Follow @southasiaanalys

DID THE ANTHRAX GO TO THE US FROM PAKISTAN?

Paper No. 347        25.10.2001

 

by B.Raman

Did the anthrax, now being used by unidentified elements to create panic and confusion in the US, go there from Pakistan?

There has been anxious, but muted speculation on this following the dissemination of two media reports, independent of each other, on October 24,2001.

The first report emanating from New York and published by the printed media said: " Focus (during the investigation)  is on rogue scientists or people, who have been able to access anthrax from existing stockpiles."

The second report (of the Agence France Presse), emanating from Islamabad and  carried on October 25,2001,  by Pakistan's  "News", said:

"The authorities here (in Islamabad) have detained a former nuclear scientist over links between his relief agency and Taliban regime, a military spokesman here told AFP on Wednesday.

"Sultan Bashiruddin Mehmood, the scientist who helped Pakistan become a nuclear power, has been detained, his family said.  The Government has said the man, a public supporter of Afghanistan's Taliban regime, had been placed in protective custody.

"Relatives of Sultan Bashiruddin Mehmood, who won prestigious Sitar-e-Imtiaz award in 1998, said the arrest was made Tuesday by intelligence officials.  "We don't know on what charges," said Asim Mehmood, the scientist's son.  He said at least two other scientists, friends of his father, were also arrested Tuesday in Lahore.  Mehmood has informed his family that he is safe, his son said.

"Family members said he had been working recently on projects in Afghanistan, including land development, educational reform and developing ways to feed the nation's impoverished population.

"Officials at the PAEC (Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission) said on Wednesday that Mehmood was project director of Pakistan's nuclear programme and had remained in key positions until he retired last year.  His links with Islamic groups and pro-Taliban sentiments had drawn scrutiny from Pakistani security agencies in recent months, sources said.  Asim Mehmood said his father is loyal to Pakistan."  "He has always worked for the betterment of the country," Asim said.

Dr.Sultan Bashiruddin Mehmood, who had designed the Khusab nuclear power station, had resigned from the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission on April 11,1999, following differences with Mr.Nawaz Sharif, the then Prime Minister, over reports that Pakistan was succumbing to US pressure to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). He reportedly felt that this would slow down Pakistan's military nuclear programme.

Like other Islamic extremist groups in Pakistan, he looked upon Pakistan's atomic bomb as the Ummah's bomb and felt that Pakistan should further strengthen this capability in the overall interests of the Ummah and should be prepared to share it with other Islamic countries, which needed it for their self-defence.

He and Dr.Abdul Qadir Khan, the self-styled father of the Pakistani atomic bomb, reportedly had close ties with the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq and with Saudi officials.  Earlier this year, Gen.Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's self-reinstated and self-extended Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), self-styled Chief Executive, self-promoted President and self-proclaimed popular leader, eased out Dr.  Qadir Khan from the nuclear and missile establishment, reportedly due to US concerns over his rogue elephant activities.

Dr.Mehmood was  a designer of nuclear plants and was associated with various nuclear installations in Pakistan.  He had also helped prevent a leakage of heavy water at the Karachi nuclear power plant and the method he used was  patented under his name.

The designing of the Khusab project started in 1985, when the late Mohammed Khan Junejo was the Prime Minister, under the supervision of Dr.Bashiruddin Mehmood, believed to be Canadian-trained, who was previously in charge of starting the construction of the Kahuta uranium enrichment plant before Dr.Abdul Qadir Khan came from Holland and was placed above him and then was shifted to KANUPP (the Karachi Nuclear Power Plant).  Another Pakistani scientist/engineer, who played a leading role in the designing and construction of the Khusab reactor, was the late Afzal Haq Rajput.

Since his resignation, Dr.Mehmood had allegedly developed close ties with the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM) of Pakistan, the Taliban and bin Laden's International Islamic Front For Jehad Against the US and Israel and had been frequently travelling to Kandahar, the headquarters of Mullah Mohammad Omer, the Amir of the Taliban, and bin Laden, under the cover of humanitarian work.  It was alleged that he had also been helping bin Laden in improving the yield from the fruit orchards reportedly owned by him in Afghanistan.

Dr.Mehmood was also advising the various Islamic organisations in their campaign on the nuclear issue.  Under his guidance, they had mounted last year a vociferous campaign against the junta and Mr.Abdul Sattar, the Foreign Minister, on the question of the CTBT.

Addressing a religious congregation at Peshawar on January 11,2000, Qazi Husain Ahmad, the Amir of  the Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI), warned the military rulers of dangerous consequences if they decided to sign the CTBT and attempted to sabotage Pakistan's nuclear programme.   He added: "The whole nation would rise against the rulers.  The courageous and brave people of Pakistan cannot let the rulers compromise over our hard-earned nuclear capability.

