
    distract Pakistan’s attention from the “War on Terror,” thereby
    allowing Al-Qaeda the space to manipulate its war against NATO
    in Afghanistan.
    However, the decision makers in Washington had read between
    the lines. They rushed to India and Pakistan to calm nerves and
    prevented a war from breaking out. Significantly though, during
    the time Pakistan and India stood eye to eye, the fighting between
    Pakistan’s military and Al-Qaeda militants came to a complete
    halt. While the sword of an Indian invasion was hanging over the
    head of Pakistan, the militants were saying Qunut-e-Nazla (prayers
    in days of war) that they would not be forced to fight against a
    Muslim army. They prayed that Al-Qaeda and the Pakistan Army
    would join and fight India together, instead. Timely US intervention
    had prevented this, but while the Pakistan military was readying
    for a showdown with India, the militants availed themselves of the
    opportunity to mount attacks on NATO supply lines in the Khyber
    Agency. This left Pakistan with no choice but to close down the
    transportation link between Pakistan and Afghanistan for several
    days during December 2008.
    This had a devastating effect on the NATO forces in Afghanistan,
    especially those based in the provinces of Ghazni, Wardak, and
    Helmand. NATO troops there faced serious fuel shortages and had
    to suspend operations. Due to the tense situation on its eastern
    borders with India, Pakistan’s participation in “Operation Lion
    Heart” was tepid, and it was forced to strike a deal with the Taliban,
    on their terms, in Swat at the beginning of 2009.
    Several actions followed, including a new operation in the Swat
    Valley, operations in South Waziristan and Mohmand, and the
    killing of Baitullah Mehsud. But these did not faze the militants.
    Their retaliation came in the form of an attack on the military
    headquarters in Rawalpindi on October 10, 2009, and a high-profile
    massacre of some of Pakistan’s military officers in Rawalpindi’s
    military mosque during Friday prayers on December 4, 2009.
    Behind these events a new Al-Qaeda A Thousand and One Nights
    tale was unfolding which saw an overstretched US army having to
    send an additional 30,000 troops to the Afghan theater of war.
    Meanwhile Al-Qaeda was already redrawing the boundaries for the
    next phase of the war, which was to stretch from the Central Asian
    republics down to South Asia, along the Hindu Kush mountains,
    into the cities of Pakistan, and outside the country. Tuned in to this
    strategy, Kashmiri was appointed the new chairman of Al-Qaeda’s
    military committee. His strategy envisaged new theaters of war in
    Somalia and Yemen, which aimed at severing the Western trade
    routes through those countries. His aim was to turn Yemen into the
    strategic backyard for Al-Qaeda’s operation in the Middle East and
    hence provide support to an Al-Qaeda-led Iraqi resistance, while
    initiating an insurgency in Saudi Arabia. Kashmiri’s war perspective
    in South Asia was to expand Al-Qaeda’s Afghan–Pakistan operation
    into India. The CIA and ISI were both aware of what Kashmiri
    was up to, and from February 2009 until September 14 (according
    to information provided by the ISI) CIA drones targeted him three
    times. In the last attack he was pronounced dead, with Washington
    officially celebrating his demise as a defining moment in the “War
    on Terror.”
    However, I was invited to North Waziristan by the 313 Brigade
    and taken to Angorada, situated at the crossroads of South
    Waziristan and Afghanistan, where on October 9, 2009, Kashmiri
    gave me an interview which was intended to quash all the rumors
    that he had been killed.
    “Al-Qaeda’s regional war strategy, in which they have hit Indian
    targets, is actually to chop off American strength,” he told me.
    “So should the world expect more Mumbai-like attacks?” I asked.
    “Mumbai was nothing compared with what has already been
    planned for India in the future,” Kashmiri answered.
    Subsequently a number of people, allegedly from Kashmiri’s
    group, were arrested in the United States. They readily confessed
    to planning an attack on the National Defense College in Delhi,
    India, which aimed at killing all of the top brass of the Indian
    military assembled there. They also underscored that there were
    targets other than Delhi and Mumbai for the purpose of opening
    a new theater of war in India. The aim was to keep Pakistan and
    India engaged in hostilities, which would provide a breathing space
    to enable Al-Qaeda and its Taliban allies to realize their objectives
    in Afghanistan. They admitted to pursuing a similar strategy, but
    at a much lower level, throughout Europe, as well as planning a
    possible attack on the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, which
    had published allegedly blasphemous cartoons featuring the Prophet
    Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) in 2005.
    From 9/11 Al-Qaeda developed a politics of war and peace.
    It maneuvered through peace accords in Pakistan to create an
    enlarged space to wage war. It sabotaged the peace process by war.
    And this remains a never-ending process until a final victory can be

By Editor

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