Has Pakistan created and supported Al Qaeda?
Al Qaeda emerged from Maktab al Khidmat, the services bureau that was set up by Abdullah Yusuf Azzam in early 1980s to facilitate young Arabs from Middle East to fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan.
Azzam was a Palestinian who became the spiritual founder of Hamas. He was assassinated in 1989 and was replaced by Osama Bin Laden who transformed the organization into Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda wouldn’t have had the same impact if it had not been preceded by Al Zawahiri.
Its ambitions were to establish Caliphate from Central Asia to Bangladesh further towards the Middle East and finally leading towards the liberation of Palestine.
On the other hand, Afghan Taliban had a local agenda which didn’t stretch beyond the boundaries of Afghanistan.
The Arabs who poured into Afghanistan on Azzam’s call in 1980s to fight Soviets fell into two groups, the Yemeni and the Egyptian. Religious zealots who had come to Afghanistan after being inspired by clerics in their home countries mostly joined the Yemeni camp. As the Afghan jihad tailed off towards the end of 1980s, most of the Yeminis returned to their home countries. In AL Qaeda circles, they were called Darvesh (easy going).
The Egyptian camp had men who were extremely political as well as ideologically motivated. Though they were members of the Muslim Brotherhood but were unhappy with that organization for its insistence on bringing change through democracy rather than a revolution. Afghan jihad served as glue for these like-minded individuals who were doctors and engineers.
Others were former military personnel from the Egyptian Army who were associated with the underground Egyptian Islamic Jihad Movement of Dr Ayman al Zawahiri, who became the deputy of Bin Laden.
This group had been responsible for the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981 after he signed a peace deal with Israel at Camp David. The Egyptian group was in the hands of al Zawahiri and after Isha prayers, its men would discuss contemporary issues in the Arab world.
In the mid-1990s, when Afghan President Professor Burhanuddin Rabbani and his defence minister Ahmed Shah Masoud allowed Bin Laden to move from Sudan to Afghanistan, the Egyptian camp drew many people into its fold, and ran maaskars (training camps) to teach strategy for the future fight. By the time the Taliban had emerged as a force in Afghanistan, the Egyptian camp had settled on its strategies.
Later on when the US invaded Afghanistan in Oct ’01 and by Dec ’01, Taliban were defeated and forces to disperse.
In the two month phase of the long Afghan war, around 3K AL Qaeda fighters had been killed whereas US casualties numbered only 12. The Taliban and Al Qaeda then moved to safer places in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s tribal areas and Iran.
Around 10,000 Uzbek, Chechen, Uighur, Chinese and Arab fighters arrived in Pakistan where they were welcomed whole-heartedly by the locals.
Pak launched a major operation against Al Qaeda on June 22, 2002 at Azam Warsak but because of the local support for Al Qaeda, the state resorted to dialogue.
Peace agreements were a huge victory for Al Qaeda who were eyeing to make Pakistan a strategic backyard.
Till the formation of TTP in ’08, Al Qaeda cunningly crafted circumstances to replace the political agent’s office in tribal areas with local militias running the show. Its ideologues like Sheikh Essa and Tahir Yaldochev turned young men like Nek Muhammad, Abdullah Mehsud, Baitullah Mehsud into beasts. They convinced these militants that the real battle is against Pakistan and those who are fighting in Afghanistan are deviants. Pakistan was left with no option but to go for the kill.
In hindsight, Al Qaeda turned out to be a huge enemy of Pakistan and it’s deployment in tribal areas was facilitated by India via Operation Parakoram (ten months military standoff) in 2002.
In response, Pakistan dismantled the organization by arresting its leaders including 350 operatives. Abu Zubaida, Abu Nasim, Ramzi Bin Al-Shibh, Khalid Shiekh, Umer Patak, Abu Musab Al Suri, Yasir Al-Jaziri, Khalid Attash, Abu Faraj Al Libi are few of the names!
So holding Pakistan responsible for the creation and support of of Al Qaeda is not just ridiculous but extremely fallacious.