" Pakistan's nuclear programme is not only ours, but is that of the whole Muslim Ummah.  A ruler who compromises over the nuclear programme would betray the whole Ummah. "

He strongly criticised Mr. Abdul Sattar who, before joining the Government as Foreign Minister, was a strong opponent of signing the CTBT, and accused him of now acting like an American spokesman and issuing statements favouring Pakistan signing the CTBT.

He asked the military rulers "to refrain from taking a decision which could anger Allah and the nation." He pointed out that Mr.Nawaz Sharif, who let down the nation over the Kargil issue, had to go and warned the present rulers of a similar fate if they let the nation down on the nuclear issue.

In an interview to the "Dawn" (January 13,2000), Maulana Fazlur Rahman, the chief of the Jamiat-ul-Ulema Islam (JUI), said that the nuclear issue was of vital importance to national security and asked the Government not to sign the CTBT.

In a statement issued from Islamabad on January 14,2000, Maulana Fazlur Rahman Khalil, the Amir of the HUM, warned the Musharraf Government that signing the CTBT would literally amount "to a rebellion against Allah Almighty's injunctions" He claimed that Allah, in the Holy Quran, had called for a strong defence capability for the Muslims and said: "Freezing or capping the nuclear programme or signing the CTBT would be an unislamic act and betray the nation."  He accused the US of hatching a conspiracy against the Islamic world's first nuclear programme and called upon the Government to conduct more nuclear tests.

On January 17,2000, a number of Muslim leaders strongly condemned the softness of the Musharraf Government in resisting US pressure on this subject.  Some of their comments were as follows:
 

* Maulana Fazlur Rahman: Signing the CTBT would deprive Pakistan of its nuclear capability.

* Mufti Nizamuddin Shamzai of the Jaish-e-Mohammad: Signing the CTBT would be like signing the death warrant of Pakistan.  Pakistani rulers would be betraying the whole Ummah and the nation.  The military rulers should know, the day they signed the CTBT would be their last day in power.

* Prof Mohammed Ibrahim,  of the JEI: The military rulers had no right to sign the CTBT.  The Government was becoming increasingly subservient to US designs.

In an open letter to Mr.Sattar on January 17,2000, Qazi Husain Ahmad said:" Over the past few weeks, the nation found with alarm and deep concern several indicators pointing to an impending compromise on Pakistan's nuclear policy.  It has become clear that all promises of national consensus and never surrendering to outside pressure have crumbled to dust.  If the present leadership succumbs to US pressure, it will not only compromise the national sovereignty, but will also create a gulf between the army and the people whose confidence and trust in the army on security matters and as a protector of the country's nuclear capability, acquired at enormous cost and suffering, will be badly shaken.  It is hoped this non-reversible Himalayan blunder will not be committed and the nation will be saved from the ignominy which would be worse than Kargil, with highly disastrous consequences."

In the face of this barrage of criticism from the Islamic parties, Mr.Abdul Sattar announced on January 22,2000: " For the security of our country and in view of the dangers around us, each and every Pakistani is convinced that the nuclear deterrence is essential for us.  I should make it clear here that we are not only committed to maintaining the nuclear deterrence, but we will strengthen it also and make it more credible.  This is a very important issue for Pakistan.  In this context, the Government is in no hurry to sign the treaty."

Commenting on the Musharraf Government's succumbing to the pressure from the Islamic parties on the CTBT issue, an article by Rifaat Husain in the "News" of February 6,2000, said: "Led by the Jamaat Islami and egged on by some self-styled nuclear nationalists, the religious right has not only greeted Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar's advocacy of Pakistan's early signature of the CTBT with angry howls of collective "no", but also levelled the unflattering charge of treason against him.

" Stunned by the enormity and severity of this public reaction against the CTBT, the Musharraf Government has begun to argue that it is in no hurry to sign the CTBT…. By conceding the tactical ground to the religious right in the CTBT public debate, the Musharraf Government has made the cardinal mistake of legitimising its patently false stance that the CTBT is bad and dangerous for Pakistan."

In a statement on February 13,2000, the Muttahada Islami Inquilabi Mahaz, another joint front of the Islamic parties, warned the Government that signing the CTBT would be a transgression of the injunctions of the Holy Quran and the Sunnat.

Meeting at Lahore on March 20,2000, about three dozen Islamic organisations, which are members of a front called the Tehrik Tahaffuz Namoos Risalat (TTNR), demanded the formulation of an Islamic nuclear doctrine to ensure the security of the Islamic countries and to counter the Indian nuclear doctrine.  They strongly opposed Pakistan signing the CTBT.

On March 23,2000, the JEI organised a public referendum in its offices all over Pakistan on the CTBT.  It later announced that 95 per cent of the participants had voted against Pakistan signing the CTBT.  Qazi Husain Ahmad said: "If anyone has any doubts about these results, then we ask the Government to hold a referendum on this subject.  The results would substantiate the point.  Any Government decision against the will of the people would lead to a confrontation."

