August 25, 2003

Osama deal?

UK newspaper The Guardian reports that Mansoor Ijaz, chairman of Crescent Investment Management and insider in the shadow world of international affairs, is making the sensational claim that the U.S. and Pakistan have made a deal not to arrest Osama bin Laden -- for now. Ijaz also says he knows where bin Laden is hiding. Excerpts:

Bin Laden fled the [Tora Bora] mountains and spent the next six or seven months trying to re-establish his network, according to Mansoor Ijaz, a financier who has spent years tracking his movements and operations. In the small world of international terrorism analysts, Mr Ijaz, an American of Pakistani origin, knows al-Qaida better than most.

Mr Ijaz argues that the flight from Tora Bora badly disrupted al-Qaida's access to electronic communications: satellite phones, radios and email. "Initial communications were stopped and it took them a while to transplant and regroup," he said in an interview. "It was in a place where it was impossible for them to get communications across to anybody."

He suggests Bin Laden is hiding in the "northern tribal areas", part of the long belt of seven deeply conservative tribal agencies which stretches down the length of the mountain ranges that mark Pakistan's 1,500-mile border with Afghanistan.

Mr Ijaz, who has recently visited Pakistan, believes Bin Laden is protected by an elaborate security cordon of three concentric circles, in which he is guarded first by a ring around 120 miles in diameter of tribesmen, whose duty is to reportany approach by Pakistani troops or US special forces.

Inside them is a tighter ring, around 12 miles in diameter, made up of tribal elders who would warn if the outer ring were breached. At the centre of the circles is Bin Laden himself, protected by one or two of his closest relatives and advisers. Bin Laden has agreed with the elders that he will use no electronic communications and will move only at night and between specified places within a limited radius.

Then this:

Mr Ijaz believes an agreement was reached between Gen Musharraf and the American authorities shortly after Bin Laden's flight from Tora Bora. The Pakistanis feared that to capture or kill Bin Laden so soon after a deeply unpopular war in Afghanistan would incite civil unrest in Pakistan and would trigger a spate of revenge al-Qaida attacks on western targets across the world.

"There was a judgment made that it would be more destabilising in the longer term," he said. "There would still be the ability to get him at a later date when it was more appropriate."

The Americans, according to Mr Ijaz, accepted the argument, not least because of the shift in focus to the impending war in Iraq. So the months that followed were centred on taking down not Bin Laden, but the "retaliation infrastructure" of al-Qaida.

For the future, the single greatest task facing the Pakistanis and the Americans will be to tame the powerful elders who run Pakistan's tribal areas and who appear to have given Bin Laden sanctuary. The danger is that the longer he remains uncaught, the bolder and stronger the surviving al-Qaida elements will feel.

"With so much of the retaliation infrastructure gone or unsustainable, Bin Laden's martyrdom does not pose nearly the threat it did a year ago," Mr Ijaz said.

Yet failing to catch the Saudi now could embolden the surviving al-Qaida forces. It was like "watching a radiation-hardened cancerous tumour regenerate and proliferate even more dangerously", he said. "That's why Pakistan must now end the charade and get Bin Laden."

via The Guardian

Posted by Alan at August 25, 2003 09:40 PM