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Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Osama Bin Laden in Chitral, Pakistan

               Another US Expert Guess or calculated tactical move?

By Farzana Shah

"The mastermind of 9/11 Osama Bin Laden is hiding in northern Osama Bin LadenOsama Bin LadenPakistan i.e Chitral valley taking advantage of high altitude to avoid spotting by radar."

Recently, US experts and CIA have concluded that Osama Bin Laden is in Chitral Valley, a scenic area in NWFP province in Pakistan.

On what basis these claims are made still unknown, but one thing is sure like drone attacks in FATA and NWFP this new "secretly known hide out" of Osama Bin Ladan and possible action against it by CIA has ring bells in intellectual and security circles. Here is why Chitral is critical in current geo political scenario for Pakistan and for US and NATO.

Osama hunt is on, way before 9/11, starting from Saudia to Sudan and then into Afghanistan. He was in FATA as claimed by previous “security assessment” by CIA after 9/11. Now after 8 years, CIA at least has made some "fabulous breakthrough" in finding his hideout.

The breakthrough was made public by leaking the information through the WashingtonDaily News on March 14th claiming that he is hiding in Chitral Valley, which is part of mainland of Pakistan since 1969.

This is not the first time CIA or US media has made such claims. In September 07 a similar story was circulated in the media about Osama Bin Laden’s hideout in Chitral valley.

The most note worthy aspect of this new claim is that it emerged right before Mr. Leon Panetta, CIA director, was about to begin his visit to Pakistan , which clearly shows that CIA had already prepared a concocted list of top priority security issues for its director to take up with Pakistani officials. This matter will be a top priority issue as there is “new evidence” mentioned in Daily News which broke the news story of Osama Bin Laden in these words:

"The U.S. won't say it officially, but an exhaustive investigation by the New York Daily News has zeroed in on Chitral's stunning peaks and deep valleys for the man responsible for the deaths of over 3,000 people on September 11, 2001.

Six U.S. and foreign officials confirmed to The News that northwestern Pakistan's impenetrable Hindu Kush Mountains - which boast some of the world's tallest climbs - in the Chitral region have been eyed as Bin Laden's hideout since 2006 by Osama hunters aiming for the big kill.

A lengthy review of evidence, including recent Predator fly-bys, Bin Laden's tapes since 9/11 and interviews with three dozen experts on al-Qaeda, Pakistan and special operations, point to these vast mountains as the terror chief's most likely haven. "Debriefings of al-Qaeda leaders arrested confirmed this," said Rohan Gunaratna, author of "Inside al-Qaeda."

Two senior foreign officials said the nearby town of Kalam also is suspect.”

First three lines of the above excerpt tell the entire story behind these new psy-ops by CIA using its media propaganda wing. Then there is mention of predators fly bys, why this time CIA was so hesitant to fire some Hellfire missiles if they knew about Osama’s hideout? Why?

It is exasperating to death that a terrorist is known, his crimes are known and now his whereabouts are also known, but instead of taking him down, what a dim-witted action was taken by CIA and US experts by leaking this intelligence in a shadowy daily paper.

On the surface this seems a good story but by carefully analyzing it will reveal that there is much thoughts and plans behind each of these reports which always surface whenever Pakistani is going through a turbulent time.

Pakistani foreign office has already rejected these “findings” by US media outlet calling it fabricated fictitious stories. Leaking such information in advance either helps the culprits, if the information is true which does not seem the case hence the only purpose such psy-ops are launched by CIA is take leverage by pressurizing Pakistan. So what is the purpose of these media reports just when CIA director is about to embark on his official visit to Pakistan other than to pressurize Pakistani government in Islamabad to "Do More".

US Interest in Chitral

US and foreign funded militants under Baitullah Mehsud never liked Swat deal inked between NWFP government and Tehril-e-Nifaz-e-Sharia on 16th February.

Although the deal has brought relative peace in the restive Swat valley, however the proxy-Taliban believed to be funded by CIA are bent upon breaking the deal and provoking the government too to end the deal.

The case of Osama Bin Laden in this region is built since 2006 when FBI officially requested previous government in North West Frontier Province for opening office of the US intelligence agency in the province but that was turned down by both Peshawar and Islamabad as well. This new iteration of old claims by US media is a part of the efforts which will be made during Panetta’s upcoming meetings with Pakistani officials to get old demand served.