A joint conference of the Islamic parties of Punjab held under the auspices of the JEI at its headquarters at Mansoora on March 27,2000, declared as follows: "The whole nation wishes to live with dignity for which we need to possess the nuclear deterrent.  The military leadership should respect public aspirations; the signing of the CTBT will be tantamount to jeopardising the Muslim identity."

It was Dr. Mehmood who was behind this vicious campaign.  The junta has not given any reasons for the reported arrest of Dr.Mehmood and this has given rise to speculation as to whether he was one of the "rogue scientists" mentioned by the reports from New York.  The questions being asked are: Why was he arrested? Was he suspected in connection with the anthrax scare in the US or was the arrest purely preventive so that he does not come in the way of the allied "war" against the Taliban and bin Laden? Did he play any role in bin Laden's attempts to acquire a weapon of mass destruction (WMD) capability? Was the arrest made by the military junta on its own.  If so, has it kept Washington informed of the evidence against him? If not, was the arrest made at US instance? If so, why did the US want him arrested? Is any further action contemplated against him?Questions without answers from the junta.

In the meanwhile, the death of at least 35 jehadis of the HUM fighting with the Taliban against the Northern Alliance due to the US air strikes has created considerable embarrassment for Musharraf, who has till now been maintaining that the HUM is an India-based indigenous Kashmiri freedom-fighters' organisation despite its offices being located in Pakistan and its leaders indulging in open activities in Pakistani territory and that there are no Pakistanis in the Taliban.

Renowned international defence experts have been saying since the Taliban captured Kabul in September,1996, that it is a largely Pakistani organisation, clandestinely controlled and guided by the military-intelligence establishment.

In a special assessment on the Taliban's fighting potential issued on October 8,2001, the day after the US air strikes started, the "Jane's Defence Weekly" of London stated as follows:

* "The Taliban have displayed an innovative approach to warfare characterised by the use of surprise, mobility, speed, impressive logistics support and an efficient command, control, communications and intelligence (C3I) network.

* " All unusual in the context of warfare in Afghanistan, these elements,       along with other evidence, have lent credence in the past to reports of       involvement at both planning and operational levels by Pashto-speaking       Pakistani military intelligence advisers or technically retired Pakistani       military personnel acting on secondment.  This was the case during the       Taliban's 1998 Summer and Autumn campaign and 1999 Summer offensive.

* "Taliban forces have generally come from three distinct backgrounds: former  students of madrassas (religious schools) in both Pakistan and       Afghanistan, who constitute the ideological core of the movement; former   Mujahideen or jihadi (holy war) groups whose commanders joined the Taliban  for financial or ethnic reasons; and officers of the former pre-1992  Afghan Army, many from the hard line, Pashtun nationalist Khalq (Masses)   wing of the communist party.  The latter have formed a skilled, professional core in artillery, armour, communications and in the air  force, but some of these former communists were purged in late 1998.

* "More recently, another distinct element has been playing an important     military role: Pakistani and Arab religious volunteers. The Arabs, mostly    deployed on front lines north of Kabul, are estimated to number between    500 and 600.  Pakistani volunteers are far more numerous.  By late 1998, as  many as 9,000 to 10,000 Pakistanis were serving in Taliban ranks. These different backgrounds have inevitably resulted in some friction.  To minimise this, Taliban troops are kept in separate units based on       nationality and, in some cases, region, district, or tribe. "

Since the beginning of the US-UK air strikes, at least another 2,000 volunteers from the Binori (Karachi) and other madrasas are estimated to have been rushed to the North to join the jehad against the US declared by the Taliban Amir.

Initially, the US and the UK heeded the request of Musharraf to refrain from bombing the forward positions lest this enable the Northern Alliance capture Kabul.  However, there has been an unannounced change in their position since October 18,2001, when they not only started bombing the forward positions ignoring Musharraf's pleas not to do so, but also concentrating the air strikes against the 055 Brigade of bin Laden and the Pakistani units, which are identifiable distinctly.

Reports from the North say that the American commanders, who have been surprised by the continuing good morale of the Taliban leadership, the unity of its leaders and by their dogged resistance, have concluded that it is the presence of the large number of well-trained Pakistani jehadis and Arabs which has been preventing the collapse of the Afghan component of the Taliban.  They seem to feel that till the Arabs and the Pakistanis are neutralised, the Taliban cannot be defeated.

This has been resulting in increasing number of casualties among the Pakistanis.  The initial refusal of the Pakistani junta to let the dead bodies of the HUM jehadis killed by US strikes be brought to Karachi for burial on October 24 under  the pretext that they were not Pakistanis led to violent demonstrations in Karachi with the Police being forced to open fire to control the demonstrators.  Ultimately, the military junta relented and let the bodies be taken to Karachi.

