“We would never let some hymn- reciting, illiterate religious bigots run the country,” declared Pakistan’s Interior Minister Moin Hyder in Karachi while speaking to a seminar, “Terrorism: A new challenge to the world of Islam.” The December 20 seminar was hosted by one of Pakistan’s leading newspaper organizations that also publishes The News.

“Taliban’s extremist viewpoint of Islam could not triumph and their narrow concept of Islam was both misguided and misguiding,” Hyder said. The seminar was well attended by Muslim scholars, academics, politician, ambassadors and dignitaries from around the world.

The next day, Moin Hyder got an answer back to his bashing and lamenting of the so-called holy warriors of Islam. His elder brother Ehtasham Hyder, patron of a well known charity organization, Fatmid Foundation, was shot dead in broad daylight in Karachi as he was coming out of his office. The message was clear: though we may be in retreat from Afghanistan, we have got the guts to show a significance presence in Pakistan. So, don’t take us too lightly. During the funeral, when reporters asked Moin Hyder about a possible link between his remarks and the killing of his brother, he replied politely, “I am still of the belief that we would not permit some illiterate zealots to run the country.”

But it seems time is running out faster than the government functionaries expect, and their dual mindedness is eroding both authority and credibility of the government of Pakistan.

Pakistan, a country that came into being in the name of the religion Islam, is no doubt passing through the most odd times in its half-a-century of being. On the eastern borders, the tension is building with its old foe India after terrorists attacked the Indian Parliament on December 13 in Delhi. India blames Pakistan for supporting them. On the western borders, it has got the unwelcome Kabul government, that blames Pakistan for its three decades of predicaments. Internally, Pakistan is facing the wrath of Muslim radicals who blame the Musharraf government for the earlier sellout of Afghanistan and for making a reprehensible compromise with India on the Kashmir issue.

The issue of the possible presence of Osama Bin laden somewhere in Pakistan just adds to this quandary. No doubt Pakistan is in a tight spot.

While speculation about the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden are very much in vogue, the first official word came from Kabul where one Afghan defense Ministry official on Thursday, 27 December blamed one Pakistani religious leader of giving protection to the world’s most wanted man. Mohammed Habeel, a spokesman of the Afghan Defense Ministry, while talking to the press, claimed that Osama was being sheltered in Pakistan by pro-Taliban religious leader Fazal Rahman. “Attack is permissible on any country, be it Pakistan or any other which gives protection to Osama. We support that type of attack,’’ an Afghan official said.

When the press contacted Fazal-ur-Rahman, who has been detained in his hometown of Dera Ismail Khan these past three months on charges of sedition, which carries capital punishment in Pakistan, he plainly called it a political gimmick.

One of his aides said, “Though we do support the Taliban, we never had any connection with Osama bin laden.”

“Fazal-ur-Rahman is under detention for the last three months. In this handicapped position how can he help and shelter one of the most wanted man on earth?” he questioned. He sees a conspiracy behind this statement. “It is part of an international scheme to pressure the Musharraf government to come down hard on religious parties akin to secular states of Egypt and Algeria, thus throwing Pakistan into the flames of civil war,” he concluded.

Fazal Rahman heads Pakistan’s largest religious party Jamiat Ulamai Islam (JUI), the party of Muslim scholars. JUI has been a close ally of the Taliban. Both share a common sect, the Wahabiat. The JUI Party has a significant presence in Pakistan’s western border areas, where Pashtun tribes have got a penchant for the JUI brand of puritan Islam, thus making them the ideological ally of the Wahabi sect Believers, the Taliban and Osama. In the initial days of the war on the Taliban, the JUI organized one of the largest violent anti-government and pro-Taliban rallies in Pakistan. It was because of these protest rallies that General Musharraf’s fragile government decided to charge Fazal-ur-Rahman with sedition, charging him with inciting armed forces to overthrow General Musharraf’s pro-west government.

Back in the early nineties, the JUI ran religious seminaries from which the Taliban movement arose from obscurity to power. The world focused on its odd policies that reminded many of the barbarity of the medieval period. The religious students studying and living in religious seminaries run by JUI in Pakistan’s western provinces of Baluchistan and Frontier province were recruited, trained and armed jointly by JUI and Pakistan’s intelligence agencies. They were trained with the knowledge, and allegedly some of connivance, of the US and CIA to catch hold of Kabul after the world and Pakistan became weary of Mujahdeen infighting. Between the years of 1992-1996, Kabul was left in ruins with some fifty thousand people dead as relentless rockets showered Kabul by one or another Mujahdeen group. Both Pakistan and the US wanted some peace and stability to get access to emerging central Asian markets, especially for oil, through Afghanistan.