These media reports, according to some analysts in Pakistan, are recipe to thwart Swat peace deal by providing an excuse to the proxy-Taliban. In case of any possible attack by CIA in near future in a bid for getting Osama in Nothern Pakistan will provide a good excuse to “Taliban” (foreign funded militants) in Malakand to back off last month’s deal.

Security forces and government infrastructure will be targeted to force NWFP to cancel the deal as well. Most critical infrastructure that can come under threat is near to complete Lowari Tunnel. As it happened in Dara Adam Khel when Friendship Tunnel (in Kohat) was attacked by militants and was damaged during operation to recapture it by security forces.

If Swat deal is being thwarted by CIA or RAW backed elements through Chitral it will have some irreversible consequences for Pakistani security. Militant in Swat and Dir region are finding it difficult after peace deal to carry on there activities so anything wrong in Chitral will trigger these elements and their supporters to cast mayhem in region once again with much more ardor.

Chitral & Pakistani Security:

Getting Chitral under its tab serves many purposes for CIA mainly it will not only facilitate the agency in strengthening the militants in Swat for creating more mayhem in the country, engaging and stretching Pakistan army there resultantly giving another excuse to the world to prove Pakistan a failed state. This ultimately will strengthen demand for snatching Pakistani nuclear weapons on pretext of falling it into the hands of militants.

Badkhshan, Afghan province adjacent to Chitral has been a source of trouble for Pakistani security forces and citizen as well. There are reports that Israeli commandos were there in Badakhshan training militants to fight with Pakistani forces inside Swat.

Charles Ferndale in his analysis published in Arab News on February 22, 2009, says -

“Pakistan must be weakened to the point at which it ceases to operate militarily as a nation. Pakistan is supposed to be the West’s foremost ally in the fight against Islamic militancy, so Israel cannot attack Pakistan directly, and, if Israel did, she would certainly be defeated. So what to do? Well, two strategies come to mind: One, use America to attack Pakistan for you; and two, train and send into the border regions of Pakistan gangs of thugs willing to commit atrocities that will then be blamed on “barbaric Muslim militants”, suggesting that Pakistan has lost control of its territory to dangerous extremists and so may lose control of its nuclear weapons. Is there any evidence that these policies are being pursued by Israel in Pakistan?

Perhaps the best-informed person in Afghanistan has said that he knows for sure that the Israelis are training teams in Badakhshan and are sending them into Pakistan’s border regions to commit atrocities. Two British friends who have covered Afghan wars since 1980, tell me the same thing. Rumors of Israeli-trained provocateurs amongst the tribesmen in the Khyber Agency and in Swat are rife.”

(Source:The Great Game revisited)

In such a case Chitral can serve as transit route to Swat for militants trained by Israel and CIA for fighting against Pakistanis forces to weaken the country and create chaos.

Pakistan since last 6 months is facing all kinds of pressure and criticism locally and internationally being weak and complicit towards US war on terror. This war has brought nothing to region except more war.

It has been noticed by many analysts in Pakistan that Afghanistan has become a spot to slander Pakistan for anyone’s failure. US and West are not ready to look into Afghanistan to solve that problem or at least bring some stability there and keep on accusing Pakistan.

The truth is that cross border intervention is happening on both sides but US and NATO are only concerned with ones going from Pakistan nothing is said about vice versa.

Indians have been busy in destabilizing peace in Swat and adjacent regions and once again Indian moles would be on their toes if they find any opportunity to destroy peace in Makaland division.

Recently independent western analysts also expressed concerns over involvement of Indian Consulates situated in Afghanistan in spewing terrorism in tribal areas of Pakistan.

Swat peace deal is also a problem for Indians as according to reports TNSM (Tehreek Nifas Shariat-i- Mohammadi) will fight Indian elements to flush them out from Swat.

Recently known Pakistani journalist Ansar Abbasi in his report appeared in Daily News on February 18, 2009 wrote “The NWFP administration and Maulana Sufi Muhammad would immediately move to wipe out the RAW elements and criminals from the Malakand division as the government had sufficient evidence of Indian involvement in the Swat lawlessness, a source told The News”.

Situation in Swat may not be ideal for citizens but it is much more stable and peaceful than what it was two months back.

Chitral has no problem of militancy but these reports from US media about Osama’s presence in Chitral will not only bring fear to common people but foreign elements who use al-Qaeda to conceal their activities will also flood Chitral.

Geographically Chitral is critical for Pakistan as it connects Northern Areas to rest of the country, many rivers including Chitral River also flow from here towards South, It is world’s renowned trekking place, etc. So Pakistan will have to follow a strategy to come out of this continuous blame game by Western and US media.