The USA seems to be determined to continue the air strikes on the Pakistani units with the Taliban even at the risk of the continued arrival of body bags in Karachi, Peshawar, Quetta and Lahore inflaming the local population and weakening further the position of Musharraf.

It is said in Islamabad that the US military  commanders have started showing signs of disquiet over the wisdom of depending on the assurances of Musharraf.  There is a creeping feeling that Musharraf has not been sharing with them real time intelligence of value, has been deliberately avoiding giving any intelligence about the location of the Taliban and the Al Qaeda leadership and has not been taking any action to stop the fresh influx of jehadis to join the Taliban ranks and against many retired officers of Pakistan's military-intelligence establishment, who have been advising the Taliban on how to counter the US.  It is these retired officers, who had learnt Psywar techniques from the CIA in the 1980s, who are behind the Psywar savvy being displayed by the Taliban.

In the US media, one could already discern increasing signs of doubts over the wisdom of their action in having hastily embraced Musharraf and showering lollipops on him in anticipation of his helping the US capture bin Laden and his brains trust, which he shows no signs of doing.

The Pakistani military-intelligence establishment has practically been running till September 10,2001, the Taliban militia and intelligence.  If it had sincerely wanted to help the US capture bin Laden and his associates, they would have been by now dead or alive in US custody.  The fact that this has not yet happened is increasingly giving rise to suspicions of a possible Pakistani perfidy.

This disquiet was reflected even during a Congressional testimony by Gen.Colin Powell, Secretary of State, on October 24,2001.  Many  Congressmen questioned  him over the USA's double standards with regard to terrorism.  They asked: if it was all right for the US to go for the targeted assassinations
of Al Qaeda leaders, how was it wrong for Israel to do so against the Hamas terrorists. Rep. Gary Ackerman questioned him about not listing Hamas and Hizbullah in the latest list of foreign terrorist organizations.  He also asked him  how Musharraf could suppot the war on terrorism while he himself was supporting terrorism in Kashmir.

Gen.Powell, as usual, was evasive and acted more as an apologist of Musharraf representing his interests than as the Secretary of State of the US representing the interests of its people.  He pointed out that  Musharraf had condemned the Oct.1 terrorist attack  in Srinagar and added that  Musharraf had different opinion about things in Kashmir as oppossed to things in Afghanistan. One of the members advised Powell not to over-worry  about Pakistan's and Musharraf's sensitivities.  He  pointed out that it was Pakistan and Saudi Arabia which had created the Taliban and added: "We  should not worry too much about their so-touchy feelings."

What was the role of the HUM and the Binori madrasa in the planning and execution of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington on September 11,2001, and was the military-intelligence establishment, or at least sections of it, aware of it? This is an important question, which has not received attention in Washington.

Since the US bombing of its training camps in Afghan territory in August, 1998, the HUM has been very virulent against the US and warning it repeatedly of reprisals.  It is a member of bin Laden's International Islamic Front For Jehad against the US and Israel and has been a strong advocate of jehadis acquiring a WMD capability.

Addressing the Karachi Press Club on August 23,1998, Azizur Rahman Danish, the
head of the Sindh branch of the HUM, warned: “The US air strikes have drawn a
clear dividing line between the Muslim Ummah and non-believers and this is the
beginning of a crusade.  The USA will be paid back in the same coin.”

Addressing a press conference at Peshawar on August 25, 1998, Fazlur Rahman
Khalil, the Amir of the HUM, said that nine HUM members died in the US attack on its camps in the Khost area, of whom five were killed on the spot and the remaining succumbed to their injuries in Pakistani hospitals.   In addition, two Tajiks and four Arabs, two of them physically handicapped, were also killed.  According to him, the Cruise missiles destroyed four mosques, partially damaged another and burnt 200 copies of the Holy Quran kept in the camps.

He added: “The USA calls Osama a terrorist and President Clinton is claiming that all terrorist training camps had been destroyed in the air strikes.  Let me tell the Americans that not even one per cent of the so-called terrorist camps run by Osama have been destroyed.”

In another warning to the US on September 1,1998, Fazlur Rahman Khalil said: “The USA has struck us with Tomahawk Cruise missiles at only two places, but we will hit back at them everywhere in the world, wherever we find them.  We have started a holy war against the US and they will hardly find a tree to take shelter beneath it.”

The US has been saying that the terrorist attacks of September 11 were orchestrated from Afghanistan by bin Laden and his associates.  If this was so, the ISI, which was practically running the Taliban intelligence agency till September 10, could not have missed the preparations for the attack.  Did it deliberately refrain from sharing its knowledge of the preparations from the CIA? This is a question which needs to be carefully probed. 

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: corde@vsnl.com )

Category: 
Topics: