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  September 19, 2008

Al-Qaeda and jihad's tribal connections

Pakistani analyst Khawar Mehdi: The jihad's ideology and leaders Pt3 of 4
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Khawar Mehdi, born in Rawalpindi, is a Pakistani journalist and political analyst. Even before 9/11 he had advised numerous journalists, academics and researchers from North America and Europe working in the tribal areas of Pakistan and in Afghanistan. In 2004 he was imprisoned and tortured by President Pervez Musharraf's regime while investigating the presence of Taliban training camps inside Pakistan. He was released thanks to an international media campaign - after a personal intervention by Musharraf. Mehdi has unparalleled access to sources in Pakistan's FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas). He has been living in Virginia since 2005, working as an analyst/consultant.

In the third part of this series, Pakistani analyst Khawar Mehdi tells Pepe Escobar how al- Qaeda after 9/11 reorganized and established itself in North Waziristan in the tribal areas. But it's not only Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and the historical al-Qaeda leadership that enjoys freedom of movement. There is also the Haqqani family, whose stalwart is fabled 1980s Afghan jihad commander Jalaluddin Haqqani; and another notorious old guard mujahid, Gulbuddiin Hekmatyar, very much favored by the Saudis during the 1980s and an avid practitioner of the politics of jihad. Hekmatyar fighters are even closing in on Peshawar, the capital of the Northwest Frontier Province, using the very popular rationale that "the Americans are now attacking us."


The revamped war on terror exposed

AS-SAHAB PROMOTIONAL VIDEO: Oh, people of the West, don't be fooled by the lies of Blair and Bush that you are free nations, for the only freedom that you have is the freedom to be slaves to your whims and desires.

PEPE ESCOBAR, SENIOR ANALYST (VOICEOVER): Seven years after 9/11, we're still talking about more or less the same players: Osama bin Laden and al-Zawahiri for historic al-Qaeda; Gulbuddin Hekmatyar; Jalaluddin Haqqani, the famous mujahideen, the famous commander in the Afghan jihad in the '80s. Let's start with al-Qaeda. Are they based in the Waziristans? Are they based in Swat? These are two possibilities only. So where is their backbone in the tribal areas?

KHAWAR MEDHI, PAKISTAN ANALYST: Operational planning bases—they definitely have secure areas in tribal areas of Waziristan, especially a very significant presence in North Waziristan, in areas like ["la-wa-ra-mar-dee"], ["mee-da-lee"], and these surroundings, where they used to have their training camps, their other, you know, hideouts. So you can see that the military commander of al-Qaeda, Abu Laith al-Libi, was killed in a air attack in North Waziristan. So we have very significant presence in that area. You can see these Arabs around there, and they are not new for common people.

ESCOBAR: So they enjoy practically 100 percent protection.

MEDHI: Now they are almost part of the tribal society. They are being simply hosted by local people from [inaudible] invaded Afghanistan. So these are old bases of these international jihadis, where you can see that al-Qaeda is really operating. Then comes to very important character in this whole saga of war on terrorism is Jalaluddin Haqqani. Jalaluddin Haqqani is a connection between old and new insurgents or old mujahideen and new terrorist.

ESCOBAR: And there's his sons.

MEDHI: Next generation is involved. He has at least five family members active to organize this all-jihad enterprise in that particular area [inaudible]. He has access even up to Kabul. He was including [inaudible] ground attack on Karzai, including Serena Hotel attack, was simply planned and executed by Haqqani. So his group and network is maybe the most effective network in this middle of the insurgency. You know, when I say middle, it's the eastern wing of insurgency and then a southern wing of insurgency, and he's in the middle of—which is the area called Southeast Paktiya, Paktika, Khost, Waziristan, Kurram Agency, and South Waziristan. So he is strategically very well placed. His connections are very effective. He has old friends in Pakistan military; he has old friend in Kabul, mujahideen, set up. So he is an octopus of this trouble in that area. Then Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar has his reputation from the time of Soviet invasion, and he was a blue-eyed, you know, boy of Pakistan Army. So he still has a good presence in that area. He has a bigger operation in the eastern provinces of Nurestan, Kunar, Nangarhar. Now he's expanding himself into Surobi and Laghman areas. So he is playing quite an important role in this conflict.

ESCOBAR: And all of them are cross-border actors.

MEDHI: All of them. All of them. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar do have presence in Waziristan. His commander's name is ["za-JEE-han"], whose compartment was recently attacked in ["an-GOO-ra-la"], before then ["KO-sher"] of 2 September. He has good influence in Bajaur Agency. Maybe you don't see him [inaudible], but he definitely have a good, you know, support line. But, top of everything, he is the only insurgent group who have a very organized base, working close to Peshawar refugees camp called Shamshatoo. Much more people than Peshawar inside Pakistan. So this is where he controls the area, and I try to, you know, reach out to people, like, I definitely talk with them, off-record basis, and they tell us that no one can operate in this area other than them.

ESCOBAR: And what Hekmatyar wants now?

MEDHI: Hekmatyar wants to come back on the scene of Afghani politics, which he's growing—.

ESCOBAR: As a politician?

MEDHI: Their politics are jihad. It's the only group who have a political wing. So he is doing politics. His affiliated people are in loya jirga. They have significant presence in there. So he definitely want politics. And this is only one reason which just could not help Taliban to march together with Hekmatyar, because he's not ready to accept Mullah Omar as [inaudible].

ESCOBAR: Let's talk about Mullah Omar, who disappeared riding on the back of a Honda 50-cc motorcycle seven years ago, and he disappeared into oblivion. Where is he? What is he up to?

MEDHI: You know, he has several places, you know, in the south and in some area in the west, east of Afghanistan. There are places, though, that are completely in control of Taliban. No one from Karzai or US or NATO forces have access.

ESCOBAR: You're talking about the south and the southwest.

MEDHI: Southwest and, you're right, eastern province [inaudible]

ESCOBAR: Parts of [inaudible]

MEDHI: Yeah, some of area that are completely out of anyone's control, but controlled by Taliban. So he can be anywhere in Helmand, some part of Helmand, some part of Oruzgan, or in Zabul, or some part of Ghazni. Or he can be on this side of the border. These all are safe havens for him. There is one source—while I am not sure how credible he is—was telling me that there are possibilities of Mullah Omar hiding either in Nurestan or in Laghman or in Surobi. Well, Surobi and Laghman—.

ESCOBAR: No American forces in these areas. Retreating from Nurestan.

MEDHI: Well, they are retreating from Nurestan, but definitely there is a good presence of NATO forces is Surobi, where ten French soldiers were killed by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar just recently. They do have good presence in Laghman. But these [inaudible], well, if you call [inaudible], you have very limited access, because there's no communications system there.

ESCOBAR: Let's assume for the sake of argument that the Americans are lucky enough finding ground intelligence and they nab Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Jalaluddin Haqqani, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and Baitullah Mehsud. What would change, ultimately?

MEDHI: Well, nothing would change. I don't see anything big changing on the ground, because this jihad enterprise have developed a very good mechanism of replacement. And it is no more the people; it is about the ideology. They very successfully established an ideology which is pointed towards the West and against all these non-Muslims who are occupying or having decisive control on the Muslim world, of the resources of Muslim world. So it is becoming a greater conflict than it is simply [inaudible].


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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