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'Al Qaeda has become Pakistani phenomenon'
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Coverage: Benazir Bhutto assassinated

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December 29, 2007 14:31 IST
Last Updated: December 29, 2007 15:10 IST

Al Qaeda [Images], blamed for the killing of ex-premier Benazir Bhutto [Images], is now 'a Pakistani phenomenon' as sectarian and 'jihadi' groups in the country have joined the terror network after the government crackdown on them since the launch of peace process with India, a media report said on Saturday.

"Clearly, Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan does not just comprise Arabs and Uzbeks and Tajiks. It also comprises Pakistanis; and among such Pakistanis it comprises Pathans and Punjabis and possibly Urdu speakers who constitute the Pakistani Taliban," the Daily Times said in an article.

"Certainly, it is known that a number of Pakistani sectarian and jihadi Sunni organisations have joined the Al Qaeda network after the government launched efforts to disband them since the 'peace process' started with India. So Al Qaeda is now as much a Pakistani phenomenon as it is an Arab or foreign element."

The government on Friday held the Al Qaeda responsible for a series of suicide bombings meant to destabilize Pakistan, including the attack in Rawalpindi on Bhutto on Thursday that killed her and nearly 30 others. It said it had intelligence intercepts of Pakistani Taliban leader, Baitullah Mehsud, congratulating another person for the attack.

"Why is it difficult to believe that the same Islamist network that tried to eliminate President (Pervez) Musharraf, (former premier) Shaukat Aziz, (ex-interior minister) Aftab Sherpao and Benazir Bhutto on October 18 may be responsible for her murder on December 27," the newspaper article said.

"The first three have overtly been involved in the 'war against terror' while Bhutto had pledged many times to wipe out the extremists and terrorists if she was returned to power. All were seen as American agents or puppets." 

"Indeed, in many of the Al Qaeda attacks on the armed forces and paramilitary forces, especially those in Islamabad and Rawalpindi, low-level 'insider' elements with contacts with the Lal Masjid, which was part of the Al Qaeda network, are known to have been involved," the article said.

"How else can one explain the Al Qaeda attacks on ISI buses in Islamabad in which civilian employees of the agency have been killed?"

Pointing out at Baitullah Mehsud, the newspaper said 'an Al Qaeda-Taliban warlord based in Waziristan,' had said he had trained 'hundreds of suicide bombers' and was determined to kill Bhutto because she was an 'American agent.'

Insisting that there is 'not much room for doubt' about Al Qaeda being 'a Pakistani phenomenon,' it wrote: "Ayman Al-Zawahiri, the number two Al Qaeda man, has already gone public in his exhortations to Pakistanis to overthrow the Musharraf regime. Indeed, last September Osama bin Laden declared a 'jihad' against the Musharraf regime.

The article said Bhutto's killing raised two important questions -- who killed her and why, and impact of her death on her Pakistan People's Party and Pakistani politics.

"Most Pakistanis are by instinct inclined to believe that the 'agencies' did it. This is the easy explanation for anything that happens in this country which is either inexplicable or unpalatable," it said.

"All political assassinations in Pakistan remain inexplicable... But the truth of Bhutto's assassination may also be subliminally unacceptable to many Pakistanis because a religious or 'Islamist' element may be at its unpleasant core," it said.

"Now Al Qaeda's primary targets are President Musharraf and Maulana Fazlur Rehman (Islamic alliance MMA leader) and its sole objective is to destabilise Pakistan and sow the seeds of anarchy by scuttling its halting transition to a moderate democracy."

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