Newspaper Articles

Saleem Shahzad, Al Qaeda and ISI

Murdered journalist’s findings show Al Qaeda is winning in nuclear Pakistan more effectively than in Somalia and Yemen

By Khaled Ahmed

Anyone who has read Inside Al Qaeda and the Taliban: Beyond Bin Laden and 9/11 by Saleem Shahzad (Pluto Press 2011) will come to the following conclusions:

1) It is Al Qaeda rather than the Taliban who plan militant attacks in Pakistan and that the Taliban execute no operations without the permission of Al Qaeda; 2) Jihadi organisations are subservient to Al Qaeda at the same time as some are also extensions of the Pakistan Army; 3) TTP was shaped by Al Qaeda through Uzbek warlord Tahir Yuldashev after the 2007 Lal Masjid affair; 4) ‘Retired’ army officers earlier handling proxy jihad defected to Al Qaeda but continued to use contacts within the military on behalf of Al Qaeda; 5) Benazir was killed by Al Qaeda and not Baitullah Mehsud; he was merely an instrument; 6) Mumbai was done by Al Qaeda through former Pakistan Army officers with help from Lashkar-e-Tayba (LeT) without the knowledge of the ISI despite the fact that LeT was on ISI’s leash; 7) Army officers or freedom fighters trained by army for Kashmir jihad spearheaded Al Qaeda’s war against Pakistan Army; 8 ) Islamic radicalisation of Pakistani society and media mixed with fear of being assassinated by Al Qaeda agents – who include ex-army officers – have tilted the balance of power away from the state of Pakistan to Al Qaeda; 9) Punjabi Taliban are under Haqqani Network which is supposed to be aligned with Pakistan Army; 10) Pakistan Army has ex-officers in Al Qaeda as well as serving officers collaborating with these ex-officers.

Saleem Shahzad, who enjoyed the confidence of many Al Qaeda militants and never betrayed their whereabouts, writes: ‘There were at least 600,000 youths there since 1979. At least 100,000 Pakistanis were active members or different Jihadi cadres. Over 1 million students were enrolled in various Islamic seminaries, and there were several hundred thousand supporters of Pakistan’s Islamic religious parties. The main handler of the Afghan Jihad against the Soviets had been Pakistan’s army, which itself was not immune to the influence of radicalism. Several army officers had pledged their allegiance (bait) to different Jihadi spiritual leaders, including Maulana Akram Awan of Chakwal. These groups were known in the Pakistan Army as pir bhai groups. Although General Pervez Musharraf had purged some of these elements from the Pakistan Army after 9/11, including his very close friend, the then deputy chief of army staff, Lt Gen Muzaffar Usmani, he was unable to completely eradicate the radical tendency, which had become deep-rooted in Pakistan’s security services during the period from 1979 to 2001’ (p. 9)

Al Qaeda bent its principles constantly to take more allies on board. One was Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LJ): ‘Slowly and gradually this strategy began to work, and brought thousands of new recruits into the Al Qaeda fold. Among them were two well-known brothers, Dr Akmal Waheed and Dr Arshad Waheed, from Karachi who were now linked to Al Qaeda through Jundullah. Dr Arshad Waheed was later killed in Wana in South Waziristan in a CIA drone strike, and soon afterwards Al Qaeda’s media wing Al Sahab released a documentary on his life and exploits to inspire the younger generation. Subsequently several army officers joined the Al-Qaeda cadre’ (p. 9).

Radicalisation was facilitated by Jamaat-e-Islami: ‘Its student wing had been formed in the 1948 as the offshoot of Jamaat-e-Islami, and by the 1970s it dominated all the country’s major educational institutions, including the University of Karachi, University of Punjab, and University of Peshawar. Most of the middle-class members of Pakistan’s leadership had belonged to the IJT as students, including Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, Pakistan Muslim League leaders Javed Hashmi and Ehsan Iqbal, Pakistani law minister Dr Babar Awan, and almost 80 percent of Urdu-language newspaper and electronic media opinion writers and television talk show anchors in Pakistan’ (p. 10).

Uzbeks that Al Qaeda brought to Waziristan were critical in forming the violent mood of the militants: ‘Tahir Yuldashev played a key role in the recruiting of such tribal militants as Abdullah Mehsud. Yuldashev headed an Uzbek force of 2,500 men. The Uzbeks were to give the Pakistani militants lessons in brutality to establish a reign of terror: their tactics included routinely slitting the throats of their foes’ (p. 13).

Al Qaeda’s central hero was Captain Khurram Ashiq of the Pakistan Army who was followed by his brother Major Haroon Ashiq to become Al Qaeda’s hand that wielded the sword: Khurram was an assault commander of the elite anti-terrorist Zarrar Coy from Pakistan’s Special Service Group (SSG) in 2001 when he flipped after 9/11. Because of his Salafi background he was shaped into a warrior by LeT. He wrote to Saleem Shahzad about his brother too. ‘Major Haroon Ashiq hung up his boots right after 9/11. On his release from service, he joined LeT. One of my unit officers Major Abdul Rahman also followed suit. I joined the outfit soon after, without caring for the consequences’ (p. 83).