Chitral and militancy, presence of Osama Bin Laden?

The report by Mr James Gordon Meek claiming Northern Pakistan i.e. Chitral to be a probable hiding place for Osama Bin Laden is absolutely absurd on many accounts besides many lies he has put in his report to make it look and sound like a real classified information.

He claimed in the first two lines of his report that Chitral has been “sealed off to outsiders” the claim is no more than an utter lie as nothing of the sort has ever happened rather anyone can go there.

Chitral is composed of closed communities and a stranger is spotted within few hours in the valley as residents know each and every native there hence an outsider has no chance to hide.

Chitral is not a tribal area like FATA rather it is a settled area with only 300,000 population and one of the most peaceful areas in Pakistan and Chitralis are the most peaceful, fun-loving, romantic people in the North, and have faithfully followed the laws of the land, dating back to the colonial era.

It has the lowest crime rate in the country and highest literacy rate in the province (over 45%).

There is no gun culture in Chitral and only a few people have shot guns for duck shooting .

The district has 9 Police stations, 18 Police posts and 20 Posts of Civil armed forces with a network of telephone lines, mobile towers and wireless stations in each nook and corner of the district.

The report by Mr Mr James Gordon Meek has been laced with a map claiming that Garam Chishma area of Chitral is popular Mujahideen route to Afghanistan which is an utter lie because Chitral has never been a part of first Afghan War funded and designed by CIA nor it part of current fight against NATO.

ChitraIis seemed to have a clear understanding of the game that was played by the "super powers" and their boy-toys, the mujahedeen or Taliban. They always knew who was pulling the strings.

Mr Mr James Gordon Meek further claimed "Islamic militancy is taking root in several Chitrali valleys leading to the Afghan border, prompting Pakistan's tourism ministry to decree them off-limits to foreigners," local sources said.

The above claim is such a big lie that even the militants would be smiling in their hideouts over this as this is a news for residents of Chitral too. For decades there had been no militancy nor at the moment any such thing ever noticed in Chitral nor any valley is declared off-limit to anyone.

Chitralis are a different melieu from tribal Pakhtuns (who have been accused of hosting Bin Laden), neither Chitralis are bound by the code of "Pakhtunwali."

The history of Chitralis is different from the rest of Pakistan and their chemistry, habits, customs, approach to religion and issues of security have always been quite at variance with the more aggressive Pakhtuns.

While others beyond the Lowari Pass, and Arandu were engaged in the armed struggle against Soviets and Americans, as a perceived "Muslim cause", Chitralis remained largely aloof and unimpressed by the "Jihad''.

Final Thoughts:

Why these media reports are part of a conspiracy against Pakistan? Why these can’t be authentic? These are legitimate questions to ask. First of all, US media has a history to create fear in Western minds by exaggerating facts. Like it was done in 2003 when the same media was ranting about Iraqi WMDs being dangerous for region. Now once again, same media is busy in creating “safe heavens” of Al-Qaeda in Pakistan when there is no concrete intelligence. Above all it is not the media but the concerned intelligence agencies that have to collect evidences and then present in front of agreed bilateral or international adjudicators.

Solo actions on foreign soils has damaged CIA and US credibility particularly in Pakistan where countless drones attacks have killed scores of civilians along with few militants.

The lives of innocent people could have been saved if US had acted on agreed principle of intelligence sharing and had let Pakistani forces to act.

Chitral is feared to be next spot on earth for countless drone attacks endangering entire Malakand region, which is 1/3rd of NWFP.

Pakistan is going through a political turmoil as political government is in damage control mode after opposition has forced government to reinstate deposed chief justice. Governor rule issue is still burning and PPP government is in a fix again.

Meanwhile foreign meddling in Pakistan is increasing. Apart from potential threats over Chitral, Obama administration has announced to spread operations against Taliban and Al-Qaeda to Baluchistan province which can trigger an even more serious insurgency.

Government of Pakistan must solve pending political issues and must follow national assembly resolution passed last year to avoid any kind of foreign operation inside Pakistan without Pakistani permission. Only a strict stand on national security issues can bring some stability in restless FATA and Baluchistan regions.

Otherwise if today, according to security leaks to US media, Osama can be in Chitral tomorrow he can be in Islamabad or Rawalpindi.

Farzana Shah is a journalist and a security, political analyst based at Peshawar.

- Asian Tribune -