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The Rediff Special/Vikram Sood
Did Osama miscalculate?
December 20, 2004
Vikram Sood, former chief of the Research & Analysis Wing, asks if Osama bin Laden miscalculated when he initiated the 9/11 attacks. Exclusive to rediff.com
By the middle of 2001, the Taliban, along with their friends in Al Qaeda and the powerful Pakistani establishment, had begun to get weary of the unending resistance from the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan.
That wily commander and Tajik leader, Ahmed Shah Masood, just would not give up. He continued to do battle from his stronghold in the far north -- in Panjshir -- where he had taken on the might of the Soviet Empire and pushed it back.
Masood was the last obstacle to establishing Taliban rule in Afghanistan and making that country truly Islamic.
He had to go.
Months of planning and two assassins eventually succeeded in murdering Ahmed Shah Masood on September 9, 2001.
The country was up for grabs now, with the Taliban as the only real viable force in Afghanistan. They had the backing of Pakistan and support of the Al Qaeda. Strategic depth was a reality for the Pakistanis for a short period on September 9.
From Afghanistan, the Islamists could fan out into the resource rich Central Asian republics from Kazakhstan to Turkmenistan.
Why stop there? There was Chechnya beckoning, and the Green Flag would fly from the Morocco to Pakistan and parts of Europe.
There had been Islamic web sites in the UK and elsewhere who proudly displayed the world under a green flag by the end of the 21st century. These were dismissed as harmless dreams permitted in liberal England, home to all such dissidents from the oppressive Third World.
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This dream seemed a reality by the afternoon that Masood died. Together with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, one of whose leaders (Tohir Abdouhalilovich Yuldashev) had taken shelter in Pakistan --and the shadowy Hizbut Tehrir, Al Qaeda and the Taliban could now dream of an Islamic Caliphate in the region.
Yuldeshev had also seen action in Chechnya, while his other compatriot from Namangan in Uzbekistan, Jumaboi Khajaev (later known as Juma Namangani) had similarly participated in the civil war in Tajikistan and moved around in Afghanistan.
In 1998, the IMU joined Osama's International Islamic Front. Osama had probably hoped that it would get him some nuclear material from Uzbekistan.
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Initially the IMU's aim was to establish an Islamic state in Uzbekistan, but by early 2001 it had become more ambitious. The party renamed itself as the Islamic Party of Turkestan -- IPT -- and wanted to establish a Caliphate comprising China's Xinjiang province, and all the Muslim Central Asian Republics.
By mid-2001, the blueprint for such a Caliphate was ready and was beyond the stage of dreams on web sites.
Once Afghanistan had come under firm Taliban and Al Qaeda control, all the Uzbek, Chechen, and Uighur jihadis that had been trained and sheletered in camps along the Afghan-Pakistan border and in Waziristan and Afghanistan would have added to the strength of others ready to take battle to Central Asia.
Gradually the Islamists would have tightened their control over areas traditionally in the Russian domain of influence or territories. Like the IMU/IPT, the Hizbut Tehrir also believes in establishing a Caliphate from Xinjiang to Turkmenistan, but has so far said that this should be done through political means.
Masood's assassination also freed the Pakistani establishment on one front.
The masters of the different jihadi organisations in Pakistan now felt that they could now take battle into India with renewed vigour and there was going to be no stopping them.
Other Caliphates on the South Asian subcontinent and on to South East Asia were on their way.
In this situation it is doubtful if incidents like the December 13, 2001 attack in New Delhi would have stirred the US beyond the usual mild reprimand and the advisory to the Indians to solve the problem of Kashmir with the Pakistanis.
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The US was too involved with itself to have taken any note of the creeping threat in Asia and Europe. In any case, as events subsequently showed, they did not have the information anyway. They would have realised it too late and the pity of it is that they would have reacted the same way as now.
Then September 11 happened.
America and the world reacted with the utmost fury. The gains from Masood's assassination for the terrorists dissipated in almost a flash. The two acts, generally attributed to the same umbrella outfit, seemed to be contradictory in intent.
The hatred for US, barring a few angry Muslims in the Arab world, turned into a wave of sympathy for the Americans.
It is another matter that American genius has turned this fund of goodwill into distrust, fear and scorn.
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Did Osama not expect this reaction? Did he assume that the US would do what it had done after Nairobi, Dar es Salaam or after USS Cole was attacked?
Did he overestimate the ability of the American intelligence and security apparatus and presume that some of the groups would be apprehended?
Perhaps he did not expect all four hijackings to take place and was hoping that maybe one or two might get through.
Nor did he expect three of them to get to their targets so accurately.
In the end, was even Osama surprised at the sensational success and at the ease of the operation? Was the sheer enormity of the success also its failure?
The Americans gave vent to their anger in and on Afghanistan.
But the culprits could not be found -- dead or alive.
The hunters could not bring home any trophy so the quarry changed -- or maybe it did not really change and just became a target of opportunity.
Saddam Hussein became the new target, at considerable cost to humanity and civilisation.
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Whatever the Americans gained in Afghanistan has been lost in Iraq. The world is about to see a vicious and long drawn out round of bloodletting.
Just as the Americans have introspected on the failures to prevent September 11, so it seems have the attackers.
Not that they are sorry that so many innocents died but that it sent out alarm bells all over the globe; instead, if they had been patient, waited after September 9, 2001 and worked surreptitiously to consolidate their gains through the Taliban, then the likes of UNOCAL would have dealt with them.
Armed with this and other similar symbolism, they would have got the breathing space to undermine Russia's poor but resource rich and nuclear south.
The long spells of silence from Osama in recent weeks and criticism by the ultra-fundamentalist takfiris in Saudi Arabia about the attacks inside Saudi Arabia would indicate that some such introspection is on.
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There could be a change of tactics.
Instead of the spectacular 9/11 kind of attacks, the world could see more of the Madrid or the USS Cole type attacks -- nibbling away at Europe and targeting Americans away from the mainland without inviting any hyper reaction.
Osama knows the answers to this. And no one knows where he is.
The Pakistani corps commander handling the Waziristan operation has said quite categorically that Osama is not in Waziristan. General Musharraf has said that Osama is alive.
How does General Musharraf know this? Maybe because Al Qaeda is no longer just a concept and Pakistan is now Al Qaeda, clandestine nuclear vending included.
Vikram Sood retired as RAW chief last year.