Rajat Sharma

Did Pakistan help the US in killing Ayman al-Zawahiri?

akb fullIn an early morning drone strike in Kabul, the United States killed Al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri by firing two Hellfire missiles at the balcony of a Taliban-controlled safe house. This was the first US drone strike since its withdrawal from Afghanistan in August last year.

The strike took place on Sunday morning, and on Monday, in a televised address, US President Joe Biden said, “justice has been delivered”. The Hellfire R9X missiles that were fired did not cause any explosion and did not harm anybody else. This warhead-less missile is equipped with six razor-like blades.

According to reports, al-Zawahiri was brought to a safe house in Kabul by Sirajuddin Haqqani, son of the founder of Haqqani terror network, Jalaluddin Haqqani. Sirajuddin Haqqani is now the Interior Minister in Taliban government. In a statement on behalf of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the Taliban regime condemned the attack and said it considers it to be “a clear violation of international principles and the Doha Agreement”.

The US State Department replied by saying, it was Taliban which is violating the Doha agreement by allowing terrorist groups to operate within Afghanistan. Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said, while it is against all forms of terrorism, at the same time it is opposed to “double standards” by carrying out counter-terrorism operations at the “expense of sovereignty” of other nations.

Ayman al-Zawahiri, once a close confidante of slain Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, was the mastermind of September 11 terror attacks in the US in 2001.Born in Eqypt, al-Zawahiri was a trained surgeon and he masterminded simultaneous attacks on US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998 and the suicide bombing of the American destroyer USS Cole in Yemen in 2000. The US had placed a $25 million (nearly Rs 200 crore) bounty on his head, but he always managed to dodge his adversaries.

After Osama bin Laden was killed by US Navy SEAL team in Pakistan’s Abbottabad in 2011, al-Zawahiri took over the reins of Al Qaeda and said in a 28-minute video, “Blood for blood” and “we will continue to terrify America”. But by then, the Al Qaeda as a terrorist organization had waned and the Islamic State (IS) outfit took over in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. Al-Zawahiri was hiding in a posh locality called Sherpur in Kabul under protection of Taliban regime since January this year.

The US spy agency CIA got clues about his location and started keeping a watch on his movements. From February, satellite watch was kept on him, and in March, it was confirmed that the man hiding in the building was al-Zawahiri. The CIA prepared model of his house and planned a targeted attack. This model was brought to the Situation Room in White House and President Biden was briefed about the entire plan. The only risk was that the building was in a dense locality and any attack could cause collateral damages. In May this year, the plan was postponed, and then a fresh plan using Hellfire missiles from a US Reaper drone was prepared. President Biden gave the green signal on July 25, and on August 1, when the most wanted global terrorist was killed, Biden announced it to the world.

Biden said: “One Saturday, at my direction, the United States successfully concluded an airstrike in Kabul, Afghanistan, that killed the emir of Al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri. You know, al-Zawahiri was bin Laden’s leader. He was with him the whole time. He was his number two man, his deputy at the time of the terrorist attack of 9/11. He was deeply involved in the planning of 9/11, one the most responsible for the attacks that murdered 2,977 people on American soil.”

The US President said, “Now justice has been delivered, and this terrorist leader is no more. People around the world no longer need to fear the vicious and determined killer. The United States continues to demonstrate our resolve and our capacity to defend the American people against those who seek to do us harm. You know, we make it clear again tonight that no matter how long it takes, no matter where you hide, if you are a threat to our people, the United States will find you and take you out.”

The Taliban government’s Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani said, “We had gone to the locality where the attack took place yesterday and provided help to those affected. Our first effort was to bring out those who were injured and search for any survivors. There were many buildings in the neighbourhood which were damaged.”

Ayman al-Zawahari was not only an enemy of the US and Israel, but also India. He used to spew venom against India, whether on Kashmir, Article 370, Hijab issue, or on Modi’s close affinity with Gulf countries. He used to give call to youths to launch jihad against India. In an audio tape recently, he had praised the Muslim girl Muskan Khan of Karnataka when the hijab controversy was at its peak. He gave a call to Indian Muslims to take up arms. Al-Zawahiri’s killing is a good news for India, but former Minister of State for External Affairs and Congress MP Shashi Tharoor had a different take.

Tharoor said, “Unfortunately with al-Zawahiri’s death terrorism will not end. Terrorism is an ideology, which affects people. We have seen in the past, one terror chief dying and the other taking up the reins, whether it is Al Qaeda or Islamic State Daesh or Taliban. One may feel satisfied by killing a terror outfit chief, but the challenge from terrorism remains and the world has to be on alert. Our problem is that our border is closer. There are people sitting across the border and some of them have already infiltrated. We have to be more alert against such outfits rather than Al Qaeda or Islamic State.”

While the rest of the world has heaved a sigh of relief over al-Zawahiri’s death, people are questioning the reason behind killing a terror outfit leader who is himself in hiding. American analysts claim that President Biden, in order to shore up his ratings ahead of US Congress elections due in November this year, gave the green signal for this operation. Biden’s popularity rating is now at a low of less than 20 per cent due to rising inflation in the US and other issues. The US economy is staring at recession. Biden’s own Democrat party leaders want a new candidate for the US Presidential elections due in 2024.

Al-Zawahiri’s killing has spawned fresh controversy in Pakistan’s politics. American analysts say that it was Pakistani army which shared intelligence about his whereabouts with the US, and provided airport for US Reaper drone to take off, because Pakistan wants a fresh dose of aid from IMF.

Former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan alleged that it was Army Chief General Bajwa who rang up the higher-ups in the US and shared Zawahiri’s location in Kabul. In return, he sought financial aid for Pakistan from the US, because the country is staring at fiscal bankruptcy.

Imran Khan told a rally on Tuesday that in 1995, Pakistan army handed over terrorist Ramzi Ahmed Yousef in exchange for dollars to America. It was Ramzi Ahmed Yousef who was one of the main perpetrators of 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the bombing of Phillipines Airlines plane. He was arrested by ISI in 1995 and then extradited to the US, where a court gave him two life sentences plus 240 years in jail.

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