The fact now accepted, even by the media, is that Al-Qaeda is present in Pakistan as surely as the corrupt officials. Most of the people think dealing with Al-Qaeda is easy as compared to other countries. The masses are speaking and to their leaders are saying, and in no uncertain terms, either fulfill your duty or leave the corridors of power.
A leading influential newspaper, owner of which is the minister in cabinet of President Musharraf, Daily Times accepted the fact that Al-Qaeda is present in Pakistan. According to its editorial comment, on Thursday a young man blew himself up near a police post in front of the High Court building in Lahore minutes before a lawyers’ rally was to pass from the same spot. The bomb killed 22, of whom 17 were policemen. On the basis of circumstantial evidence we can clearly say that he represented Al Qaeda. He had been sent to target the police. Had the lawyers been his target he would have waited for them to come out. For the Lahore police, the suicide attack was an unusual phenomenon, since the last such incident took place in 2004. Unlike Peshawar, DI Khan, Kohat and other cities, Lahore was surprised by the targeting of the police.
But the Punjab police force was in no doubt. His men had been targeted because they had caused a spate of arrests related to Al Qaeda in the past week in a number of Punjab cities. The Police had gone after and captured a number of potential suicide-bombers and connected terrorists from Isa Khel, Mianwali, Bhakkar, Sargodha and Lahore. After this success, the police “got death threats from someone called Kaleemullah Mehsud who claimed to be an associate of Baitullah Mehsud”, according to the Lahore police. The big catch — because of its sensitivity — was the arrest from Lahore of Major (Retd) Ehsanul Haq on the “pointation” of the arrested terrorists.
Any connection with Muharraf is only indirect. If bombings occur in the coming days, they can doubtless be a part of the ongoing sectarian war that Al Qaeda is letting its Pakistani jihadi militias wage on the sidelines. The Sunni-Shia trouble in Parachinar may hot up again and spread to the rest of the country, but the police might still be targeted because it will be out in large numbers to secure the citizens against sectarian violence. Last year the Peshawar police, including the city’s police chief, were massacred by a suicide-bomber during the month of Muharram. Nobody doubted then that the real target was the police and not the Shias, because the police personnel had been suicide-bombed earlier in many other cities of the NWFP including the recruiting centre of DI Khan.
Immediately on receipt of the news about the Lahore blast, the TV channels began discussing it. But, by and large, all discussions concentrated on two possible suspects: the United States and the “establishment” working for President Musharraf. No one named Al Qaeda and used bland ambiguity when generally referring to “certain quarters” determined to destabilise and destroy Pakistan. Reference was made to the “big power” which had “arrived in the neighbourhood” and wanted excuses to attack Pakistan to destroy its nuclear assets. There was also veiled reference to “the old enemy next door” who was said to remain set on the goal of annihilating Pakistan. No one mentioned Al Qaeda despite the fact that it too had “arrived” in the neighbourhood and had made its intentions clear about what it would do in Pakistan.
Opposition politicians, retired judges and lawyers stated in newspapers that the attack was actually carried out by the establishment and its intelligence agencies to fire a warning shot against the movement for the restoration of the country’s judiciary and revival of democracy. Significantly, again, no one even once mentioned Al Qaeda. Instead it was said that no Muslim could be behind the killings; only an enemy of Islam — and those who collaborated with him — could spill the blood of Muslims. What was ignored was the circumstantial evidence: “during 2007, the security forces killed 1008 terrorists and miscreants, and arrested 1636 suspected terrorists, including 427 Taliban, 53 Al Qaeda operatives, 740 Baloch nationalist insurgents, 315 banned jihadi organisations’ militants and 27 Lashkar-e-Jhangvi terrorists operating as Al Qaeda troops in Pakistan “.
The irony is that the credibility of the Al Qaeda warlord in South Waziristan, Baitullah Mehsud, is higher today than that of the government in Islamabad. It is politically correct these days to believe when he says he has not killed; and not believe the government or even independent media when it presents evidence involving Al Qaeda in the killings. Osama bin Laden himself is keeping quiet on Pakistan although his success rate in Pakistan is far higher than in Afghanistan and Iraq .The last time he had vowed revenge on President Musharraf was in September 2007, when he had pledged to retaliate for the killing of Islamabad ‘s Lal Masjid cleric. Of course, it is strategically significant for him to kill and then keep quiet so as to allow the polarised Pakistani politicians to get at each other’s throat.
The assumption behind the above “denial” is that once President Musharraf and his pro-America policy are gone, the trouble with Al Qaeda and its warlords will simply melt away. But this is not going to happen. What might happen is that the road might be cleared for Al Qaeda to spread its tentacles and consolidate and enlarge its mini-state in Pakistan from where to attack the rest of the world, building on the facility already available to it for the training of international terrorists who attack targets in the European Union and elsewhere.