By Muhammad Tahir
ISLAMABAD, May 21 (Xinhua) — Pakistani security agencies are carrying out a sweeping campaign across the country to capture the al-Qaida activists and sympathizers as it faced embarrassment after the U.S. Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden on May 2.
Just a day after the U.S. military helicopters conducted a unilateral raid on a compound in the country’s northwestern garrison city of Abbotabad, the CIA chief Leon Panetta publically said “Pakistan is either involved or incompetent.”
Several American lawmakers called for aid suspension and tough action against Pakistan, a close U.S. ally in the so-called anti- terror war which also resulted in the deaths of over 30,000 Pakistanis, including hundreds of security personnel.
The United States mounted pressure on Pakistan to investigate as to how the al-Qaida chief and the world’s most wanted man was hiding in a compound just few hundreds meters from Pakistan’s major military academy for five years.
Chairman of Foreign Relations Committee in the U.S. Senate, John Kerry, rushed to Pakistan on Sunday and met the President, the Prime Minister and the powerful army chief in a move to bridge the trust gap. The U.S. envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan followed him in meeting Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari on Thursday. An official statement said that the meeting was a follow- up of Senator Kerry’s negotiations with Pakistani leaders.
Pakistani military and the main spy agency, the ISI, were suspected by some western nations to shelter Osama bin Laden. The charge was strongly denied at the country’s top level and Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani said in the parliament last weak that Osama had launched a war on Pakistan and that he was responsible of many suicide bombings in Pakistan.
Critics were of the view that the Osama episode isolated Pakistan in the comity of the nations. Pakistani leaders publicly admitted intelligence failure on Osama. But the statements have not convinced the United States and its allies and they want Pakistan to act against the al-Qaida and Afghan Taliban.
Sensing the embarrassment as to why the Pakistani security institutions had been unaware of the Osama presence, the agencies have now launched a major search operation to nab the al-Qaida sympathizers across the country.
Pakistan’s army in a rare public statement announced the arrest of what it called a senior al-Qaida operative in the south port city of Karachi on Tuesday. An army statement said that according to preliminary investigations, Muhammad Ali Qasim Yaqub alias Abu Sohaib Al Makki is a Yemeni national and has been working directly under al-Qaida leaders along Pak-Afghan borders.
The arrest of Al Makki is a major development in unraveling the al-Qaida network operating in the region, the statement from the army’s inter-Services Public Relations said.
Pakistan’s secret agencies are conducting search operations for al-Qaida members and sources said that even the civilian intelligence agencies and special police branch have not been included in the operation due to sensitivity of the campaign.
Sources said that the army’s secret agents are conducting raids on religious schools in several parts of the country, mostly the eastern Punjab province. Cities of the raids are the main focus as several key al-Qaida leaders had been arrested in the past including Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, Ramzi biI Sheb, Abu Obaida, Al- Faraj al-Libi.
Sources said that record about several foreign students in the religious schools has also been received. An official said that the secret agents had recently conducted operation in the garrison city of Rawalpindi on a tip that an al-Qaida member had been hiding there.
Police said that the army’s intelligence agencies have not informed the civilian security network about the operation. A police officer in Islamabad said that they were not informed about the anti-al-Qaida operation.
The al-Qaida No. 2 — Aiman al-Zwahiri — may be the target as CIA believes he may also be hiding in Pakistan.
The U.S. is also pushing Pakistan to hunt down the Taliban supreme leader, who the CIA and Afghan intelligence think, is hiding somewhere in southwestern Balochistan province.