“Kabul is playing into the hands of India,” one military source confided to me when I invited his comments on the statements of the Afghan defense ministry spokesman. “In the times when we are facing a war-like situation on our eastern borders, the Northern Alliance people want to settle the score with Pakistan by pointing fingers at Pakistan as harboring Osama, thus wanting Pakistan to meet the fate akin to the Taliban.”

He was also of the view that it may weaken Pakistan’s position vis-à-vis India in ongoing tensions, thus enhancing India’s bargaining position on Kashmir. But independent political observers do not rule out the possibility of Osama getting safe heaven or safe passage in Pakistan by either some religious group or pro-Taliban intelligence outfit.

“It is no secret that Pakistan’s ruling clique is divided on the issue of the Taliban and Osama,” Riaz Chandio, a political activist says. “Therefore, it is likely that while President Musharraf is helping the US to capture Osama and other Taliban leadership, one or other head of numerous intelligence agencies is helping Osama to avoid meeting that fate.”

In late October, Osama apparently avoided being killed when he escaped from a hideout, the Beni Hissar camp. He had come to spend the night in the neighborhood of Kabul less than three hours before it was hit by a missile. Reportedly, he got earlier warning of an imminent missile strike on the camp. For political observers, this is an indication of Osama getting some extremely reliable information from some high-level intelligence source. It is anyone’s guess from where.

It is not a new phenomenon in Pakistan for the government of the day to follow one policy, while the intelligence agencies are seen pursuing the opposite. According to two-time Prime Minister of Pakistan Benzir Bhutto, now in exile, the intelligence agencies have run “amok.”

“He may be in a safe house under the protection of one intelligence ally, watching fortune soldiers hunting him in rugged Afghan mountains,” Riaz concludes. While one other political observer agrees to the notion of Osama getting some kind of help by some friendly quarters in Pakistan to avoid his nemesis, he rejects the idea of his presence in Pakistan at the moment. “Given that Pakistan is under tight surveillance for him, he or his host must not be so naïve to allow him to continue to reside here in Pakistan.” He was of the view that Osama may have left Pakistan by now to some place where he is less expected.”

But above all, a strange assertion came from Pakistan’s President Musharraf who on December 22 during his visit to China said that there is strong possibility that, because of intense US bombardment of the Tora Bora cave mesh where Osama was last heard in mid December, Osama may be dead.

Two days after these words, Kenton Keith, the spokesman for the US-led coalition was asked to comment on the statement of the Pakistani president during Keith’s media briefing in Islamabad. He replied, “Yes it is quite possible that he might have been killed in Tora Bora.” One French wire service speculates that the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan militants, who are believed to operate secret routes from Afghanistan to the Ferghana Valley, may be providing safe haven to Osama. On Christmas Day, one Pakistani press service quoted an unnamed Taliban leader who asserted that Osama had, indeed, died a natural death in mid-December.

But the latest video tape released by the Arabic satellite channel Al-Jazera contradicts all the claims of Osama’s demise. Pale, fatigued and gaunt, Osama had nothing new to offer. Just the same rhetoric of “holy war” on the West that we hear from all of the religious zealots who chose the path of confrontation rather than reconciliation and dialogue.

A political commentator asserts that now is the time to close this chapter of Muslim radicalism along with Osama’s brand of terror once and for all. He speaks for millions of Muslims who helplessly watched the ongoing confrontation between the US-led coalition and Osama’s brand of Islam. “Though he may be dead under the debris of cave or running endlessly for his life,” says one political observer, “He opened a wide chasm between them and us. It will be in the interest of all of us to close this chapter better sooner than later.”

But above all, the game on the global chessboard does not follow the rules driven by morality. Therefore, we may be witnessing more turmoil in coming times. Osama may be replaced by someone else, and the terror will continue. The weak are always the losers in the power game.


Ali Ahemed Rind lives in Karachi, Pakistan, the capital city of the Sindh province. He graduated in medical science, a very profitable profession in third world countries, some six years back, but was more interested to know about what, why and how certain things are happening around him in the social milieu than bacteria and virus. He forbade his career in medical science and became actively involve in journalism.

He started with reporting campus news in a local daily. Ali believes a free man is identified by what he chooses, not by external compulsion but inner self, and he is happy that he made a choice (unlike the majority of other people in third world). English is not his first language.

After graduation, he joined the Popular Sindhi daily Kawish ( as a freelance journalist and columnist. He contributed political analysis on socio-developments issues. Ali also wrote on environmental issues. He is a critic of the military’s role in politics, a thing that brings him to immediate notice of state authorities who have zero tolerance for any criticism. He deems himself a social democrat.

He is also a critic of the fundamentalism that has been rising in his part of world after the collapse of the Soviet Union. He contributes weekly columns or opinions to Pakistan’s largest circulating English daily of Pakistan The News. For more of Ali’s news reports from Pakistan, see the Free Press website at