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In India, Hillary drops the Zawahiri bomb on Pakistan

Last updated on: May 8, 2012 14:34 IST

In India, Hillary drops the Zawahiri bomb on Pakistan

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US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's remarks that Washington is intent upon going after those who are trying to keep Al Qaeda operational and inspirational is a veiled threat to Islamabad, writes Amir Mir.

At a time when Pakistan and the United States are struggling to break the standoff in their troubled relationship, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has fired a fresh salvo at Islamabad, saying that Al Qaeda chief Dr Ayman Al Zawahiri was hiding in Pakistan, thus upping the ante again and further delaying the resolution of the impasse.

Relations between the two countries had been affected after a NATO airstrike on two checkposts that had killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November 2011. While reacting, the Pakistani establishment had suspended the NATO supply line to Afghanistan, asking the US to formally apologise for the killing of the Pakistani soldiers.

However, the US administration is not ready to apologise, thinking that doing so in an election year could badly affect President Barack Obama's re-election campaign. The US refusal to apologise has caused a dilemma for the decision-makers in Islamabad, amidst US media reports that if Pakistan did not restore the NATO supply route in the next few weeks, it might face international economic sanctions under the United Nations Security Council resolution.

Hillary's statement about Zawahiri's possible presence in Pakistan should be seen against the backdrop of these developments.

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Image: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton interacts with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
Photographs: PIB Photo

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In India, Hillary drops the Zawahiri bomb on Pakistan

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The US secretary of state told an audience in India on May 7, a week after the one-year anniversary of Osama bin Laden's killing in Pakistan: "We want to disable Al Qaeda and we have made a lot of progress in doing that. You have to go over those who are trying to kill you. You have to be focussed on that. There are several significant leaders still on the run. Zawahiri, who inherited the leadership from bin Laden, is somewhere, we believe, in Pakistan."

Clinton further said that Washington is intent upon going after those who are trying to keep Al Qaeda operational and inspirational, and that it was in Islamabad's interest to pursue terrorists who are operating in Pakistani territory.

Clinton's statement, which is going to create more problems for Pakistan, came 24 hours after an anti-terrorism court judge in Lahore issued arrest warrants for Ayman al-Zawahiri for his involvement in the abduction of an American national working with the USAID, Dr Warren Weinstein.

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Image: Al Qaeda chief Dr Ayman Al Zawahiri


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The American national was abducted by 11 unidentified men from his rented house-cum-office in J-Block, Model Town, Lahore, on August 13, 2010. On December 1, 2011, almost 15 months after the incident, Zawahiri had claimed responsibility for the abduction of the 70-year-old US aid expert, saying that he would be freed if the US stopped drone strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan, among other demands.

"Just as the Americans detain whoever they suspect may be connected to Al Qaeda or the Taliban even in the slightest of ways, we have detained this man who has been involved with the US aid to Pakistan since the 1970s," Zawahiri said in the 31-minute video.

While responding to Clinton's claim, Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Khar has said the Pakistani government has no information about the presence of Zawahiri in the country.

Hina added, "If anybody has any information about Zawahiri, they should share it with Pakistan."

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Image: Hillary with Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Khar
Photographs: US State Department

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In India, Hillary drops the Zawahiri bomb on Pakistan

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It is not for the first time that the US has described Pakistan as Zawahiri's hiding place. 

US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta had stated during his visit to Afghanistan on July 9, 2011, that Zawahiri was living in Pakistan's tribal areas, and that the US would like to see the Pakistanis target him. Almost two months later, on September 14, 2011, Pentagon spokesman George Little reiterated the same.

Asked about the American claim of Zawahiri's presence in Pakistan, a senior security official in Rawalpindi said instead of making public statements, the American officials should share information with their Pakistan counterparts.

In fact, the US is turning up the heat on Pakistan to hunt down Zawahiri ever since he was formally appointed the new Al-Qaeda ameer (chief) on June 16, 2011, following Osama's death.

According to well-informed diplomatic circles in Islamabad, while seeking credible intelligence-sharing, US intelligence agencies have provided their Pakistani counterparts a list of over two dozen high-value Al Qaeda and Taliban targets allegedly sheltering in Pakistan, with Zawahiri being the immediate target of the Americans.

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Image: US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta
Photographs: US State Department

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Zawahiri, one of the founders of the international terror group, has played a significant role in the organisation for over a decade as Osama's number two. Even before his elevation, he was widely regarded as the de facto leader and public face of Al Qaeda.

He actually became the public face of Al Qaeda after the US-led allied forces had invaded Afghanistan in 2001.

Since then, he has released fiery messages on jihad via video and audio tapes.

US intelligence sleuths stationed in Pakistan believe that Zawahiri seized control of Al Qaeda's organisational set-up long ago and rebuilt the terror network into an outfit capable of launching lethal terrorist attacks across the globe, even in the US and the United Kingdom.

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Image: A file photo of Osama bin Laden with Zawahiri


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The only credible indication of Zawahiri's presence in Pakistan came in the aftermath of the bloody Operation Silence, carried out by the Special Services Group of the Pakistan army in July 2007 in Islamabad against the fanatic clerics of Lal Masjid (Red Mosque).

As Pakistani security forces took control of the mosque after a fierce gun battle, they were astonished to discover letters written by Zawahiri to Maulana Abdul Rashid Ghazi and Maulana Abdul Aziz, the cleric brothers who ran the mosque and adjacent seminary, directing them to conduct an armed revolt.

Zawahiri's Lal Masjid connection was confirmed when he later issued a videotape asking Pakistanis to join jihad to avenge the Lal Masjid "bloodshed". Zawahiri's four-minute address was titled 'The Aggression against Lal Masjid'. The video was released by Al Qaeda's media wing, as-Sahab, a few weeks after the military operation conducted by the Musharraf regime came to an end.

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Image: Security personnel outside the Lal Masjid in Islamabad
Photographs: Reuters

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