For Captain Khurram faith came before country. While on a UN mission in Sierra Leone he clearly demonstrated it: ‘Khurram built a mosque and a Madrassa in Sierra Leone, despite the opposition of his commander, Brigadier Ahmad Shuja Pasha, later chief of the ISI’ (p. 85). Both brothers had joined the LeT, but had soon ‘realised that the LET was just an extension of Pakistan’s armed forces’ (p. 86).

Al Qaeda’s central hero was Captain Khurram Ashiq of the Pakistan Army who was followed by his brother Major Haroon Ashiq to become Al Qaeda’s hand that wielded the sword: Khurram was an assault commander of the elite anti-terrorist Zarrar Coy from Pakistan’s Special Service Group (SSG) in 2001 when he flipped after 9/11. Because of his Salafi background he was shaped into a warrior by LeT. He wrote to Saleem Shahzad about his brother too. ‘Major Haroon Ashiq hung up his boots right after 9/11. On his release from service, he joined LeT. One of my unit officers Major Abdul Rahman also followed suit. I joined the outfit soon after, without caring for the consequences’ (p. 83).

For Captain Khurram faith came before country. While on a UN mission in Sierra Leone he clearly demonstrated it: ‘Khurram built a mosque and a Madrassa in Sierra Leone, despite the opposition of his commander, Brigadier Ahmad Shuja Pasha, later chief of the ISI’ (p. 85). Both brothers had joined the LeT, but had soon ‘realised that the LET was just an extension of Pakistan’s armed forces’ (p. 86).

Source: The Friday Times

About the author

Guest Post

2 Comments

Click here to post a comment
  • Who killed Saleem Shahzad?
    By Khaled Ahmed

    President of All Pakistan Newspaper Society (APNS) Hameed Haroon says Saleem Shahzad had told him that he was receiving threats from the ISI.

    He thus endorsed a similar claim made by Ali Dayan of Human Rights Watch, which the ISI had condemned as false. Another victim of the agency hoods, reporter Umar Cheema, has confirmed in his article in The New York Times (14 June 2011) that the people who thrashed him nearly to death had made it clear that they were not Taliban or al Qaeda.

    After what Saleem Shahzad has revealed in his book Inside Al Qaeda and the Taliban: Beyond Bin Laden and 9/11 (Pluto Press 2011), other more dreadful possibilities are open for consideration. It could be somebody representing al Qaeda inside the ISI. The book actually tells us how deeply the Pakistan Army is infected. Saleem was a confidant of such a group of officers and could have been killed for revealing too much when he wrote about how Ilyas Kashmiri had attacked PNS Mehran after failing to cow the naval chief into releasing the arrested al Qaeda members found embedded in the navy.

    Saleem got the inside track on al Qaeda starting with Captain Khurram Ashiq, who had defected to al Qaeda to die fighting the Nato troops in Helmand in Afghanistan. Khurram’s brother, Major Haroon Ashiq, followed him to North Waziristan along with another officer, Major Abdul Rehman. The Ashiq family was Salafi and the brothers were steeped in Ibn Taymiyya and Syed Qutb, the two presiding saints of al Qaeda. They believed in the Ghazwa-e-Hind hadith and thought the End of the World was near with armies of Imam Mehdi rising from Khurasan (Afghanistan-Pakistan).

    Haroon left the army and joined Lashkar-e-Taiba which he told Saleem was an extension of the army. Alienated from the army under Musharraf, he joined Harkatul Jihad alAlami (HUJI) and thus got closer to al Qaeda. As an al Qaeda terrorist, Haroon enjoyed contacts inside the army: “Haroon developed a silencer for the AK-47. This became an essential component of al Qaeda’s special guerrilla operations. He then visited China to procure night-vision glasses. The biggest task was to clear them through the customs in Pakistan. Haroon called on his friend Captain Farooq, who was President Musharraf’s security officer. Farooq went to the airport in the president’s official car and received Haroon at the immigration counter.

    In the presence of Farooq, nobody dared touch Haroon’s luggage and the night-vision glasses arrived in Pakistan without any hassle [Farooq was a member of the Hizbut Tahrir, a fact discovered by the military intelligence as late as nine months later his posting as Musharraf’s security officer. After being spotted, he was briefly arrested and then retired from the Pakistan Army.]” (p.88)

    Haroon is now in Adiala jail in Rawalpindi after failing to kidnap an Ahmadi, Sarwar Khan, in 2009: ‘In custody he admitted to killing Major General Alavi and kidnapping Hindu filmmaker Satish Anand with the help of one Major Basit from Karachi. After he discovered that Anand had no money to give he released him on orders from al Qaeda’s Ilyas Kashmiri — ‘if he embraced Islam’ — which Anand immediately did. Later al Qaeda decided that to refill its empty coffers it will abduct only non-Muslims, in particular, Ahmadis’ (p.95).

    Saleem Shahzad’s book highlights the dominance of al Qaeda in Pakistan, including a highly infected Pakistan Army, and gives only a marginal status to its ancillary terrorists. The Punjabi Taliban he subordinates to the Haqqani Network, which in turn is a wing of al Qaeda but is known as a protégé of the Pakistan Army.

    Published in The Express Tribune, June 19th, 2011.

  • i feel sad about the death of saleem shahzad. but after reading few of his observations about PAK ARMY and few disgruntled soilders i think he was working for some externl masters. saleem shahzad might hav minted lot of money and his family would be enjoying the perks provided by his mentors but one has to loose life in this dirty work. anyway may Allah bless his soul